An ambitious plan to prevent and end homelessness in San Bernardino County in 10 years has been approved by the Board of Supervisors and will soon be put into action. But whether or not the plan will work depends on many factors.
At its meeting Tuesday, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors voted to provide support to the county's 10-Year Strategy to End Homelessness — a plan that included input from faith- and community-based agencies and local and state governments. Fifth District Supervisor Josie Gonzales was appointed as a delegate to the Interagency Council on Homelessness with First District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt as her alternate. The Council is the policy-making body charged with implementing the plan.
David Zook, Mitzelfelt's chief of staff, said even though homelessness will likely persist despite the strategy's goal of ending it in 10 years, it is the county's hope to address as many of the factors that contribute to homelessness as it can. The strategy's goal is to reach out to people to make them aware of available services to prevent them from becoming homeless in the first place, he said.
According to the plan, the countywide homeless population in 2007 was 7,331. Zook said Barstow's homeless population was 184 in 2007. About 9,600 Barstow residents receive public assistance, he said. Having a 10-year plan is one of the criteria the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development uses when they determine which areas receive homelessness funding, Zook said. The county is eligible to apply for about $6.1 million in annual grants for homeless services, Zook said. Having the 10-year plan increases the county's competitive stance for those funds, he said.
"The focus of the plan is to prevent homelessness in the first place by ensuring the community is aware of all the available services that might be useful in avoiding homelessness," he said, adding that those services include vocational training, employment placement assistance and rental assistance. "Our goal is to make sure people know there's help available if they get to the point where they're at risk of becoming homeless."
The Interagency Council on Homelessness, which includes Barstow Mayor Joe Gomez as well as the executive directors of local homeless service providers, will be measuring the success of the strategy as it's implemented, Isaac Jackson, homeless services coordinator for the county Office of Homeless Services, said. As the years go by the Council will look at the plan's success rate in getting people off the streets and change what may not be working.
"That change should be recognized early on," Jackson said. "We don't want to wait till year No. 10 and say, 'Hey, guess what, the plan wasn't working.'"
Sheri Randolph, executive director of Desert Manna Ministries, which provides emergency shelter, food and other services to Barstow's homeless population, said she thinks the plan is great, but ambitious.
"The key to it, and this is going to be the hard part, it requires all the agencies to work together," she said. "So all children's services, adult protective services, shelters, domestic violence (shelters), welfare — everybody will be working together."
Angela Pasco, executive director for New Hope Village, which provides transitional housing for Barstow's homeless families and individuals, said if all the organizations can work together to achieve and help end homelessness, it's a wonderful plan.
"We realize it's a huge undertaking," she said. "It's going to take a lot of hard work in order to make the plan work. Nothing good comes easy."
Jackson said now that the 10-year plan has been approved by the Board of Supervisors, the next step will be to get the Interagency Council on Homelessness up and running. The first meeting of the Council is Aug. 31, he said.
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