Hemet’s Homeless Task Force sees little progress

No action taken since the task force established in Feb 2016

■ Melissa Diaz Hernandez / Editor

The city of Hemet formed an ad hoc committee in February 2016 in an effort to address homelessness amidst growing pressure from the community. That ad hoc committee was then renamed as a task force. Mayor Linda Krupa and Councilwoman Bonnie Wright are the City Council representatives serving on that task force.
The meetings started out with a large attendance with representatives from the faith-based community, Center Against Sexual Assault (CASA), National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) and Restoring our Community Strategy (ROCS) and local nonprofits, to name a few.
Now, the meetings are attended by just three or so members in addition to Krupa and Wright.
In last month’s state of the city address, Wright said that the task force is comprised of faith-based leaders, public safety and mental health professionals, nonprofit organizations and members of the public.
“Our mission is to work collectively to form a successful plan and permanent solution to encourage the homeless who are seeking a better way of life,” stated Wright in the video.

How many people are homeless in Hemet?
According to the Point-In-Time (PIT) count that is done every January, Hemet had 119 people classified as homeless in Jan 2017. That real number may be higher because it’s difficult to count everyone. Approximately 10 percent of students within the Hemet Unified School District (HUSD) are classified as homeless or with unstable housing. Many homeless people are also plagued by mental illness.
Physicians for Healthy Hospitals, the parent company of Menifee Valley Medical Center and Hemet Valley Medical Center, has surpassed 1,000 mental health 5150 holds during the first 10 months of 2017.
The Valley Chronicle previously reported that the Homeless Task Force is responsible for working on a City Council-approved study conducted by Paul Webster, director of strategic advancement, with Solutions for Change in Vista, California.
“Solutions for Change is a proven model with program elements that will enable our community to create a permanent, sustainable solution for addressing homelessness,” said Wright. The study was approved on May 9, according to the City Council minutes.

Solutions for Change MOU behind schedule
City Clerk Sarah McComas, in an email to a source on Nov. 20, stated that the city had not yet entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Solutions for Change.
The MOU and its status were discussed in an email to our source from Interim City Manager Allen Parker. “While I have received a program narrative and a cost ($19,000), I’m waiting for a contract that he’s [Webster] supposed to send me,” said the source.
Webster stated by phone that he is currently finalizing the contract and hopes to send it to Parker by the end of the week. The feasibility study is slated to start at the beginning of 2018.
During the October task force meeting, Wright mentioned that the city would benefit from the study even if the city decided to proceed in a different direction.

New project or upgrade Valley Restart?

While there was a task force meeting on July 24, almost 18 months after the task force was formed, an MOU was not in place at that time. Webster explained, per the newspaper’s source, that the feasibility study would take two to three months to complete. Webster was brought in as a consultant to the task force in May or June.
What is the timeline to build a Solutions for Change sister property in Hemet? Wright and Webster determined that it would take three to four years to complete the project.
The July 24 task force meeting had a discussion about the city obtaining a property on S. Yale Street for an apartment project. Also on the agenda was item No. 3 “Moving forward–items for consideration discussion.” Items that fall under that heading are Valley Restart upgrade, SFC Program Housing, schedule timelines, program funding and how the faith-based community can help.
Wright suggested during that meeting that the task force support Valley Restart upgrades and that the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) be utilized. It is uncertain if the CDBG funds for 2017 will be approved by the federal government. The city has already voted on how the funds would be dispersed earlier this year in case the funds were released.
Hemet Christian Assembly Pastor Steve Norman mentioned during the meeting that Hemet Gate Keepers (HGK) would be getting their vehicles in the next five days. According to the source, Norman said that HGK was pressuring people out of areas heavily populated by the homeless.
The Aug. 28 meeting included the introduction of two new lieutenants with the Salvation Army, James and Katrina Fleming. Scheduled timelines were not discussed, even though it was an agenda item. It is uncertain what timelines were to be discussed because no goals or action items have been set.
Program funding and grant options were discussed. However, the city itself is unable to obtain any of the grant options discussed because they are designed specifically for larger nonprofit organizations such as the Salvation Army.
The Salvation Army was discussed as a possible access center in order to obtain grant funds. There was also a recap on the possible Solutions for Change sister property in Hemet.

