At a community meeting on Sept. 9, residents voiced concerns over a planned housing project in San Andreas, which aims to build five housing units for individuals with severe mental illness who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

The most frequent objection expressed by the public was the proposed location of the units, which is directly across the street from San Andreas Elementary School.

The county has been pursuing the project with the aid of the state’s No Place Like Home (NPLH) program, which was enacted in 2016 and provides $2 billion in bonds to support the development of permanent supportive housing for people with severe mental illness who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. The bonds will be paid back using funds from an existing state tax on millionaires that resulted from the passage of Proposition 63 in 2004.

A panel of representatives from various agencies and organizations involved in the project provided information and answered questions.

The panel included Director of Health and Human Services (HHS) Kristin Stranger, Wendy Alt of HHS, Karen Vail of the Calaveras County Office of Education, District 1 Supervisor Gary Tofanelli, Jim Kruse and Barbara Klauss of the Stanislaus Regional Housing Authority, Sheriff Rick DiBasilio, Planning Director Peter Maurer, Pat Davis of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Gold Country, local advocate Rozlyn Robinson and San Andreas Elementary School Principal Dan Mayers.

More than 80 members of the public attended, and many asked questions and expressed concerns.

The meeting began with a presentation by Stranger in which she outlined the issue of homelessness in the county and detailed the steps that are being taken to address it.

“In our most recent Point-in-Time count, we had 186 people who are meeting the HUD definition of homeless. Of those 186, 24 were under the age of 18, and … 30 additional people were identified as couch surfers,” she said.

Since May of 2018, the Calaveras County Homeless Task Force has been working to utilize funding opportunities that have become available from the state, Stranger said. The NPLH development in San Andreas is one result of these efforts.

The location at the corner of Gold Strike Road and Cemetery Avenue in San Andreas was chosen for several reasons, Stranger said.

“For one, it was for sale and it was properly zoned for multi-family development. Two, it’s in close proximity to services with both our adult system of care, children’s system of care, as well as peer support services within walking distance. Three, we know from working with our partners at the office of education that we have many youth in our community that lack stable housing … so we’re trying to meet that need as well by prioritizing a minimum of two of the units for families,” Stranger said.

Stranger spoke about potential residents of the units.

“They are our community members,” she continued. “They are individuals who are residents of Calaveras County who are engaged in Behavioral Health Services, who are in good standing with their behavioral health service providers, and they are being referred from Calaveras County Behavioral Health to the Housing Authority for permanent supportive housing opportunities.”

Stranger detailed the services that would be available around the clock to NPLH housing residents.

Services will include “mental health crisis intervention, therapy (both individual and group), medication treatment, substance use disorder treatment services, supportive employment, ongoing tenant education, as well as health education, parenting classes and various other supportive services,” she said.

Alt spoke on the issue of mental illness.

“Severely mentally ill means that it’s difficult for somebody to complete day-to-day tasks, whether that’s getting to appointments, whether that’s getting to school. It’s all of those small things that becomes difficult for somebody with a mental health disorder,” she said. “So, with our program we help them get to those appointments, we help them maintain their therapy; maintain their employment, or obtain it. And we stay with them along the way and hold them accountable, also. The goal is that eventually they’ll be able to do it on their own one day.

“Mental health conditions are the leading cause of disability across the United States. Approximately one in five Americans will have a mental health problem in any given year,” Alt said. “We just want you guys to understand that the housing is for individuals who are involved in their recovery, the ones that are working towards bettering themselves and trying to maintain a life like the rest of the community.”

Robinson spoke on her experience of mental illness and homelessness.

“When you have a home, and you don’t have to worry about where your next meal is coming from, you can put the pieces of your life back together again. You can begin to untangle the events that led to your present circumstance, and with support, you can find your path and begin to lead a positive, productive life,” Robinson said. “I am so grateful for the county’s programs. Programs like NPLH give individuals a second chance. I don’t think I’d be sitting here today if it weren’t for the many supportive services that Calaveras County offers.”

Although most members of the panel expressed their full support for the housing project, Tofanelli echoed some of the concerns of the public.

“I support these projects, all of them. However, I have some concerns with where they are located,” he said, to the applause by many members of the audience.

While the most common concern expressed by the public at the meeting was the proximity of the housing development to the school, other concerns included inadequate supervision of housing residents, uncertain funding in the future, unforeseen expenses, the belief that local residents should have been notified of the project earlier in the process, and the worry that an increase in services for residents experiencing homelessness might draw more individuals in need of services to the area.

The public also voiced similar concerns about the scattered site emergency shelter pilot project, which aims to build roughly 10 tiny-home-shelter units in West Point and San Andreas for county residents experiencing homelessness. Several residents of West Point argued that the town lacked the necessary basic services to allow residents of the new housing units to be successful.

Tofanelli pointed out that the NPLH project still has to be approved by the Planning Commission.

“You’re welcome to go to those hearings, and state your opinion on this, and give your voice, and what the Planning Commission’s decision is, you have a right to appeal it,” Tofanelli said. “After this is done here, it’s not over with.”

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