LOS BANOS -- After more than an hour of discussion and Planning Commission opposition Wednesday, the Los Banos City Council voted unanimously to apply for a $2 million grant that would help homeless families in the area.
The Community Development Block Grant, which must be used within three years after being awarded, would pay to purchase, refurbish and operate a 12-unit transitional housing shelter for the employable homeless and their families.
The housing is not designed to be permanent.
"I don't even know why this is an issue," said Councilwoman Elizabeth Stone.
In the past year, Los Banos police officers have spent more than 191 hours dealing with homeless-related issues, and the fire department, 46 hours.
According to the Continuum of Care count in January, there are 75 homeless people in the city.
The Merced County Community Action Agency, as subrecipient of the grant, would run the shelter and search for additional funding after the grant runs out, according to Community Development Director Paula Fitzgerald. MCCAA and Merced County Mental Health run a six-unit shelter on J Street.
Fitzgerald said the grant fits within the Los Banos, Merced County and the city of Merced's 10-year plan to end homelessness and requires no local matching funds.
Planning Commissioner Deborah Lewis opposed the grant application at Wednesday's meeting.
"I'm not against homeless shelters, but I don't believe the government has ever been good at running these type of facilities on a long-term basis," Lewis said. "It is best left to the private sector."
MCCAA is a private nonprofit.
The grant was brought to the attention of city staff in late February, so the application and public notices needed to be rushed to get in under the wire. It was due in Sacramento today.
The time constraint gave Mayor Mike Villata pause.
"I don't like making rushed decisions," he said.
Councilman Joe Sousa said there is a misconception among the opposition to the shelter. He said it's a service needed in Los Banos.
"It's not the wino and drug addict anymore," Sousa said. "It's families, it's individuals with mental issues and other problems who need assistance."
If Los Banos attains the grant, the shelter would offer employment and housing assistance, continuing education, money management, mental health and substance abuse groups, and medication education.
The city will find out whether it will receive the grant in late July or early August.
In other action, the City Council voted unanimously to hire Teri Black & Co. to begin the search for a city manager, at a cost of $24,500 to $26,000.
City Manager Steve Rath will retire in October.
Los Banos Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.