CATHEDRAL CITY – In what could only be characterized as an act of unified compassion, the City Council voted 4-0 Wednesday to spend $51,500 in unallocated general funds in the 2018-19 budget to help homeless people.

And, the panel did not stop there.

The City Council also unanimously agreed to spend $48,500 from the just-approved 2019-2020 budget for a total of $100,000 to help homeless people with appropriate services. The $100,000 contribution is eligible for matching funds.

The decision was not a foregone conclusion. In his report to staff, Police Chief Travis Walker outlined two choices. One of the choices was to use the money to continue its partnership with the Coachella Association of Governments for its CV Housing First Program. Another option was to use the money to offset expenses the city incurred for contract service work necessary to clean trash, debris, and hazardous materials specifically generated by members of the homeless community.

Councilmember Ernesto Gutierrez initially leaned toward using the money to clean up trash and debris. He also said he preferred to keep the money in the Coachella Valley by giving it to the Coachella Valley Rescue Mission as opposed to the Riverside-based Path of Life.

He was assured that while the organization itself is based in Riverside those helping homeless people in the Coachella Valley are located locally.

Four people spoke to encourage the City Council to use the unallocated money for homeless people, for human beings. The four were former City Councilor Shelley Kaplan, Nancy Ross, Terry Applegate, and Sabby Jonathan, a member of Palm Desert City Council and chair of the CVAG Homeless Committee.

Councilors also found great comfort and assurance in knowing Greg Rodriguez will head a Coachella Valley Homelessness Collaborative. City Councilmembers know him and respect him and his work. Rodriiguez is currently Government Relations and Public Policy Advisor, to Riverside County Fourth District Supervisor V. Manuel Perez.

“As most of you are aware, the CVAG Executive Committee just approved the CVAG Homelessness Collaborative,” Rodriquez said in his letter. “This collaborative was the top recommendation from Barbara Poppe’s report, “The Path Forward,’ commissioned by the Desert Healthcare District.”

Councilmember Raymond Gregory said he is a big fan of collaboration and called it a “prudent way to go.”

Mayor Mark Carnevale, who has served on the homeless committee for five years, also praised the collaborative effort.

You may read Rodriguez’s entire letter by clicking here.

According to the Feb. 20, 2019 CVAG Homelessness Committee’s staff report, the Homelessness Committee moved in support of an offer from Perez to dedicate 75% of Government Affairs and Public Policy Advisor Rodriguez’s time to lead implementation of the homelessness collaborative recommended in the Barbara Poppe report. On March 19 and 26, 2019, the Desert Healthcare District/Foundation Board also expressed support for the offer from Perez.

Rodriguez’s role will be to work with interested parties to define the collaborative and map out a course to transition oversight of regional homelessness initiatives like CV Housing First from CVAG to the collaborative. Rodriguez will also lead implementation of other recommendations from the Poppe report, including using established connections to identify needed resources and break down administrative or operational barriers, as well as serve as the main point person for regional issues related to homelessness. As part of this process, the purpose and scope of the CVAG Homelessness Committee would be redefined to effectively support the collaborative and its partners. CVAG would continue to provide in-kind staff support for the Committee, CV Housing First, and Rodriguez.

Perez will dedicate 75% of Rodriguez’s time to the collaborative. The remaining 25% of his time will be spent on behavioral health, physical health, and housing, which are all integral to addressing homelessness and play key roles in the collaborative. The Supervisor’s office will maintain 25% of his negotiated salary as well as his County benefits. The Committee discussed funding the remaining 75% as part of a combined update on FY18/19 CV Housing First contributions and the collaborative.

The City Council ultimately — and unanimously — chose the CV Housing First Program.

Housing First is designed to provide a program that provides a combination of prevention, intervention, and stabilization opportunities for those in homeless situations or at risk of becoming homeless.

Housing First helps with:

  • Short-term financial assistance and connection to resources to help prevent a housing crisis if you are at risk of becoming homeless;
  • Shelter and other emergency housing opportunities if you are currently in a homeless situation;
  • Subsidized housing through the CV Housing First Rapid Re-housing program for qualifying individuals and families.
  • The discussion of homeless people and related services came in the wake of the 2019 “Point in Time Count” homelessness assessment. It is a federally-mandated review required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, (HUD), to count and survey the sheltered and unsheltered homeless population in cities and counties throughout the nation.

Riverside County recently released the results of its 2019 “Point in Time Count.” For the last several years, the state of California, including the Coachella Valley, has experienced an ongoing homelessness and housing crisis. The report shows that the number of homeless persons in Riverside County increased 21% compared to 2018. In all, a total of 747 volunteers counted 2,811 individuals who are homeless compared to 2,310 in 2018. (2,045 unsheltered and 766 sheltered).


Image Sources

  • Homeless: Pixaby