City leaders unveiled a tentative plan Wednesday night to address homelessness.
That plan includes clearing out the area on G Street and Mercey Springs Road by the end of May. A $32.2 million state courthouse project is slated for the five-acre lot. Construction is slated for May 2015, according to city leaders.
“The most important thing I want people to know is that the city is taking a compassionate yet firm approach to end homelessness in Los Banos,” said City Manager Steve Carrigan.
City staff revealed eight initiatives to reach this goal, which will include increased access to housing with services for the homeless, enhanced employment readiness and resources and improved community outreach and engagement.
Since December, city leaders have been meeting with a 10-year implementation team, the Merced Region Homeless Continuum of Care, Urban Initiatives and the Merced County Community Action Agency.
Carrigan also toured the encampment several times.
Earlier this month, letters were sent to the two property owners requesting their plans. They are also being asked to repair fences and post “no trespassing” signs so the homeless can vacate the site.
The site is expected to be cleared and secured by June 1.
The Rev. Steve Hammond provides meals to those in need. He takes packaged lunches to the site weekly.
In January, Hammond aided in the homeless street count, which determinedthere are 88 homeless people in Los Banos.
“For the first time, the city is being proactive to try to find a solution to homelessness instead of sweeping it under the rug,” Hammond said.
Hammond supports Carrigan’s idea in trying to relocate the people. “Because construction is coming, I think this is the best plan and best way to go about it.”
The city has a four-part short-term plan, along with a long-term plan.
The short-term solutions are mainly to have services available, and Carrigan said the long-term goal is to get permanent housing going “because temporary housing does not work.”
The city plans to apply for $1 million in Community Development Block Grant funds next April that would help purchase a facility similar to the Pacheco Place project run by the Merced County Community Action Agency. Pacheco Place is a permanent housing solution for the homeless.
Carrigan pointed out that it would cost the city more money to keep people homeless rather than help them move into affordable permanent housing.
Councilwoman Elizabeth Stonegrove said she appreciates Carrigan’s approach to “end homelessness” rather than “manage” it.
“The situation with the construction with the courthouse has brought this issue on G Street to the forefront,” she said, “but with or without that project, we have this issue in the community and we have to really look at those permanent housing solutions.”
Stonegrove said the Continuum of Care is the most valuable resource the city has and supports working with the agency to secure funding.
Councilman Scott Silveira said he hopes the plan will give the public answers.
“I get questioned on it daily,” he said. “We’re going to try and offer these folks some help; use services that are already available through the county and other groups ... to try and help them if they want to be helped.”