County Divvies Up $8M in CARES Act Grants

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

April 8, 2021

San Luis Obispo County has decided how it will spend over $8 million in federal COVID-19 relief monies, choosing several agencies in SLO County that assist the homeless and disadvantaged and at-risk of homelessness citizens in the county and a small percentage is indirectly going to the North Coast.

The County Planning and Building Department and several local non-governmental agencies that run homeless services and facilities met to determine how best to distribute the monies coming to the County from the first federal COVID relief bill.

The “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security [CARES] Act was enacted on March 27, 2020,” reads a staff report from planner Tony Navarro, “and was intended to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19 and its impacts. Among its provisions, the CARES Act provided supplemental funding to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to assist communities in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This funding included $3.96 billion nationwide for the “Emergency Solutions Grant – Coronavirus (ESG-CV) Program” and $5 billion for the “Community Development Block Grant – Coronavirus (CDBG-CV) Program.”

The CARES Act came in three “tranches” or phases with the County getting $1.09 million in extra CDBG monies the first round, according to Navarro’s report. It also got $563,000 in ESG monies.

County Communications Manager, Erika Schuetze told EBN that the State took all of the money in the second tranche.

This third round was open to all the cities and agencies that combat homelessness that the monies would be available, based on population and need, on a percentage basis.

“We detailed the requirements of the grant,” Schuetze said, “that any non-profit geographically distribute the funding based on the following percentages of the total funds available — South County — 17%; SLO/Los Osos — 38%; North County — 31% North Coast — 13%.”

This third tranche is for $1.87M from the CDBG program and $6.29M in ESG monies for a total of $8.03M to divvy up amongst the organizations and programs that applied for the money.

“All CARES Act funding,” Schuetze said, “was competitive through the County’s NOFA process. No applications were received by the County from North Coast non-profits.”

Several agencies were involved in making the decision on who gets the funding. “Department staff and staff from the Department of Social Services collaborated with city leaders and staff, non-profit partners, the Inter-Agency Review Committee, the County Department of Public Health (Public Health), the County Emergency Operations Center, and the Homeless Services Oversight Council (HSOC) to develop the recommendations,” Navarro’s staff report said.

The HSOC recommended giving $1.18M to the Five Cities Homeless Coalition, “to establish a temporary emergency shelter in the South County,” Navarro said. “The proposed emergency shelter would consist of up to twenty 100 square-foot shelter units and related equipment and facilities. The clients would receive essential services and referrals for rapid rehousing.”

However, such a facility currently doesn’t exist and the 5CHC doesn’t even have a location where one might be built. “As of the writing of this staff report,” Navarro said, “5CHC has not identified a site to establish the proposed emergency shelter. Based on HUD’s requirements, the shelter would need to be operational by HUD’s Jan. 31, 2022 deadline for the use and expenditure of ESG funds.”

So the County switched to plan B, and a decision was made that if 5CHC couldn’t find a site by May 31, “the award of $1,189,457 shall be allocated to 5CHC for homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing activities.”

Schuetze said some of that money could then come to the North Coast communities. “The North Coast will receive funding, based on the geographic split [as noted above] for rental assistance, eviction prevention and rapid rehousing,” she explained. “The Salvation Army will use its funding allocation for street outreach in all geographic areas of the County.”

In January of this year, the County started meeting with “a wide range of partners” — HSOC, the seven incorporated cities, SLOCOG, non-profit groups, and “other key stakeholders,” to come up with a regional approach for these impending millions in relief spending.

Schuetze said, “It’s important to note that the six cities in our ‘Urban County’ [a distinction made by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development] appointed one staff member from their city to participate in the Interagency Review Committee.”

The staff report said, “The effort seeks to create cohesion among partners and to fund the most effective paths forward to addressing and preventing homelessness. One goal of this effort is support partner agencies in creating new sources of housing, shelter or sanctioned encampments with access to services and resources in the county to the extent feasible and supported, especially in the South County area, as no permanent shelter exists.”

No shelter exists on the North Coast as well. And apparently no one is actively trying to establish one as 5CHC has been trying to do for years.
Five non-profit groups, plus money for County administration and the COVID response efforts ended up splitting the money.

CAPSLO (Community Action Partnership of SLO), is getting some $346,000 for operational costs and to buy a new van for the 40 Prado Homeless Shelter in SLO; $53,000 for an HVAC upgrade at 40 Prado; and $118,000 for “Rapid Re-Housing Essential Services.”

The El Camino Homeless Organization (ECHO) will get $62,000 to hire a case manager; $76,000 for Homeless Prevention Essential Services at the Paso Robles Emergency Shelter; $105,000 for operations of the Paso Robles Emergency Shelter (a former Motel 6); $188,000 for operations at ECHO’s emergency shelter in Atascadero; $150,000 for ECHO’s “street outreach” activities; and $25,000 for ECHO’s administration costs.

5CHC in the South County will get $791,000 for its Homeless Prevention Rental Assistance and Essential Services; $956,000 for “Rapid Re-Housing;” $1.24M to establish a temporary emergency shelter ($1.89M) and to purchase a van ($50,800); $49,000 for operation of a warming center; and $200,000 to administer the grant.

Housing Authority of the City of San Luis Obispo (HASLO) will get $2.54M for “Project Homekey,” which will rehabilitate a former motel into transitional housing and an emergency shelter in Paso Robles (the Motel 6 project).

People’s Self-Help Housing will get $48,800 for its Supportive Housing Program, which subsidizes people’s rents. At first the County wasn’t sure that type of program was eligible but later decided it was and the intentions are to grant PSHHC’s full request of $98,000.

And the Salvation Army will get $308,000 for its “Encampment and Street Outreach Program,” some of which is supposed to be available on the North Coast.
Also receiving money are the County Public Health Department — $247,000 for a health equity program manager; and County Administration will keep $558,000 to administer the overall CARES Act program.

What’s does a “health equity program manager” do? Navarro’s report said, the “Emergency Operations Center identified the need to fund a 2-year, limited term Health Equity Program Manager position at the Public Health Department. The position will assist the Public Health Department alleviate the burden of COVID-19 among the county populations known to be at disproportionate risk by assessing, planning, and implementing COVID-19 response strategies countywide.”

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