Tuolumne County is taking steps to develop a multi-year plan aimed at combating homelessness.

The county is required to create such a plan if it wants to be eligible for funding through California’s No Place Like Home program, which would provide up to $2 billion to develop permanent supportive housing for people who are homeless and mentally ill.

“It will hopefully be something that will tell us what we have, what we need, and how we can get there,” said Sheila Shanahan, housing program coordinator for the county.

Plans must include a general description of homelessness countywide, challenges and barriers for those who are homeless, county and community-based resources that are available, potential partners and collaborations, and proposed solutions, according to the state’s guidelines.

A request for proposals from potential consultants to help with the plan is due to the county by next Thursday.

According to the RFP, the consultant would help develop a community-wide survey and put together a series of five focus groups with 10 stakeholders in each. The information gathered would then be analyzed and compiled into a report that will be used in the development of the plan.

Money for the plan comes from a $75,000 grant the county received from the state in 2017 to cover the costs associated with meeting the No Place Like Home program’s requirements.

The program was created by legislation signed into law in 2016 to dedicate up to $2 billion in bond proceeds to build housing for people who are homeless and mentally ill.

A majority of California voters will need to authorize the bonds by approving Proposition 2 in the Nov. 6 general election for the funding to become available.

Shanahan said the county is moving forward with preparing the plan to be ready if voters approve the measure.

If approved, the county would be able to apply for a $500,000 non-competitive grant next year and compete for more in a pool set aside for counties with a population of 200,000 or less.

The idea would be to try to leverage the money for a larger project that would provide units specifically for people who are homeless and mentally ill, as well as more affordable housing in general.

“The reality is we need affordable housing of any type,” Shanahan said.

Shanahan is part of a coalition of housing coordinators from Amador, Calaveras and Mariposa counties that are looking to make connections with affordable housing developers in hopes of enticing them to do projects in their respective counties, or partner on a project under the No Place Like Home program.

The Stanislaus County Housing Authority, a regional agency covering Tuolumne County and seven other counties from Alpine to Inyo, has also worked with county officials to identify locations for possible projects that would be funded under the program.

Barbara Kauss, executive director of the authority, said about three acres off Peaceful Valley Road in East Sonora was purchased earlier this year for $162,000 from Caltrans as surplus property the agency had acquired as part of the East Sonora Bypass project completed in 2013.

Kauss said the authority typically looks to purchase surplus property from other government agencies for housing projects as a way to save taxpayer money.

The authority recently reached out to Sonora Union High School District after being notified that the district was looking to sell all or a portion of its 137-acre Wildcat Ranch property, but Kauss said they’re not pursuing the land because the parcel is too large.

“We’re not pursuing that in anyway,” she said of Wildcat Ranch. “We did make the call, but call on just about every surplus property.”

While many questions remain about the No Place Like Home program’s future, homeless advocates say the exercise of developing an overarching plan to combat the issue is one that’s long overdue.

Hazel and Dick Mitchell, of Jamestown, have provided aid to the county’s homeless population through their nonprofit organization Give Someone a Chance since 2010 and said that efforts in the past were stymied due to a lack of cohesion.

The couple expressed some reservations about the bond measure to provide funding for the No Place Like Home program because such state programs have largely focused on more urban, populated areas in the past, but they said a plan for combating homelessness could help to bring together the various groups and public agencies that provide services and aid.

“There’s a lot of us that are helping homeless people,” Hazel Mitchell said. “If we can get that one concrete plan and all head in that direction, I think we would do a whole lot more for the homeless.”

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.

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