Sherry Morgado, of Housing Tools, kleft, presents a 10-year plan to end homelessness to a group gathered at the Monitcola Club last Tuesday. Photo by Glenda Svendsen

Lassen County moves to tackle homelessness

County officials, a housing contractor specializing in homeless issues and about 30 members of the public gathered for a Tuesday, Nov. 12 meeting at the Monticola Club to discuss solutions to the homeless issue in Lassen County.

The meeting began with a 2016 TEdTalk Lloyd Pendlelton gave on the implementation of Housing First in Utah.

The presenter and the consultant, Community Development Manager of Housing Tools, Sherry Morgado, introduced the video.

“I feel this presentation is powerful and lays a good foundation for us to explore this data and develop strategies.”

One of the strategies for implementing plans to provide housing for the homeless in our area is applying for and obtaining grants such as The Affordable Housing Program, USDA Rural Assistance Program, No Place Like Home, Partnership Health and many more.

Public grants receive funding from the public through tax dollars. The United States government has 26 agencies exclusively in charge of making grants so the list of resources is a lengthy one.

The Housing Tools website explains, “ … there will be an entire slate of new funding opportunities available to address homelessness and affordable housing for both local governments and Continua of Care in California.

“Housing Tools is tracking the latest developments on these opportunities and is poised to assist you with your Homeless Plan, funding applications and strategic plans for using these various funding streams in a cohesive fashion.”

Morgado explained the grants plus other monies from various sources would be used to establish a 10-year plan to address homelessness in Lassen County.

Details for the plan vary with individual communities and Morgado said decisions will be reached in conjunction with county government. An initial $21,000 contract with Housing Tools to develop this plan was signed in May 2019.


Public comment

There was a question and answer period after the Ted Talk and a PowerPoint presentation of related statistics touting the program’s success.

An aspect of the program is that the property used to house the homeless will be owned by private investors and managed by an outside company that would be constantly monitoring and regulating the facility. However, the county will still be responsible to provide mental health services.

One man identified himself as a homeless veteran and expressed concerns over the 10-year timeline, suggesting a more immediate result could be obtained if every person present at the meeting would offer a hand-up and invite a homeless individual into their home at the close of the meeting. He also expressed objections that the proposed housing facilities would have rules, and he attributed that as a sticking point that initially rendered him homeless in Chico.

Another attendee volunteered he owns property near Lake Forest Estates and has already started to build a tiny house with plans for many more in hopes of establishing a tent city for homeless people. He is presently navigating the sea of county permits required.

A fairly recent Lassen County transplant — Robert Larivee moved here three years ago to be near family. Larivee’s expertise on the homeless issue stems from the fact that he was homeless for a stretch 30 years ago. After the death of his grandparents, he slept in a rolled-up carpet on the streets of Los Angeles.

With special insight into the challenges of being homeless, he later worked as a private citizen to help find solutions. He experienced success with alleviating aspects of the issue plaguing the high desert community of Victor Valley.

After witnessing a number of homeless people abusing the system, Larivee began a dialogue with church, government, business and nonprofit leaders.

“We wanted to find ways to serve the homeless community more efficiently and to stop the duplication of services,” Larivee said. “Maybe if we open up a discussion, we can come to a solution to the many problems we encounter.”

Larivee shared one of many successes with this endeavor: “I recall one situation where I encountered a homeless man who identified himself as a veteran. We were able to get him over to the High Desert Homeless Shelter in Victorville and made arrangements for him at the Veteran’s Home in Barstow. He was eventually able to get all his veteran’s benefits sorted out and find his own apartment.”

Larivee spearheaded a summit in 2012 with an emphasis on helping veterans. Within six months he had helped to reduce the homeless veteran population by 19 percent.

During the question and answer portion of the presentation led by Housing Tools, Larivee pointed out that ending homelessness is an unrealistic goal.

Morgado conceded, “The feds use that term and even they know it’s not a realistic goal.”

Also voicing concerns with the limitations of a 10-year plan, City Councilmember Joe Franco asked, “What about today? How will we deal with the needles and trash in our river? Trails that people no longer feel safe hiking on and stores that many people — particularly seniors — no longer feel safe frequenting?”

An elderly couple toward the front of the room responded, “We are here to discuss solutions, not problems.”

Franco reiterated, “The current situation isn’t helping the homeless and it is affecting citizens, families and our tourism opportunities right now.”