Three years ago I agreed to be the chairman of the Merced Continuum of Care, and much has been accomplished over that time. The Continuum of Care is a coalition of different agencies working together to house the county’s homeless population. The accomplishments I am most proud of include:
▪ Veteran’s homelessness in Merced County has dropped from 88 in 2016 to nine in 2018.
▪ The Continuum of Care received $1.4 million in 2017 and 2018 from Housing and Community Development and Housing and Urban Development to help end homelessness in Merced County.
▪ In 2017, a Homeless to Housing (H2H) Team was established and in their first year they were able to house more than 80 homeless people.
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▪ There were 195 volunteers at the 2018 Point In Time count – a census of the county’s homeless – compared to 30 who came out for the 2015 PIT count.
▪ The Continuum has held two Homeless Summits at the Merced Theater and Christian Life Center and 400 people attended each.
The Continuum is headed in the right direction. I am announcing my resignation so that I can devote more of my time as Merced’s city manager to building Permanent Supportive Housing projects and to develop “Merced First,” a job training and life skills program for the homeless.
Last fall, the city of Merced surveyed residents and the top issue was not the economy or crime, it was homelessness. Nationally, homeless figures are down. In California, homeless figure are up.
There are a number of reasons. Very low availability of housing, high cost of rent, chronic alcoholism, drug addiction, mental health issues and California’s mild climate all contribute to having the homeless in our state. With Propositions 47 (which reduced prison sentences for some crimes) and Proposition 57 (which increased paroles for non-violent offenders), along with AB 109 (which reassigned many prison inmates to county jails), now in full effect, for every person we were able to get off the street two more seemed to show up.
This is why I will focus my attention on solutions to Merced’s homeless problem.
With housing vacancy rates at less than 1 percent in Merced, there are not enough units on the market to house the homeless. Navigation centers and shelters might help alleviate the problem, but the Holy Grail of solutions is Permanent Supportive Housing. Under this concept, homeless people are provided on-site services where they live to assist them in getting back on their feet.
I am working with city staff and a non-profit to create “Merced First,” a pilot program that includes job training, life-skills classes, housing and other services.
Ultimately, none of this will be possible without the support of the Merced City Council, the county board of supervisors and the Continuum of Care board. I will be reaching out to each in a collaborative effort to make these projects a reality.
It was the Continuum and its members that made all the past accomplishments possible. That is why I know they will continue to achieve remarkable successes – they have done it before. There are a number of exceptional people on the board who can lead the Continuum, and I will assist however I can.
I thank each member of the Continuum of Care. You allowed me, a complete stranger, into your world and you taught me everything that I know about homelessness. Most importantly, you taught me that together we can end homelessness in Merced County.
Steve Carrigan is the city manager of Merced.