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Plumas and Sierra counties advisory committee brainstorms on the homeless and housing

The NorCal Continuum of Care Plumas-Sierra counties advisory committee met Oct. 24 to have its second brainstorming session on how best to proceed in addressing the chronically homeless in Plumas and Sierra counties — a population which often includes those recovering from substance abuse and mental health issues.

Eighteen concerned citizens from a variety of county agencies participated, most prominently from Behavioral Health, Probation, PCIRC and Planning. Supervisor Lori Simpson was also present.

NorCal CoC is “is a consortium of individuals and organizations with the common purpose of planning a housing and services system for people who are homeless. The CoC serves as a convening entity tasked with the critical mission of ending homelessness in the city of Redding and in the counties of Shasta, Lassen, Plumas, Sierra, Siskiyou, Del Norte and Modoc Counties,” according to its website.

“The CoC is responsible for managing Housing and Urban Development funds for homelessness,” according to the site.

The extended meeting Oct. 24 showcased a Housing Tools Presentation and Planning PowerPoint, which had data and information from stakeholders in Plumas and Sierra counties. The Plumas Continuum of Care vision for success states that the ultimate goal is a “homeless response system that effectively uses resources, quickly connecting our neighbors with services to regain and retain housing or to prevent homelessness from occurring.”

The idea of the CoC’s plan is that reduction of homelessness will make the quality of life for all Plumas and Sierra county residents better. Call it a localized plan for a nationwide problem.

Priorities

The group identified seven priorities at the September meeting and went over the organization of the goals and some of the findings the group had pinpointed previously.

The seven priorities are increasing capacity and availability of housing, coordinating efforts between county organizations, implementing data tracking and prioritizing housing services, transportation, and funding.

Plumas and Sierra counties have no shelters per se, and do not have motels that will block off rooms specifically for homeless with mental health needs. Priority short term housing for motels is often for emergency workers (fire) and contractors.

There is some transitional housing (defined as a few days to a couple of months) and many programs to assist county residents in getting back on their feet.

Homeless residents face the same challenges as other residents in the county — a shortage of affordable housing in line with wages — but they often also face poor rental histories on top of it. This coupled with incoming college students from out of the area and landlords taking rentals off the market in favor of vacation rentals (like AirBNB) exacerbates the shortage.

There isn’t a shortage of Section VIII vouchers for housing, but there is a shortage of landlords who accept them.

There’s also no specifically designated senior housing in the counties either.

Specialized needs

The conversation and presentation brought home just how complex and complicated housing for those with specialized needs is. It wasn’t so much a meeting of solutions but a meeting of putting on the table all resources and realities that will play a part in the discussion to quell homelessness in the counties.

Sierra House is now closed and board and care facilities across the state are closing.

How do county agencies provide support for those coming out of recovery programs to be able to stay drug-free and sober and in recovery if they are released back into environments that are stressful or full of drugs and alcohol?

How do county agencies convince landlords to accept Section VIII housing vouchers and to realize that any damage to dwellings is compensated and fixed?

How do we acknowledge co-occurring disorders in the homeless population?

How do you teach life-skills to the chronically homeless that include budgeting? Where is the balance between personal autonomy and public health and safety?

How do different agencies communicate with each other regarding the same clients to best serve the client and the community?

County agencies now have a database were clients can enter their info and agencies can follow and track what’s being done for clients easier: the Homeless Management Information System.

State housing grants will be available soon that give counties flexibility in how they are spent to help reduce homelessness.

For Plumas CoC, the discussion is ongoing — planning to address the problem will go in stages.

At the first meeting in September, the advisory committee appointed Plumas County Planning Director Tracey Ferguson as the Continuum of Care executive committee representative. She will provide representation of Plumas and Sierra counties on the committee for the rest of NorCal. There was concern that Shasta county made decisions concerning the region without enough input from the rest of the counties.

Brainstorming for a strategic plan to address housing issues began at the September meeting. Aimee Heaney of Behavioral Health collected possibilities and information.

The next meeting is Dec. 12 in the Plumas County Planning and Building Permits Meeting Room at 555 W. Main St. in Quincy, from 10 to 11 a.m. The meetings are open to the public.

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