In the early 1990s, when it was learned Fort Ord would close, a group of local nonprofits working in the field of homeless services decided to take then-Congressman Leon Panetta''s advice and pool their strength to apply for properties vacated by the military, utilizing the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act.

The result was the Coalition of Homeless Services Providers (CHSP), a group of a dozen non-governmental and governmental agencies that joined forces to solve a community-wide problem: moving Monterey County''s several thousand homeless off the streets and into productive lives. Since its incorporation in 1994, the coalition has secured $11 million worth of formerly military properties for its member agencies, and has brought in more than $7 million in state and federal monies to convert that property into facilities and programs serving the county''s homeless and low-income families.

What''s unusual, and laudatory, about the coalition is that its member agencies put aside their egos and particularistic agendas in order to work together towards a common end. In combining forces with relevant government agencies, notably the county''s Department of Social Services and Housing Authority, nonprofits including the Salvation Army, Shelter Outreach Plus, Children''s Services International, Community Human Services, Food Bank for Monterey County, Housing Advocacy Council, Interim, Inc, Vietnam Veterans of Monterey County and the John XXIII AIDS Ministry have been able to apply for funding and develop programs to help the homeless in a coordinated, rather than competing, fashion.

"The coalition gives us a united front, a stronger voice," says Shelter Outreach Plus Executive Director Bob Glick. "It prevents duplication, and has fostered strong relationships. The coalition is really good when it comes to infrastructure problems and dealing with cities."

By putting forward requests as a united group rather than as individual agencies, the coalition has increased its effectiveness exponentially, says CHSP Executive Director Tom Melville. For example, he says, Interim, Inc. had approached Monterey-Salinas-Transit with a request for a fixed bus route onto Fort Ord to serve residents in Interim''s new housing project for mentally disabled clients. "When they tried to approach MST alone, it didn''t happen, but as a coalition, we were able to get the bus route in," Melville says.

He also lays credit for the relatively quick and easy transfer of $11 million worth of Fort Ord properties to local homeless services providers at the feet of the coalition. "It wouldn''t have happened if we were all on our own," he says.

In its four years of existence, the coalition has been able to secure 160 units of transitional housing on former Fort Ord land, to use for hundreds of formerly homeless, addicted and/or low-income county families and needy adults. Homes built for mid-ranking NCOs are now housing homeless women and children. A former military child care center now serves up to 200 needy children and their parents. Each project successfully completed means more county residents will have a roof over their heads and a step up to beginning a new life.

The CHSP is also working closely with the city of Marina, which inherited the bulk of Fort Ord buildings. Marina''s mayor and police chief sit on the coalition''s board of directors, and most of the transitional housing projects will have a Marina police officer living in one of its units, to provide security and act as a role model for local kids.

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Melville says that in 1999, the coalition will try to bring even more government agencies and local nonprofits into the partnership. "We try to be as inclusive and open as possible," he says. "It takes a community."

--Sue Fishkoff


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