Merced County government stands by homeless for now

Program is being assessed, not ended

jsmith@mercedsunstar.comMay 18, 2013 

JOSHUA EMERSON SMITH/jsminth@mercedsunstar.com An unidentified homeless man works at the 16th Street homeless camp in Merced Friday (1-18-13) to clean up the site where he sleeps using bags donated by Merced First Assembly of God. Members of the congregation pass out food and blankets behind him.

JOSHUA EMERSON SMITH

— The Merced County Association of Governments says it will not abandon the Continuum of Care until a replacement agency can be found to direct the homeless program.

It brings in roughly half a million dollars a year in federal funding to area nonprofits to support the homeless services they provide, such as temporary housing.

"The program is not (going to be) just dropped so that everything would be lost," said MCAG spokeswoman Lori Flanders. "We would continue to do what we need to do until another agency is found."

Association officials have told local government leaders that new federal regulations requiring increased oversight of grantees would "undermine" the associations' primary mission of "building regional consensus in transportation, transit and regional waste."

Under the new guidelines, association officials said they would have to perform an "administrative review" of grant recipients, monitoring performance, evaluating outcomes and taking action against poor performers.

The association's governing board agreed, voting unanimously Thursday to allow association staff to work with the county and city of Merced to find a nonprofit or alternative agency to run the program.

However, board directors signaled that MCAG would not stop running the program until a replacement can be found.

"People have got the impression that we were talking about ending it today," said board member and county Supervisor Hub Walsh. "That's never been the discussion."

He said it's simply been about exploring all the options.

Board chairman and Dos Palos Mayor Johnny Mays said he had no intention of letting the county lose the funding for the homeless. "I can assure you, we're not going to throw this just to the side of the road."

While association officials said they started discussing shifting responsibility for the continuum earlier this year, many people only recently heard, including the continuum's executive council.

"This issue has never been brought to any members of the continuum," said John Carlisle, who sits on the executive council.

"We just heard that they've been in discussion with the city and county for several months," Carlisle said. "Yet they've never seen fit to bring it to the people that it actually affects."

However, Carlisle said he had no qualms with exploring the options. In fact, association staff and members of the continuum's executive council have been visibly frustrated with each other in recent months.

"I have no issue at all with the motion that's been made or with the recommendations that's been made to direct staff to work with the city and the county to identify anyone who's willing to take over the continuum of care," Carlisle said.

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.

This fiscal year, the continuum brought in roughly $400,000 in HUD funding and received about $90,000 from the city of Merced, the county and Supervisor Jerry O'Banion's special district fund, according to MCAG officials.

Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or jsmith@mercedsunstar.com.


Learn more about Merced County's Continuum of Care program at http://www.mcagov.org/coc.html

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