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Coalition Wins Homeless Housing Grants, Takes On Affordable Housing Issues

Sonora, CA – Nearly $2 million in funding flowing into the Mother Lode for homeless housing relief is channeling through a coalition also addressing affordable housing.

In an interview with Clarke Broadcasting, A-TCAA Housing Director Denise Cloward explains the new funding sources are coming down through the Central Sierra Continuum of Care (COC), a four-county planning body for service providers and others touching the homeless communities in Amador, Calaveras, Mariposa and Tuolumne.

The COC shares responsibilities, governance, and structures along with systems operations planning, which includes a homeless management information system to help serve constituents across county lines. While it has been around for about a decade, collaborating and sharing funding across the rivers, Cloward confides that two sizable recent grant awards are generating a good deal of attention from current and prospective partnering entities.

The first of the two grants is a nearly $1.3 million Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP) grant. Split evenly into four chunks of about $300,000 each, each of the counties will use the monies differently. Tuolumne County is leveraging the grant with No Place Like Home funds. “We are working with the Stanislaus Housing Authority to purchase a 10-unit apartment complex,” Cloward enthuses. “Some of the units will be dedicated for emergency placements for individuals and families and others for chronic mental health and illness issues, so we will have Health and Human Service providers going to all those units very consistently.”

Tiny Homes For Temporary Housing

She adds that Calaveras County is using its HEAP funding to build nine tiny cabins that will be scattered throughout the county, some on congregational properties, and three on the Blue Mountain Coalition for Youth and Families in West Point. The plan triggered a decision by the county probation department to apply $50,000 of its community corrections partnership funding towards installing cabins for early release inmates next to the former jail.

The second grant, $562,000 from the California Emergency Solutions and Housing (CESH) program, will help expand the COC’s management and planning capacity to extend homeless prevention efforts as well as provide additional rental emergency services throughout the four counties.

As far as the faces of homelessness these days, Cloward says they cover a wider range of folks and that more families are among them. The shelters in downtown Sonora and downtown Jackson, consistently full with 30 beds apiece, were in December more than half populated by children. “Maybe ten years ago there were single beds for single males, females and we continue obviously to prioritize families with young children, and it has just put even more of a strain on the single population — and then, of course, there is a lack of emergency shelter beds as well – it is very difficult.”

Cloward notes that training and outreach ahead of last week’s point-in-time homeless count along with COC’s ability to use that data along with what it captures and tracks in its own system are key to successful planning and grant seeking efforts.

Addressing An ‘Overwhelming’ Housing Crisis

Rising public awareness of increasing housing crisis-driven impacts is critical to finding solutions, according to Cloward, who says the coalition’s interrelated scope ranges from serving the long-term homeless and those at risk to transitioning, affordable and workforce housing solutions.

“It is no shock, ten years in after people complaining about lack of affordable housing units, that it has become something that is so overwhelming,” she states. Optimistically, she points to 15 bills dedicated to affordable housing that Governor Jerry Brown signed and Governor Gavin Newsom’s Executive Order towards providing transparency of available land in all counties, including which properties are county-owned.

Cloward hopes more legislation comes down the pike offering incentives for workforce housing builders. “There’s all levels of housing that have to be built not just homeless shelters, not just tiny cabins for emergencies, but for families that are working…making a decent wage but that is still not enough to ever own a home,” she stresses. “Supply and demand is off and adding to the supply is a great idea at all levels, whatever that looks like for each county,” she continues. “And for the folks that are struggling…doing well and working and trying to find those units, they stay in a holding pattern for a lot longer than they used to, because of the [high] rents and lack of units.”

While finding affordable, viable land and incentivizing larger project builders to take on the work are major hurdles, Cloward acknowledges that an immense number of affordable funding sources are becoming available. Not only could COC be a conduit, she says, “Collaborating together and working across counties for larger projects — and going in together on those applications — is the best way to build workforce training housing.”

For more information on Central Sierra COC’s workings and current projects, click here.