MCAG could cut ties with homeless program that brings in grants

jsmith@mercedsunstar.comApril 30, 2013 

About $400,000 in annual federal funding for the homeless could be lost in Merced County as of this summer.

The Merced County Association of Governments has signaled that it plans to abandon the Continuum of Care program, which helps bring grant funding for housing programs for the needy.

Since 2004, the continuum has helped secure more than $2.5 million in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funding for nonprofits and government agencies in the county, according to MCAG officials.

HUD requirements have become too burdensome for the association, said MCAG spokeswoman Lori Flanders.

"In the past we've helped them (grant recipients) formulate their program, but once they have the money, oversight has been done by HUD," Flanders said. "But now HUD wants to push that performance management down to the local level. We don't have the skill set that they're now requiring to provide that sort of coordination."

Some in the community have voiced concerns about the association's explanation and motivation for dumping the program.

"HUD changes their rules every other Friday, so why all of a sudden do they (MCAG) not want to play the game anymore," asked Renee Davenport, member of the Continuum of Care executive board. "To me it's just a copout. They've never said one thing about any of this. Why haven't they brought this before the (executive) board?"

Last week, MCAG Executive Director Marjie Kirn wrote a letter to the city and county of Merced requesting that local officials "contract with another party" to provide the service.

The letter addressed to Merced City Manager John Bramble and County Executive Officer Jim Brown reads in part:

"New HUD guidelines requires an administrative review of each grant recipient to assure that they are adhering to the grant purposes, including monitoring recipient and subrecipient performance, evaluating outcomes and taking action against poor performers.

"Monitoring and taking actions against member jurisdictions in a matter that is not a mandate of MCAG's undermines MCAG's primary mission of building regional consensus in transportation, transit and regional waste."

In response, local governments have said they are looking for a nonprofit group or private contractor to take over the continuum as they do not have the resources to facilitate the program.

"The bottom line is we will not be taking that over because the issue of homelessness is a countywide issue and needs to be addressed on a countywide basis," said city of Merced spokesman Mike Conway. "We could not provide it on a countywide area, so we are looking for a nonprofit that will be able to."

When asked about keeping the Continuum of Care program alive in Merced, county CEO Brown said, "I don't have a funding stream to be able to do that."

No organization has publicly agreed to facilitate the continuum, but several local officials have expressed concern that one needs to be found.

"It's important that we continue to have the service somehow," said Merced County Supervisor Hub Walsh. "I think it's real important. The continuum has serviced us well the last couple of years."

With limited funding for homeless services, losing the continuum would be "devastating," said Merced Councilman Bill Blake.

"Somebody's going to have to step up," he said. "We can't allow that kind of money to slip through our fingers. It would have a huge impact."

The MCAG Governing Board will vote on whether to relinquish oversight of the continuum at its May 16 or June 20 meeting, according to association officials.

Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or href="">

By the Numbers

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funding secured this fiscal year through the Continuum of Care program, according to the Merced County Association of Governments:

• About $81,000 was awarded to the Homeless Management Information System, a web-based tool for tracking services provided to homeless in the county. Congress uses data from the system to allocate funding.

• About $274,000 was awarded to the Merced County Mental Health and the Community Action Agency to fund housing for homeless with a mental illness. Project Hope Westside is in Los Banos, and Project Home Start is in Merced.

• About $82,000 was awarded to Turning Point Community Programs, a nonprofit agency that provides housing for chronically homeless mental health clients.

• About $85,000 was awarded to Community and Social Model Advocates, a nonprofit transitional housing provider for women with children.

• About $60,000 was awarded to the Housing Authority of Merced County for housing vouchers for people with mental health issues.

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