A city once criticized for not acknowledging its homeless is suddenly making up for lost time.
The Elk Grove City Council on Wednesday night tentatively agreed to steer nearly $240,000 in unused grant money toward a transitional housing project. If an action plan is approved next month, the city could line up a nonprofit organization to operate a refurbished household for short-term homeless by the beginning of next May.
Local homeless advocates were pleasantly surprised by the council’s unanimous decision.
“This is exciting,” said Frank Lucia, coordinator for PATH, a homeless program run by . “We’ve been so frustrated. This afternoon we had a couple that has been able to afford staying in a motel but ran out of money. They’ve come to us asking for money for one more week. Under a transitional house that would’ve lasted a whole month. They would be perfect candidates.”
The pot of money was assembled from a half-dozen cancelled or under-budget projects around town — including the and Williamson Drive sidewalk — as well as untapped administrative monies, city staff records show. The city has until May 1, 2012 to spend the money or else risk losing out on future allocations from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“Therefore, a top priority is reallocating funding to projects that can incur significant expenditures very quickly,” a city staff report points out.
Among the four options council members were given, the one with the highest dollar amount and most detail involved purchasing and refurbishing a three- to four-bedroom house intended to offer transitional housing to the temporary homeless. Eligible adults would be given three to nine months at the location until they’re financially stable enough to move into permanent housing, the staff report says. An on-site house manager and social services would be part of the package, though those would have to be funded independently of the grant.
“I’m very excited about the prospect here of helping our homeless Elk Grove residents here,” Councilmember Gary Davis said prior to Wednesday’s meeting. “I’ve been working with the group for a few months now to address these concerns. Elk Grove residents that have found themselves homeless, that are in need of some temporary housing to get back on their feet and get a full-time job and a place to live are really in deep need in our community.”
The next step is for the city to circulate an action plan for 30 days of public review and comment, followed by a public hearing where the plan could be adopted. City officials will also have to choose a nonprofit to operate the program.
Ken Bennett, a representative with Sacramento Self-Help Housing, which operates similar programs throughout the county, believes his organization is up to the task.
"We believe we would not have any problem keeping it filled with suitable clients," he told council members.
No one really knows how many homeless there are in the city. Local activists participated in the county’s point-in-time street count earlier this year, but were not assigned to Elk Grove. The January count turned up 2,358 individuals who admitted being homeless in Sacramento County, a number most homeless advocates believe to be low.
For instance, Sacramento County schools served roughly 8,800 homeless individuals last year, according to Rebecca Santos, , a figure she also feels is unrepresentative.
“When you juxtapose that with the point-in-time count, clearly there are some issues with that,” Santos said.
There were close to 500 homeless individuals in the school district alone, Santos added. “I know there are more out there, but students and families strive not to be found.”
A transitional housing option, if administered appropriately, would be a great idea and a solid first step in helping a population that has few local options, Santos believes.
“I think for Elk Grove anything would be a huge step in the right direction, because we don’t have anything,” she said. “Not even an emergency, emergency shelter.”
The closest such shelter is on Fruitridge Road and Fulton Avenue, and many other shelters have eligibility and size constraints.
Felicia Mello contributed to this report.