Homeless housing coming soon

A seven-unit apartment complex will house seven single chronically homeless sometime in early October, according to Madera County District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler.

An Oakhurst property near town was recently purchased and remodeled by a private party, who has leased the property to Turning Point of Central California. They are funding the project through a grant from Housing Urban Development (HUD). Turning Point, headquartered in Visalia, will manage the property, with Madera County Behavioral Health and Social Services running programs in an effort to help the homeless make forward strides in their lives.

The facility, as part of the HUD grant, will give preference and priority to serving homeless veterans, but will be offered to all chronically homeless as vacancies become available. (Anyone who has lived on the streets for a year or more qualifies as chronically homeless).

Turning Point’s mission statement is helping people develop skills, motivation, and resources to become productive members of society. This is done by providing participants the opportunity to create a healthy and productive life.

“Turning Point currently runs 20 similar operations in the valley,” Wheeler said. “... there’s an extensive approval process, and lots of standards - no partying, no drugs, no drinking - many don’t want to follow the rules and leave.”

“There’s a stigma out there that these people don’t want to be helped, but we haven’t found that to be true,” Jody Ketcheside, deputy regional director for Turning Point, said. “No one aspires to be homeless. No one grows up saying they want to live on the streets. Turning Point has shown a retention rate of 86% for those who went into permanent housing.”

Wheeler said the Oakhurst housing will be a cleanly-run operation, “and if it works out, we plan on acquiring another property for homeless couples ... and then one for homeless families.”

An office, manned eight hours daily, will be located on the property. During evening hours, area churches and volunteers will be on-call to assist, if necessary.

Residents who have an income source will be required to pay 30% of that income towards their rent, with the HUD grant picking up the balance. They can stay indefinitely - the catch is strict rules must be followed. Wheeler has suggested that shower and laundry facilities for non-resident homeless be made available at the complex.

“This is going to help get some of these people off the streets,” Wheeler said. “We have been working towards this for years, and this is just one step in trying to help those in need.”

“There are a few of these homes in Madera,” said Dennis Koch, director of Madera County Behavioral Health, “and the neighbors don’t even know those homes are there. HUD projects are successful because they help people get into stable housing that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford. There are times in everyone’s life when they need a little help, and there are some who don’t have family or a community to step-up. This is a positive step for these people. It will also give them the opportunity to receive needed services ... They don’t need the spotlight. They need the help.”

“The facility will provide more than just housing. Residents will also get on-site services and treatment for mental health and/or alcohol and drug abuse issues, as well as employment opportunities,” District 3 Supervisor Rick Farinelli said.

“I’m grateful to the hard work of Jody Ketcheside of Turning Point and Madera County Behavioral Health for working so hard to secure the HUD grant that is making this project possible,” Farinelli added. “While the number of homeless vets in Madera is comparably small with our neighboring counties, even one homeless vet is a homeless vet too many. I hope projects like this will help them get back on their feet and help them rejoin the community ... In all, the team effort to accomplish this is a credit to the mission – a home for every vet. It means a great deal to me, and I can’t wait to see it open.”

The project was originally planned for Madera, but after months of delays due to red tape, it was decided to move the project to Oakhurst.

Earlier in the year, a survey was conducted nationwide to determine the number of homeless in each region. The purpose was determining the allocation of financial resources for low-income housing through the HUD program. Locally, the survey was managed through the Fresno/Madera Continuum of Care.

In February, 51 Mountain Area homeless were surveyed. Even so, it is believed there are about 100 homeless in Eastern Madera County. Of those 51, there was one family (with two children), six couples (either partners or married), and 35 individuals - 63% were male and 37% were female. The average length of time these homeless have lived on the streets was in excess of two years.

Counties across the state are beginning to recognize the need for a new approach in dealing with the complicated issue of homelessness.

“This model of assistance is known as Housing First. It has been tested across the states and has shown to be an effective model of addressing homelessness,” Michael Baird of Sierra Vista Presbyterian Church said. “The premise is that while on the streets, most individuals don’t have the capacity to address the long-term issues contributing to their homelessness since most of their energy is focused on addressing the immediate needs of the day. Providing stable housing to individuals, and then offering them structured direction allows them to get to the root of their homelessness, and actually start making progress.”

San Jose has more than 4,000 homeless moving in and out of shelters. The city’s Housing Department’s Homelessness Response Team believes this social problem requires long-term commitments and partnerships, developing and implementing programs that address the chronically homeless, and that the only way to end homelessness is to provide housing.

In Los Angeles, officials recently asked that a state of emergency be declared and proposed $100 million for reducing the number of homeless. A portion of these funds would be set aside for permanent housing and shelter. According to a recent Associated Press story, a study conducted by the city’s top budget official earlier in the year determined that LA spends that amount yearly just in dealing with this population.

“This is an incredible opportunity for our community ... it’s a significant positive step in addressing the issues of poverty and homelessness in the Mountain Area, and I am confident that we will quickly see the benefits of it,” Baird added. “Homelessness has been a significant issue in our community over the last few years and we now have the opportunity to address the issue head-on with a solution that has proven to work. There are many individuals who just need a break in order to get around the next corner and back on their feet - and this is exactly the sort of break they need.”