Proposed Seaside homeless shelter

A former Monterey County health building at 1292 Olympia Ave. in Seaside is the site of proposed homeless shelter run by Community Human Services and Gathering for Women.

A homeless shelter for the Monterey Peninsula came one step closer to reality on Wednesday, May 29, when the Leadership Council of the Coalition of Homeless Service Providers voted to award nearly $1.3 million to a partnership between nonprofits Community Human Services and Gathering for Women to refurbish a facility in Seaside with state funds through the Homeless Emergency Aid Program.

It’s been a long time coming, with debates swirling for years on the Peninsula about the hows, wheres and whys of creating a shelter.

The vote on Wednesday means the two nonprofits have the funds to transform a former Monterey County health building at the corner of Olympia Avenue and Noche Buena Street. They still need final approval of the project by the Seaside City Council, although the council voiced its tentative approval in February.

The city of Salinas and Monterey County also got the $6 million they were asking for to build a new homeless shelter on East Laurel Drive on county land. It’s opposed by some neighbors, but officials say it’s the best possible location near medical care at Natividad, transportation and other services.

In all, the Leadership Council awarded $12 million in HEAP funds to municipalities and nonprofits in Monterey and San Benito counties that will in turn spend the next two years launching new programs to serve or house the homeless.

Wednesday’s funding decisions came as the Leadership Council of the Coalition of Homeless Service Providers charts new territory when it comes to governing. Usually it’s city councils or county boards of supervisors that make such funding decisions, but in this case the state gave authority to the Coalition to divvy up the money.

One challenge for the Coalition's Leadership Council is that it’s made up of members who in many cases represent the very agencies requesting HEAP funds.

The council had to devise a selection process that was fair and transparent, so no one would cry foul that any proposal received preferential treatment. There was nervousness about the hard choices needed to be made, since the total requested for Monterey County projects was nearly $16.7 million, and only a little over $10 million was available.

At a meeting on March 27, the Coalition’s Executive Officer Katherine Theoni told Leadership Council members that a committee of experts who are not involved with any agency seeking funds would read all the applications, scoring each one based on how strong the plan was to serve the homeless. Each proposal would then be ranked in order of scores and that information would be shared with voting Leadership Council members.

Theoni also said that in order to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest, voting members who are affiliated with or representing agencies requesting HEAP funding would have to recuse themselves and leave the room during deliberations and voting—at least half of the council members—to adhere to California conflict-of-interest laws.

That rule was met with some pushback from those less familiar with the law, and even during the meeting Wednesday, some members questioned why they should leave. 

“I’m telling you, this is a new process, this is the first time we’re ever doing it so we’re trying to do it right,” said Monterey County Supervisor Luis Alejo, who serves as the Leadership Council president, trying to offer explanation and reassurance to members.

Alejo was one of the members who recused himself—along with roughly half the members of the Leadership Council. 

The remaining members continued their meeting at the Veterans Transition Center in Marina. 

Those members include Greenfield Mayor Lance Walker as an alternate for King City Mayor Mike LeBarre; Dana Cleary, director of real estate development for nonprofit affordable housing developer CHISPA; former director of Monterey County Social Services agency, Elliot Robinson; and Dan Baldwin, CEO of the Community Foundation for Monterey County, who stepped in as facilitator.

“Who among you left wishes you had a conflict?” Baldwin joked, lightening the mood as the remaining group settled into their responsibilities.

After the musical chairs was over and they proceeded to award funds, it appeared the process worked. The good news was that San Benito agencies—which were allotted $1.8 million total—had collectively requested about that amount, so got what they were seeking. There was also enough money—with some left over—for services to unaccompanied youth through a program proposed by Community Human Services for $857,000. Two different rental assistance programs by the Central Coast Center for Independent Living and the Housing Resource Center were also funded.

There was also enough for the three capital projects—the Seaside and Salinas shelters, plus a $260,700 housing rehabilitation project by Community Homeless Solutions.

With only approximately $690,000 left, it got a little more dicey in the category for homeless services, which totaled $3.5 million in requests. 

After some massaging of numbers—Theoni punched out calculations throughout the meeting on an adding machine with the clickity-clack sound of the paper tape rolling through the machine—the group agreed to partially fund the top two applications, both for shelter operating funds.

Salinas and the county together asked for $1 million to operate the downtown Salinas warming shelter for two years while the new shelter is being built on East Laurel. They received $396,000 to cover a good portion of one year of operations. The hope, members reasoned, is that the state will initiate a second round of HEAP funding, and the warming shelter may scoop up more funds in that round.

Community Human Services asked for $847,000 to fund one year of operations at the Seaside shelter once it’s completed in 2020, but only received $300,000.

“I would not have a problem reducing that number and holding Peninsula municipalities' feet to the fire to provide operating support,” Baldwin said during the discussion. “Because even though [the shelter is] located in Seaside, they will be ameliorating the homeless situation for all those communities and I just feel that those communities have a responsibility.”

One organization left out of the equation was Dorothy's Place, which proposed creating a street team at a cost of $610,000 that would go beyond the nonprofit's usual territory of Chinatown in Salinas to assist people living throughout the community. The council agreed Dorothy's Place should be first in line for funding should any other projects fall through.

Six other proposals were also left out but would be considered if other funds became available, in the order of their scoring. The city of Seaside made three of those requests totaling $823,000: one for portable toilets, hand-washing stations and showers; psychotherapeutic services; and, a program for students to teach life skills, job preparation and provide after school mentoring and tutoring.

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