NEWS

Salinas awarded $4M to house homeless, restore areas used as homeless encampments

Grace Kitayama
For The Californian

Salinas has been awarded $4 million by The California Interagency Council on Homelessness to help aid in the fight against homelessness. 

The city, along with 19 other California municipalities, received Cal ICH funding to help with transitional housing and to restore the ecosystem where homeless encampments are located. 

Rod Powell, the city's housing division planning manager, said the city has a two-pronged plan to spend the money.

The first step will be to house those who are homeless by putting them up in local motels. Those individuals will then be placed in permanent housing.

Powell said some ways this could be done would be by offering undocumented homeless people assistance in finding documentation, finding resources to provide mental health treatment, or finding them employment. 

One of the many encampments inhabited by people experiencing homelessness in Salinas, Calif., on Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021.

The second step will be rebuilding the homeless encampments to their natural state. Many encampments have been created in parks or city creeks.

Private groups that have partnered with the city have also made contributions to the city’s $4 million award, bringing the total funding to address homelessness in the community to $7.1 million. That may seem like a lot of money, but Powell said homelessness is a very expensive issue to tackle.

“The cost of homelessness is extremely high, and the cost of affordable housing, which includes rents, and the availability of that housing is even higher,” Powell said. “We're constantly battling that dichotomy.”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, available funding in jurisdictions such as Salinas was extremely limited, according to Powell. The funding would never be more than $600,000 and would often only be granted in emergency situations, coming from a combination of federal and state grants. However, with COVID-19, the city received an influx of funding upwards of $11 million — 18 times more than what the city had been receiving annually. 

Powell said that the pandemic brought forward a distinct need to help people who are homeless to shelter in place and give them the same protections that individuals who are housed would have.

COVID-19 funding is set to expire on June 30. The city has been diligently spending and subcontracting those funds as directed, before the money runs out.

“We're not exactly sure what the funding levels are going to be after that,” Powell said. 

Powell hopes funding like this will continue for every jurisdiction in California that needs it.

“The governor's throwing these opportunities out to jurisdictions is really a step in the right direction. But we would all definitely love to see more funding,” Powell said. “There's a good possibility of that happening.”

Powell said that one reason addressing homelessness can be difficult is because many homeless people are transitory, switching locations often, which can make it hard for the city to rehabilitate them. 

However, additional funding can help remedy some issues addressing chronic homelessness in Salinas, he said.

“It's really understandable how the public looks at homelessness,” Powell said. “Nobody wants to drive down the highways and through the streets and see people who don't appear to be living in the best conditions. But we work on this every day, all day. So, we are doing our best to use what limited resources we have available to leverage into bigger opportunities.”