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Much of independent living center grant funded

If something sounds too good to be true, the old saying goes, it probably is.

In the case of Tuolumne County's new independent living center, however, it is not.

The Mono Vista-area center will house foster children who have just turned 18, and counselors there will teach them the living and job skills they never learned from a family. As most of the residents will be former juvenile offenders, abused children or both, the center is sorely needed.

But get this: The county won't pay a cent for the six-bedroom, three-bath North Sunshine Road shelter.

Custom Builders of Twain Harte will construct it for $639,000 — which is $136,000 below the architect's estimate and $361,000 under the $1 million grant the county won for the project. And the property, which already houses an ambulance station, is already owned by the county.

County Administrator Craig Pedro said project costs may be so low — even $250,000 or so in design costs and equipment bills may not bring the expenditure total to $1 million — that some of the grant money may be sent back.

Huh?

In an era of money-hungry governments scrounging for every last cent, do bureaucrats ever admit they were paid too much? It just might happen here.

And there's more good news: Tuolumne County has qualified for an annually renewable grant to pay the salary of a live-in counselor to stay at the site. So the county's costs, at least for the foreseeable future, will be — you got it — zero.

So was it just luck? Or was more involved?

Some of both, it turns out.

First off, the independent living center was no fortunate accident officials here merely stumbled upon.

Instead, said Linda Downey of the Child Welfare Services Department, the need for interim housing for young adults just coming out of foster care has been evident for a decade or more.

"It's a project I've been working on for eight years," she said. "These are kids who haven't had a lot of family support and once they're out of foster care, they're on their own. They are young people with no mom or dad to cosign on an apartment lease or even lend them $10 if they're in a pinch."

The consequences of being put on the street at age 18 are not always pleasant. "I heard from three of them last month, and they were pretty much homeless," said Downey.

At the independent living center, which will house five young adults at a time for up to two years each, clients will be taught both living and job skills. The goal is to give them the skills to get employment and their own home.

Credit for finding and winning the grants goes to Deputy County Administrator Maureen Frank, who began her search in 2005. The work paid off last summer, when the county won the $1 million California Housing and Community Development Department grant.

The great project bids — only one of three received exceeded the engineer's estimate — are a silver lining of sorts. With the housing and mortgage crunch, contractors are eager for work and bids on public projects have been very competitive.

For Tuolumne County, the independent living shelter has been a fortunate convergence of hard work and timing.

We can only hope that such such government success will continue through the coming challenging economic climate.

Union Democrat editorial positions are formed through regular meetings of the newspaper's editorial board — Publisher Ron Horton; editor Teresa Chebuhar; managing editor, news Craig Cassidy; senior reporter-columnist Chris Bateman.


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The Union Democrat 05/02/15

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