Marin aims for release of frozen homelessness funding

Marin County officials are hopeful that the state will release nearly $3 million in homelessness funding that was frozen this month by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Gary Naja-Riese, director of Marin County’s homelessness agency, said Marin planned to submit the requested paperwork to the state by this week and hopes to have the money released shortly thereafter.

Newsom announced on Nov. 3 that he was placing a hold on $1 billion in Homelessness Housing, Assistance and Prevention (HHAP) grants statewide because he was dissatisfied with the plans that the recipients had submitted projecting what they could achieve with the money. This was the first time that the state had required such plans.

Newsom said the money would remain frozen at least until he met with local elected leaders on Nov. 18. Supervisor Katie Rice was Marin’s representative at the 90-minute meeting, which was held in Sacramento and was closed to the press.

The governor’s office issued a statement after the meeting.

“The Governor today, in partnership with cities and counties, set a path forward for applicants to receive their HHAP round three funding, with grants being released as early as next week – provided that local governments agree to more ambitious reductions in unsheltered homelessness,” it said.

Rice said about 50 supervisors and city mayors attended the meeting in person and more participated by Zoom.

“The governor’s point is that we all have to set our aspirations higher and work to achieve more and more quickly,” Rice said. “The governor’s bottom line was that communities have more money than they’ve ever had to address homelessness, whether it is for brick and mortar or for services. You’re going to need to find a way to make that money go to work and get more people housed.”

Rice said that after Newsom and two top health officials addressed the gathering, local elected officials got a chance to comment. She said some local representatives expressed their displeasure about the funding freeze.

“They did not necessarily appreciate the holding of funds at the last minute,” Rice said, “and didn’t feel that was actually constructive in terms of making progress.”

Rice said speakers also wanted more clarity around the respective roles of counties and cities and how they can collaborate.

Naja-Riese said the state has asked for clarification regarding the outcomes the county pledged to accomplish with the $3 million HHAP grant, a quarter of which the county has already received. It asked the county commit to reducing the number of unsheltered people on a daily basis by June 30, 2024.

In its application for the grant, Marin County forecast no reduction in the daily number of unsheltered people by that date. The state instructed Marin to use data from calendar year 2020 in making its forecast.

“The baseline the state gave us was pre-pandemic,” Naja-Riese said.

The county’s 2022 “point in time” count found 1,121 homeless people, a 8.4% increase from the previous count in 2019.

Naja-Riese said that using the 2022 count as a baseline, Marin’s strategy would have resulted in a 15% reduction in the daily number unsheltered people.

In addition to negotiating with the state over the frozen money, which was part of a third rounding of funding, Naja-Riese is also preparing to submit an application for a fourth round of HHAP grants that is due on Nov. 29. The county is hoping to receive an additional $2 million to $5 million.

The statement by the governor’s office said that Newsom has “challenged local leaders to submit more ambitious plans for their next round of funding — 21 so far have pledged to step up in writing. The state is expecting the remaining applicants will do the same.”

For this round of grants, the state has directed applicants to use the 2021 calendar year as the baseline for calculating their results. Marin County is projecting that it will cut the number of daily unsheltered people by 17%, or 122, by June 30, 2025.

“The data the state has provided is more accurate for this round,” Naja-Riese said. “It really reflects the impact of the pandemic.”

The state is also asking jurisdictions to pledge to follow a list of best practices when addressing homelessness. Rice said these include employing the “housing first” strategy, which prioritizes placing chronically homeless people into permanent supportive housing.

Rice said the meeting last week included “an acknowledgement that one size doesn’t fit all.”

“There may be different solutions in addition to applying best practices that are going to be more effective in one community than another,” she said.

“Homelessness isn’t just about housing folks who are unsheltered now, it’s also about prevention,” Rice said. “We’ve got to do more in terms of creating affordable housing within our communities.”

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