S.B. Homeless Action Plan Task Force
By Dianne Anderson
Some may wonder where all the homeless people slept in the last few weeks of record-breaking freezing temperatures, whipping winds, flash floods and blizzards.
For those who care, community advocates are invited to be a voice for the unhoused with the San Bernardino Homeless Action Plan Task Force, now brainstorming the city’s homeless emergency.
Meetings started a few weeks ago, mostly with San Bernardino city employees and some in the faith community. It’s a good start, but the next step is getting activists from down in the trenches to come to the table.
The city has received over $20 million in ARPA funds to support the plan.
Mayor Helen Tran said that addressing homelessness is a top priority, and both residents and businesses are seeking solutions to restore quality of life, and provide a compassionate path back into society.
“We also need to ensure that our residents that are one missed paycheck away from becoming homeless are on firmer ground. That includes creating more affordable housing options and local jobs that pay living wages,” Mayor Tran said.
The city’s recent Declaration of a Homeless Emergency mobilizes and focuses the city’s efforts, but she said there is a need to move faster than the speed of government.
“It’s easy to say that at least we’re not as bad as this city or that city. But our current situation is not acceptable for San Bernardino, and we are going to do something about it,” she said.
City spokesperson Jeff Kraus said the duties of task force participants are evolving, but the purpose is to bring the city and community stakeholders together for real-time feedback. They are looking to determine effective homeless strategies, coordinate efforts, and more.
“Participants are still being identified. We expect to grow the number of representatives from the faith community and community non-profits that actively engage or serve our homeless population,” he said.
So far, the City Council has already approved several projects that include beds and housing units. In 12 months, the Navigation Center is expected to launch its first phase to include 200 non-congregant units.
The city is also providing funds to Lutheran Social Services for 200 units, and San Bernardino Valley College for 60 units as part of the ARPA funds approved in December 2022. The City allocated $4.5 million to fund half of the operation budget for the Navigation Center for three years of operation, 2024 through 2026.
Kraus said the city is also working to secure additional funds from the County, State and Federal government to operate the Center.
He said the Lutheran Social Services campus will be located just outside of the Sixth Ward, north of H Street and Baseline, and the Homeless Outreach Team will operate citywide. The site for the Navigation Center will be the former School of Hope site, located on 6th Street between Waterman and Tippecanoe.
The city will contract with an organization to provide homeless outreach services citywide. For that project, the city sent out its Request for Proposals with the deadline set last week, February 23.
Of the newly forming homeless outreach team, hires are expected to post through local channels, such as County Workforce Development, Cal State San Bernardino, S.B. Valley College, and possibly city social media.
Upcoming, an RFP will be released to build the tiny house units, but it is not expected for several months.
“The City has contracted with an architectural firm to evaluate the Navigation Center site and its existing buildings. That is expected to be completed around the end of March/early April. At that time, a site plan will be developed that will include the addition of the non-congregate units,” Kraus said in an email.
Brenda Dowdy, homeless education program specialist for the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools, said her main concern is that wherever there are homeless adults, the kids aren’t that far behind, but they are elusive.
Dowdy has been working with the homeless youth population since 2003 and managing the program since 2006. When she started, there were about 12,000 homeless youth countywide, which, at one point, ran as high as 36,000.
These days, she worries how the number of unhoused students dropped from 32,000 pre-pandemic to about 8,000 fewer today, that it’s not that they’ve found housing, but rather have fallen off the radar.
They may be living on the streets, staying low to avoid predators.
She said it’s hard to tell how many because there is no solid way to track them. All students must self-identify as homeless, and be re-identified as homeless each year in the school system.
“We’re saying we should have a universal ID code, wherever that code went, we’d know where the kids are. If you had 5,000 this year, you start [to re-identify] at zero again each July 1,” she said.
Dowdy works with all educational systems and districts countywide to ensure student enrollment. She is encouraged that the new task force has reached out to her, and she hopes to meet with the mayor to find out what it means for the students.
She also works closely with the county’s youth advisory board, which advocates for homeless youth, who attended the meeting to push the city’s homeless declaration through. Her youth regularly speaks at state and national conferences.
Students in the custody of a parent or guardian can enroll themselves in school as some parents won’t fill out the paperwork. One student told her she was living in the hotel by herself. Although her mom was physically there, she was not mentally there.
“Ever since her little brother got killed, her mother wasn’t the same. The kids are there, but if parents are disconnected or going through domestic violence, education may not be a priority,” she said.
Dowdy, who is part of the San Bernardino County Interagency Council on Homelessness, feels the biggest problem to solve is affordable housing. She has built up relationships countywide and often receives calls when the kids are sleeping in the park, or need a place to stay, or food.
“The job is too big to do alone. Everybody is in for the long haul not giving up. We have to make it work,” she said. “It’s not a county school thing, or a school district thing. These are all our kids and we all have to help.”
With the end of the moratorium on evictions, and skyrocketing rents, Black people and Black women are disproportionately suffering homelessness statewide.
According to the California Budget and Policy Center, Black Californians are disproportionately represented in the unhoused population due to lingering barriers and racist policies.
“While Black non-Latinx Californians are only 5.5% of the state’s population, they comprised over 1 in 4 unhoused people who made contact with a homelessness service provider in the 2020-21 fiscal year,” said the 2022 report.
To see the report, https://calbudgetcenter.org/resources/who-is-experiencing-homelessness-in-california/