A solution to abolish homelessness is under way.
But it'll take at least 10 years.
And around $36,000 to kick-start.
Merced County, the city of Merced and Los Banos city officials vowed to work together on a 10-year-plan to end homelessness. Officials cited homelessness as a problem that could be solved by more community involvement and various cities working together to come up with a structured plan. They met Wednesday in Merced.
The meeting doesn't come a moment too soon.
Merced's homeless were forced out of their camps last week because of a citywide no-camping ordinance. Proponents of the decade document hope a plan -- once implemented -- would offer solutions to help the homelessness. Those would be mostly in the form of housing and eventual self-sufficiency.
The plan mimics others found across the country, but will be more personalized to suit the area, according to Jeanette Garcia, Continuum of Care coordinator.
Garcia said the plan would "get that individual to a place where they can start working and contributing back and ultimately become self-sufficient."
The cost of the contract for the consultant to develop the 10-year plan is $36,050 with the Institute for Urban Initiatives, a nonprofit, faith-based organization that helps the social needs of cities and counties. The nonprofit helped other cities with its 10-year plans, Garcia said. The actual cost of the plan is being split equally between the city and county, she said.
The plan has been in the works for the past five to seven years, according to Lori Flanders, public information officer with the Merced County Association of Governments.
"If we have a plan in place, maybe federal or state agencies will be able to push more money towards us," she said. "Based on other 10-year plans we have read over the years, have a housing-first concept, to get folks into housing and then making them become more self-sufficient. It'd be based on what the community wants, as well."
Garcia said that according to January 2009 statistics, there were 375 homeless people in Merced County, and there will be another count in January 2011. She said volunteers will be needed to count the homeless next year.
At the Wednesday meeting, Los Banos City Council member Joe Sousa said the face of homelessness has changed substantially over the past few years. "It's no longer the stereotype like a single guy who doesn't have a home," he said. "In our city, we had families who never realized they would lose their homes."
Philip Mangano, president and CEO for the American Round Table to Abolish Homelessness, said it was unusual to see counties and cities working together. "They always find some reason -- political, ideological on why they don't work together," he said.
He suggested that the Merced County plan would take the best ideas from other plans implemented around the country and even overseas, and use them in the local blueprint.
One of the first steps of the plan would be providing housing.
"When you ask homeless people what they want, they ask for one thing -- a place to live," he said, "The orientation of your plan, the trajectory of your plan, is to provide that."
Homeless people can't be left in campgrounds or living in tents, he said.
However, Mark Love, who lives in Merced, was skeptical about how the plan would truly end homelessness. "There's always going to be homelessness," he said. "How are we going to end that in 10 years?"
Mangano answered, "You get to ending it (homelessness) by reducing it. We wish we had the magic bullet to do it like this."
Garcia said the document should be completed by May 2011 and there will also be community forums over the next five to six months throughout the county to discuss the plan.
Mangano quoted a line from poet Mary Oliver's poem: "Be ignited, or be gone."
Looks as though the city and county are slowly but surely headed in that direction.
Reporter Ameera Butt can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.