HPD partners with county mental health
Hemet Police Department’s Lt. Eric Dickson spoke about the partnership between the Hemet Police Department (HPD) and Riverside University Health System (RUHS) for mental health support. RUHS is providing a mental health professional to assist HPD with mental health calls.
Project Hope II Founder Stacie Olson gave some insight to the difficulties associated with obtaining help and resources for those on the streets. Advocates are key.
“I know what that is like. I have had to advocate for someone who was at the hospital and it was very difficult to get resources,” explained Olson. “He kept being denied resources. He had to have an advocate in order to get anywhere.”

The weather is getting colder, with no solutions in sight
In the October meeting, Wright asked Valley Restart Director Linda Rogers what the city could do to help her organization, another successful program in the area. Rogers is currently compiling a list of helpful upgrades.
During the meeting, a task force member asked what is preventing the city from allowing Valley Restart to take in up to 100 people as opposed to the current limit of 35? Councilwoman Wright asked Rogers why the cap on the number of people who could receive assistance was so low.
When Rogers was hired in 2003, she was hired for just 30 days because funds were lacking and the shelter was facing closure. At that time, the capacity was set at 77, but that included people sleeping on the floor with mats and blankets.
There was a homeless task force in the city at that time, made up of representatives from Riverside County Department of Social Services (DPSS), the city of Hemet, the city of San Jacinto and Hemet City Manager Steve Temple, in addition to Rogers. The task force created a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that entailed placing an emphasis on local families, putting the property up for sale, relocating the shelter, reducing the capacity to just 35 people, and not house parolees, according to Rogers.
Rogers stated that Valley Restart complied with all five directives. However, the MOU was never signed because the other parties did not do their part, according to Rogers. The other members of the task force were unable to provide funding, and the task force ultimately dissolved.
The shelter had been awarded a $1 million Emergency Housing Assistance Program (EHAP) capital development grant to pay for the construction of a new shelter on the back of the property. Those funds were contingent upon securing additional grant funding.
According to the Sept. 14, 2010 Hemet City Council agenda, the city allocated $300,000 of CDBG funds to Valley Restart to bring utilities, roads, curbs, gutters etc. to the Valley Restart expansion. This $300,000 grant would have met the conditions required to receive the $1 million in EHAP funding. Unfortunately the council approved, then rescinded the funds.
Additionally, the shelter was eligible for another $105,000 from a different program. Each funding source was contingent upon the others and Valley Restart had to pull a permit by a particular date, which Rogers is unable to recall.
When the city rescinded the funds, it was too late for Valley Restart to look for other funding options. The faith-based community petitioned the city of Hemet to reconsider rescinding the funds, but did not prevail.
It is now the end of November, it’s cold at night, and a feasibility study has not been completed. A study, that according to sources, was cheap by Wright’s standards at approximately $19,000.

Resources – what is actually available?
When it comes to resources in the valley, other than Valley Restart, there isn’t much besides a few men’s homes. Other than that, one can add their name to a list and hope something opens up. Valley Restart has a long waitlist and is forced to turn people away.
According to Rogers, the only shelters open in Riverside County are the Coachella Rescue Mission, Path of Life in Riverside and Hemet’s Valley Restart.
Everyone talks about resources, but available resources is an entirely different story. Funding is quite scarce. When someone is looking for shelter, the chances that they will be placed on a waitlist are high.

When does the task force meet?
Task force meetings are held toward the end of every month, except December; no meetings are held in December. The next meeting is scheduled for Jan. 22, 2018, according to the Oct. 23, 2017 meeting agenda.

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