With the purpose of garnering state funds, the Grover Beach City Council voted unanimously to declare a homeless shelter crisis. Last month, the City of Arroyo Grande made the same declaration and several more Central Coast cities plan to address similar statements in November.
In June 2017, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 850, Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP), which allots a onetime amount of $500 million to address the state’s homeless challenges. One of the criteria cities must meet to receive a portion of the funds is to make a homeless shelter crisis declaration. The program states that $4.8 of the $500 million has been set aside for San Luis Obispo County.
“The state law did require every jurisdiction that wishes to be eligible for this funding to formally declare a shelter crisis,” said City Manager Matthew Bronson in his report to the city. “This language is very specific in the statutes section, it’s a ‘shelter crisis’ in order to be eligible for such funding…”
The program dictates that the grant will be distributed to the county, which would determine where the funds will be spent. The county has until the end of the year to make a declaration, but can only declare for its unincorporated areas and not for cities. The legislation specifies that funds must go toward homeless aid that include, but is not limited to, capital projects, emergency aid services, and homelessness prevention activities. HEAP also states that $250,000 must be spent on services that aid unaccompanied youth.
Mike Byrd of the 5 Cities Homeless Collation (FCHC) told the council that the unique factor of HEAP is the quickness in which the funds would be distributed and used. He said that the FCHC, the county and other organizations have been planning for these potential funds and stated that the area as a whole is ready to present appealing solutions and will be able to meet the time parameters set by HEAP.
“The declaration tonight is really important to that process,” Byrd told the council, “because we’re trying to approach this from a South County regional perspective, and we need the region to all be in it.”
According to the legislation “at least 50% of program funds be contractually obligated by January 1, 2020, and 100% of program funds contractually obligated by June 30, 2021, and further require that any unexpended funds as of the latter date be returned to the agency and revert to the General Fund. The bill would authorize the agency to request a repayment of funds from an administrative entity, or to pursue any other remedies available by law for failure to comply with program requirements,” which is legalize for use it or lose it.
The U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department takes a Point in Time survey (PIT) every two years to count the sheltered and unsheltered homeless in the nation for one specific day. The 2017 study showed 1,125 homeless within SLO County’s borders and with 359 homeless found in Grover Beach. The next survey will be conducted in Jan. 2019.
By Mark A. Diaz