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Plumas County declares need for homeless services

6/14/10

Joshua Sebold

Staff Writer

Dennis Thibeault, executive director of the Plumas Crisis Intervention and Resource Center, told the Plumas County Community Development Commission at a mid-May meeting that when it came to the number of homeless people in Plumas County, "The numbers that we are talking about are literally in the hundreds."

CDC Executive Director David Keller told the commission, made up of the county supervisors and an at-large member from the public, Thibeault was asking them to certify that there was a need for services to help homeless people in the county.

Keller said this would help the resource center, a non-profit, get a grant to continue to fund those kinds of services.

He added that the resource center was the lead agency in addressing homelessness in Plumas, Lassen and Sierra counties.

Thibeault explained his agency was applying for two federal "emergency shelter" grants, one for transitional housing and one for homelessness prevention. He added that these grants were competitive, meaning a few other agencies throughout the state were vying for them.

He went on to say, "The transitional housing grant is the grant that we have been using to support our project in the downtown trailer park."

Thibeault said the resource center had been renting nine units for the past two years, housing people and providing them with case management "with the end being to get them securely on their feet so they can be self-supporting. That has worked out very very well."

Case management basically means the agency's assistance is accompanied by incentives for the users to take various steps to improve their circumstances.

Thibeault later explained, "Self-sufficiency can be work or permanent disability if it warrants it, if the client has a mental impairment or has a physical impairment that limits work."

On the homeless prevention grant, Thibeault contended, "Most people are just a couple paychecks away from being homeless."

"Homeless prevention provides funding for people to keep that from happening when the unexpected happens."

He proposed a scenario where "in the middle of winter when somebody gets hit with a $400 heating bill and the car breaks down at the same time and something else happens, they find out they can't pay their bills."

Thibeault explained the grant could be used to pay one month's utility bill for people in that situation or to pay rent on a home they're currently in or even a deposit for moving into a different home if they were evicted.

He said this type of grant was also used to buy bus passes for people in need, adding that Plumas Transit recently reported that the resource center bought more than 5,000 bus passes for clients last year.

 

Real people

The resource center director also told the board, "Plumas County's homeless problem is not very visible."

"I think the stereotype of homeless people are people who are sleeping in doorways or establishing tent cities outside of Sacramento, that kind of stuff. That's not the face of homelessness in rural counties."

He said rural homeless people were less socially isolated than those in the cities, often ending up staying with friends or family or sleeping in cars.

He said Plumas County homeless included all kinds of people, even though most residents could probably only identify "one town character."

He listed some examples of homeless in Plumas County: "People who are suffering from drug and alcohol addiction or trying to recover from that, as well as mental health problems, a number of veterans who have post traumatic stress disorder, who live out in the forests."

"Half of the people that we house in our transitional housing units are enrolled at FRC (Feather River College), as retraining."

"Right now, money for college is about the only assistance available to a lot of these folks as far as income goes."

Thibeault then addressed some of the negative ways that homelessness could impact people with homes.

"The problem with doubling up with family and friends is that it brings a particular burden of stress that acts out in domestic violence sometimes, and in ways that you wouldn't have expected, or it leads to exploitation of others."

"It's not uncommon for someone who is mentally ill, who is getting their disability check, to be generous and open their doors to somebody who is homeless, who comes along and takes financial advantage of them."

 

Homeless program

On his agency's role, Thibeault explained the plan was "to not just shelter people but to get people hooked up with the resources they need to be living independently."

"In some ways we're acting as property managers for some of the landlords in this county because we are hooking people up with housing and the landlords, who have units who might be otherwise empty, because of the economy, are getting their rents paid."

Thibeault said the resource center was currently taking the lead on a $1.15 million "Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Grant," that it managed with three other entities.

He said the grant could fund up to 18 months of rent until someone's income was stabilized, depending on the circumstances, before clarifying, "We don't encourage people to stay on that long."

Thibeault said resources were scarcer than in the past, with waiting lists for the development commission's affordable housing program, so long that there weren't even new names being added to it anymore.

Keller agreed and reminded the commission that it set up that program with a focus on providing housing for working people, the elderly and those with disabilities.

He said the resource center was the other side of the coin, helping those in dire need without a stable income.

Thibeault told the board that homelessness was also one of the issues that led to children being separated from parents, adding that in Plumas County more children were taken away because of neglect than abuse.

He argued that programs like his were trying to keep people on the edge from going over.

"If you don't have a place where you can get a returned phone call you're not gonna get a job. There are all kinds of disadvantages of not having a mailing address."

"Once people sink to that level of destitution, it's a deep hole to climb out of."

At this point, commission chairwoman and Quincy commissioner Lori Simpson asked if the commission would administer the grant for the resource center.

Keller responded that the resource center was pursing the grant and the reason Thibeault was there was because the two agencies had worked closely together, PCIRC specialized in this area, and it would help them get the grant if the CDC supported that effort by certifying that homeless services were needed in the county.

Simpson asked if the nine units discussed earlier were available to people in need from any part of the county.

Thibeault said that was the case but "As you can imagine, we turn away a lot more people than we're able to accommodate."

Eastern Plumas commissioner Terry Swofford said he had a constituent come to him recently with a story about a customer whose car broke down in Plumas while the person was trying to move from the Bay Area to Colorado.

The commissioner asked if someone like that, stranded with little money, could use one of the resource center programs.

"That's what we do," Thibeault replied with a warm smile.

He explained that the sheriff's office would often end up contacting people in that type of situation, and many times a deputy would end up dropping them off at the resource center's front door.

Keller added that having groups like the resource center around helped lessen the load on the sheriff's office in many ways, "and I think that's a very valuable service, so 283-5515."

After a short pause to jot down the number, the commissioners approved the request, allowing Simpson to sign a document certifying the need for services in the county.

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