The City of Oakdale has joined the roster of neighboring cities to declare a shelter crisis in order to be eligible for a portion of Stanislaus County’s $7.2 million HEAP (Homeless Emergency Aid Program) pie being parceled out as part of a new funding stream aimed at stemming the homeless tide.
Council members approved the resolution 4-0 with Councilwoman Ericka Chiara abstaining at the Monday night meeting, Dec. 17.
According to data from the federal Housing and Urban Development Department, California represents approximately 25 percent of the nation’s homeless population. In 2016, California experienced the largest increase in the number of homeless than any other state.
In response, the state allocated $500 million to the HEAP program, authorized by Senate Bill (SB) 850, which was signed into law by Governor Brown in June.
While the City of Oakdale may feel somewhat insulated against the problem – at last count Oakdale’s homeless count was listed at 19 individuals – the problem is more deeply-rooted than what may be believed.
Which is why City Manager Bryan Whitemyer urged the council to approve the resolution – the ‘point in time’ counts for the homeless aren’t necessarily accurate.
“Nineteen isn’t a real number,” Whitemyer cautioned the council. “We need to get better at those counts so we can get better at offering services … That’s what I like about this program, it’s not just about shelter but about services.”
Services that are nearly impossible to obtain, according to Pamela Kelly, the Oakdale Rescue Mission Executive Director. Kelly runs a charitable nonprofit organization that provides outreach to the local homeless.
“Low-income housing doesn’t exist,” Kelly said, explaining that there’s a circular paper trail that ultimately ends with an endless wait list and a dead end for those seeking help.
And the homeless situation is more pervasive than many might believe, particularly if they aren’t seeing people walking the streets.
Newly elected Mayor JR McCarty shared a story of a young mother who recently lost everything in a fire, including an 8-year-old child, and her husband was currently in intensive care. The woman was doing everything she could do scrape by.
“If it weren’t for her family members, she would be homeless on the street with her three children,” McCarty shared. “Affordable housing, here in Oakdale, is something that we do lack.”
More people are living with family members because they can’t make ends meet on their own. Not because they are shiftless, drug addicts, or lazy, but simply because they cannot survive on what they bring in.
Some are young, some are elderly, but the invisible homeless are a bigger problem than most realize and there simply aren’t enough resources to help.
Whitemyer explained that the HEAP grant can be used for a variety of different services, including street outreach, health and safety education, criminal justice diversion programs, rental assistance, housing vouchers, and emergency shelter, to name a few. At least 5 percent of the HEAP funds must be used toward establishing or expanding services that meet the needs of homeless youth or youth at risk of homelessness.
Whitemyer assured the council, declaring the shelter crisis would not make Oakdale “shovel-ready” for a homeless shelter.
New council member Christopher Smith matter-of-fact agreed with the resolution, saying, “The bottom line is there’s a bucket of money and we can’t reach into that bucket of money and get our share without declaring our crisis.”
Whitemyer reminded council members that any decision to use the funds would come before council so even if the grant language were to change, it would be up to the council’s discretion to accept or decline the funds.
“Approval of this (resolution) doesn’t mean we’re starting a shelter … it means we’re leaving the door open to accept funds through this program,” Whitemyer said.
In other news, council woman Cherilyn Bairos was named Mayor Pro Tem.
The next regular Oakdale City Council meeting will be held Monday, Jan. 7, 2019 at the Council Chambers.