Merced County gets homeless services inventory

tmiller@mercedsunstar.comJune 1, 2014 

With an inventory of the number of beds for Merced County’s homeless subpopulations recently completed, Continuum of Care leaders say they have a clearer picture of where to go next.

Urban Initiatives, a nonprofit hired to administer the Continuum of Care, called a meeting in April that brought churches, businesses, nonprofits and other service providers together to clarify the housing available for Merced County’s homeless. The group recently distributed the inventory list to members of Continuum.

The list gives service providers one place to go to find housing for people in need of a bed. The types of housing are sorted by subpopulations, like those available to veterans, people with HIV or AIDS, children and those with mental illness, among others.

Joe Colletti, the executive director of Urban Initiatives, said the inventory was necessary to be eligible for U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funding, of which Continuum gets about $500,000. He said the list will also give the organization an idea of where they need to bolster services.

For example, there are 35 open beds in permanent supportive housing, he said – what is recognized as the best fit for those who are chronically homeless. But a count in January found that there are 433 chronically homeless people in the county. “That’s quite a gap in services,” he said.

The inventory also showed that the county is short on HUD’s Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program vouchers. There are 25 for the 45 homeless veterans in the county.

On the other end, Merced County Community Action Agency has enough funding to cover the 22 homeless people with HIV or AIDS, Colletti said.

Continuum continues to move into compliance with the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act of 2009, he said, which is important to be eligible for funding. Colletti said the number of people coming to regular Continuum meetings has increased, a sign of better collaboration among those interested in helping the homeless.

Carol Bowman, the United Way of Merced County executive director, said she is new to the meetings. She said the increasing number of people living on the street has likely sparked the interest for newcomers. “I just think it’s the realization that the homeless problem is not getting better – in fact, it’s getting worse,” she said.

The experience and leadership provided by Urban Initiatives is also something to be commended, she said. The program took over Continuum in July.

Jeanette Garcia, the Continuum of Care administrator, said the organization is taking its next steps to comply with the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act of 2009, appointing a board to oversee Continuum.

The number of members that will serve on the board has not been decided yet, she said. One requirement of board members is to be free of a conflict of interest, so those that receive HUD funding would likely not be eligible for the board.

For more information about the board or to ask for an application, email jeanettegarcia@urban-initiatives.org or call (209) 628-4765. Sun-Star staff writer Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or tmiller@mercedsunstar.com.

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