City finds funding for homeless shelter

2017 law will provide city with $630,000 per year to spend on homeless shelters, transitional housing

VISALIA – The first step to solving the issue of homelessness is getting people off the streets, out of the parks and away from businesses and homes. It all begins with having a low barrier shelter, a place where anyone experiencing homelessness can find food and shelter without entering into a formal program, and the city of Visalia is finally at the threshold.

At its June 15 meeting, the Visalia City Council received a report on funding that can not only build but also operate a low-barrier shelter on an annual basis. Known as the Permanent Local Housing Allocation Program (PLHA), funding for the shelter was created by Senate Bill 2 passed in 2017 to address the shortage of affordable housing in California. The Building Homes and Jobs Act established a $75 recording fee on all real estate documents. Seventy percent of the funding goes to cities and 30% goes to the state.

Melody Murch with the city’s finance department said PLHA funding represents the first ever funding source where constructing a homeless shelter is an eligible expense.

“In the past, the development of a shelter has met one insurmountable obstacle, the lack of ongoing operating funds, and that is where the PLHA comes in,” Murch said.

Murch said the city is expecting $630,815 in PHLA funding annually. The city’s plan recommends spending two-thirds of the funding in the first two years, or about $914,000, on acquiring, constructing or rehabbing a shelter then spending 65% of its budget, about $410,000 annually, in years 3 to 5 to operate a low-barrier homeless shelter. The city would partner with a non profit for development and operation of the shelter. The city would contribute another $1.5 million in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding through 2022-23 for a total cost of about $2.5 million for the development of the shelter. PHLA funds will also provide $96,000 per year to operate a temporary emergency shelter.

“This has been a long time coming,” Councilmember Greg Collins said. “First time allocated a serious amount of money to begin to respond to the homeless situation. Good news we now have some funds to do it.”

Collins asked if the low-barrier shelter will be indoors with cots or if it may be a piece of land with tents organized by the city. He said he would rather do something quickly than wait another five years to repurpose or build a shelter. He also asked if there were sites identified to locate a shelter.

“When we go out for request for proposals, we will entertain all proposals,” Murch said.

Councilmember Brian Poochigian said once the facility was built he wanted to create some metrics to track the effectiveness of the city’s investment in the shelter.

“Throwing money at homeless has not made [the problem] any better,” Poochigian said. “I want to make sure we spend money wisely and that we get results from the money we spend.”

Starting in 2021-22, 15% of the PLHA funding will be used to help with operating funds for Eden House, a 22-bed transitional facility for formerly homeless people to live as they wait for more permanent housing. Located at 1627 Garden Street in Visalia, Eden House was built by Self-Help Enterprises and funded, in part, by the cities of Visalia and Tulare. Visalia used $665,000 in Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds and Community Development Block Grant funding to reserve 16 of the facility’s beds. Five are dedicated to the City of Tulare and one more to the county at large. Eden House is operated by Southern California-based Mental Health Systems which brings in those identified by the Kings-Tulare Homeless Alliance as homeless or at risk of being homeless, connects them resources, stabilizes their living situation through referrals and then finds them permanent housing. Since opening in March, Self-Help’s Patrick Isherwood said five residents have already received stabilizing services and moved onto more permanent housing.

Councilmember Phil Cox asked how many beds the nearly $1 million would provide, considering that $665,000 in city funds only bought 16 beds at Eden House.

“We are hoping to get more bang for our buck at the low barrier shelter,” Murch said.

Machael Smith, executive director of the Kings-Tulare Homeless Alliance, said Tulare County has added 52 beds and 150 units of short-term housing in the last year thanks to projects like Eden House and Project Roomkey, which utilizes state funding to secure hotel and motel rooms for people experiencing homelessness. The program provides a way for people who do not have a home to stay isolated to prevent any potential spread of COVID-19. Currently, the County is able to house 19% of the homeless population, if needed, through Project Roomkey.

Another project, the Porterville Welcome Center, will add another 15 beds of transitional housing for homeless sometime this year.

Murch said the RFP will be brought back to the council at its July 20 meeting in order to meet the July 27 deadline to apply for PLHA funding with the California Department of Housing and Community Development.

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