ith time running out to make sure Oxnard’s homeless have a place to stay this winter, community leaders are scrambling to come up with funding for a shelter whose location hasn’t even been decided.
“I’m trying to assess what’s feasible, what is available and go from there,” Oxnard Housing Department Director Arturo Casillas said. “We’re looking at resources, but nothing is definite at this point.”
Community Action of Ventura County, a nonprofit that helps Oxnard’s poor and homeless, is being considered, but first it needs to make expensive improvements to its building to get a city permit.
“There’s nothing specific for (an emergency shelter),” Casillas said, “but we have funds assigned to Community Action; if it turns out they’re eligible (for a permit), we can align some of those funds towards a shelter.”
The Richmond Avenue foundation needs safety improvements and more restrooms and showers to qualify for a temporary permit, said Oxnard city planner Chris Williamson.
“They’re already sprinklered, which is usually the biggest hurdle,” Williamson said, adding that the building may need an extra emergency exit.
“What they need to do is decide how many bathrooms and showers they need, that’s kind of expensive,” Williamson said, noting that portable restrooms and showers would meet the requirements.
Community Action Director Tim Hockett said he estimates that remodeling the building and operating the shelter will cost about $200,000, but admits he has no idea where that money is going to come from.
“I have lots of pledges of support but no commitments,” Hockett said Friday. “I need more than moral support; moral support doesn’t pay the bills.”
Hockett is working on an operations plan for the shelter and expects the plan to be ready by the middle of September, but said, “If there’s not solid funding by mid-October, it won’t happen.”
The temporary permit does not need City Council approval, but Community Action’s application will have to be reviewed by multiple department heads.
Hockett says the remodeling itself will only cost $20,000. The remaining expense includes staff, meals and case management to help people get off the street and into permanent housing.
The case management element is critical because, in recent years, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has made it a condition of getting grant money.
But even with funding, Community Action can only provide space for about 45 beds, literally leaving several hundred more homeless out in the cold.
A survey conducted in January found that, of Ventura County’s 1,417 homeless, 603 were in Oxnard, the largest share of the homeless community.
By contrast, the next-largest share was in Ventura, which had 334 homeless.
Casillas has identified $280,000 earmarked for homeless assistance that can be used toward a shelter, and says renting the National Guard Armory on K Street, which can hold up to 175 people, has not been ruled out as an option.
But he noted that last year’s emergency shelter cost a whopping $356,000 to operate, including catered meals and $125,000 for staff and case management provided by the St. Vincent DePaul Society, which has declined to manage a winter warming shelter anymore.
In past years the shelter has been rotated between Ventura and Oxnard and managed by St. Vincent DePaul staff, an arrangement the Society announced two years ago it was not interested in continuing.
Christy Madden of Ventura County’s Community Development Office said $950,000 of matching funds set aside by the Board of Supervisors in 2010 is available for use toward a shelter. The county would match, two-for-one, whatever funds the city of Oxnard commits to the project.
“What the board said is that it’s bricks-and-mortar funds, not operational,” explained Madden on Friday. “In order to get a recommendation from our office, (the shelter) has to have some sort of supportive services; it can’t just be a place to sleep and leave.”
Still another possibility is raising money with a community event, something Peggy Rivera, who chairs Oxnard’s Commission on Homelessness, has organized in the past.
“This is a perfect opportunity for us to come together to the better of our community,” said Rivera, who launched Oxnard’s annual Black and White Dinner Dance fundraiser for previous shelters.
But while remaining upbeat, Rivera placed responsibility for funding another shelter squarely on the shoulders of city officials, noting that they’ve had two years to take action.
“We (the commission) talked and talked to them until we were blue in the face,” Rivera said. “Now it’s up to them.”