Lassen County launches plan to deal with homelessness

No one — Lassen County residents, Susanville residents or the homeless themselves — probably will see any immediate results of Lassen County’s recent decision to move forward with a 10-year plan to address homelessness.

That’s the bad news. The good news is the county is taking the first bold step toward addressing the homelessness problem that raises real ire and concern among county and city residents alike.

The plan is part of the No Place Like Home program enacted by California Governor Jerry Brown in 2016.

The program dedicated $2 billion in bond proceeds to serve the homeless population. The bonds are repaid from taxes paid by those who make $1 million or more per year. Lassen County can apply for $500,000 in noncompetitive funds and up to $20 million in competitive funds. The funding will be used to create permanent supportive housing for the homeless — especially those with mental health issues, and emotionally disturbed children and their families.

The county will contract with an experienced development sponsor who will develop and own the housing units based upon the Housing First principles. The county will provide mental health services to the tenants. The easiest and quickest way to develop housing is by using existing construction, such as an old motel.

In May (and in a later revision in July), County Administrative Officer Richard Egan and Health and Social Services Director Barbara Longo inked a $23,000 contract with HousingTools, a housing and community development consulting company in Chico to develop and help execute the 10-year plan. Because the contract was less than $25,000, Egan said he is authorized to approve it on his own signature without board of supervisors’ approval.

According to a Tuesday, Nov. 12 presentation by Housing Tools’ Sherry Morgado, the Lassen County 2019 Point in Time Count survey that collected data on homelessness reported 46 people experienced homelessness, and 11 of them were unsheltered. Most of them have lived in county for more than a year. Morgado admitted those numbers were low.

Morgado reported in the last two years, a similar program in Plumas County led to a 100 percent decrease in admissions to psychiatric treatment and substance abuse treatment facilities, a 63.6 percent decrease in incarcerations among the served population, a 50 percent decrease in the number of clients on probation and an 85.7 percent decrease in the number of unwarranted hospital emergency room visits. At the same time 30.8 percent of clients maintained or gained income through employment or an increase of SSD/SDI income, and 67.7 percent of clients moved from transitional housing to a permanent living arrangement.

One Plumas County resident told us there was no homeless problem on the other side of Diamond Mountain.

While we probably share with some of our readers a genuine cynicism and nagging suspicion regarding long-term government, grant-funded programs that use taxpayer dollars to address social issues such as homelessness — the fear that such programs, if left unmonitored and unattended can turn into little more than expensive bureaucracies that accomplish nothing and fail to address a problem while funneling our tax money to those few who administer them — we commend the county for taking that first step, and w expect they will follow through and steer this program they’ve launched to a successful end.