$1.2 million to fight poverty locally

Homeless stimulus
By: Nathan Donato-Weinstein Gold Country News Service
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Help is on the way for the growing problem of homelessness in Placer County. Eight nonprofits serving the region will share $1.2 million in federal stimulus funds over the next two years. The money’s mission? Make a dent in the number of people slipping into homelessness. And get those who have already lost their homes back on track. The major grant marks the largest local distribution of funds from the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and is meant to combat the issue, which has exploded as the economy has deteriorated. Placer County’s unemployment rate is hovering at 11.3 percent, and organizations say they’re seeing more middle-class residents turn to them for help with things like utility-bill assistance. “We’re not able to meet all these needs,” said Michelle Talbott, social service director at the Salvation Army of Auburn. “We’ve had to turn people away.” Roseville-based KidsFirst, for instance, served more than 12,000 clients so far this year, double the number it planned for. “Everyone’s been hit so hard,” Executive Director DeAnne Thornton said. Organizations received news of the grant this month and money will begin rolling out to groups in the weeks ahead. Groups receiving funds include KidsFirst, the Salvation Army of Auburn, Sierra Foothills AIDS Foundation, Legal Services of Northern California, Roseville HomeStart, the Lazarus Project, the Lincoln Lighthouse and the North Tahoe Family Resource Center. The money will help the community in two ways, grantees said. Roughly half the funding must go toward the groups’ efforts to prevent homelessness through services including utility-bill and temporary rent assistance. “We’ve had a tremendous increase in need from Placer County citizens facing foreclosure, whether it’s their own or landlords,” Thornton said. “We had an avalanche of clients this year that we weren’t planning on.” The rest will be dedicated to helping homeless get back into housing and setting up a computerized homeless-services tracking system. For instance, the Lazarus Project – which runs four transitional group homes for homeless individuals – will be able to support qualifying clients with one to nine months’ rental help. It will also hire a part-time “housing resource coordinator,” whose job is to assist in the search for viable permanent housing for homeless people, said David Loya, executive director. “The need is so great out there,” he said. Talbott said things like rent assistance are granted only after an “intensive needs assessment” and can help people for up to three months. “They have to do a budget,” she said. “We look at what’s incoming and outgoing, where they need to make changes in these hard times. Then, the dollars go directly to the vendor, not the client. We’ll actually pay the landlord the rent. Or it will go to PG&E.” Still, while the organizations involved are welcoming the grant funds, they said they don’t alleviate the continued need for community support. “Even with all these grants, we’re still short and have to rely on churches and foundations to make it happen,” Loya said.