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Salinas navigation center set to open in late May

By Angelica Cabral
The Salinas Californian, April 13, 2021

The SHARE (Salinas Housing Advancement, Resources & Education) navigation center is set to open in mid-to-late May, with no set date yet.

The project is months and millions of dollars in the making. The facility, expected to be operational in April, now has a projected May opening date.

“We’re so excited about having such a facility,” said Megan Hunter, director of Community Development in Salinas. “There can be impediments to shelters, sometimes just the nature of the facility.”

In a presentation given at a February joint meeting between the Salinas City Council and the Monterey County Board of Supervisors, the target opening date was listed as April 30, and that was what multiple outlets, including The Californian, reported.

In her comments during the February meeting, Hunter said they needed to have people in beds by the end of May to ensure everything was on track for the funding they had received. Last week, she confirmed that they’re working toward a May opening date.

“The process to execute the contract has taken a little bit longer,” Hunter said. “The county is taking the lead in trying to get into a contract first with (Bay Area Community Solutions).”

The cost

The process of opening up the SHARE center began in September 2017, when the city and county approved a Memorandum of Understanding to develop a permanent shelter.

In October 2018, the city and county approved another MOU to appoint the city to lead the request for proposals and to appoint the county to lead the construction aspect.

Finally, in May 2019 the city and county were awarded a little over $6 million in Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP) funding, which went toward the construction of the building.

The facility will cost over $2 million to operate annually, a cost that will be split between Salinas and Monterey County. Of that money, $800,000 will go toward rapid rehousing.

It cost the county $100,000 in startup costs. While the request for proposal information is public, the exact costs in the contracts will not be public until they are presented and voted on at upcoming council and board of supervisors meetings.

The city decided to build a new facility, instead of repurposing an old one and that’s almost complete. When Hunter was there last week, she said they were working on some touch-ups and waiting on furniture.

The center will be at 845 E. Laurel Dr. and will be roughly 16,000 square feet in size. It will operate year-round to provide housing navigation, temporary shelter, and supportive services for men, women and families.

Who will run it?

Bay Area Community Solutions, or BACS, was chosen to run the center at the February joint meeting. This decision, as previously reported on by The Californian, did not come without its share of controversy. Multiple public comments at the meeting were in favor of choosing Community Homeless Solutions, or CHS.

They were chosen through a lengthy process that started with a request for proposals in October 2020 and ended in February 2021. Both BACS and CHS put in a proposal and then they were evaluated by a committee.

One issue that CHS took with the process was the lack of community feedback.

Hunter disagrees.

She said the city received more than 300 responses on their community survey, which provided input to the process and shaped the Request for Proposals.

“The direction from the community was incorporated,” she said. “Even prior to the construction of the SHARE center, we had at least two or three community meetings to discuss what the SHARE center should look like.”

At the time of the February meeting, the presentation given said that the survey input was an integral part of the Request for Proposals, which “required applicants to address community concerns surrounding the shelter location, operations and security.”

After the evaluation of the proposals, BACS was given a score of 135.67 out of a possible 160 points and CHS was given 126 points.

Despite some initial hesitation, the process of choosing is completed and BACS has moved forward at full speed with the opening process.

Currently, BACS hired six staff and are getting ready to serve clients next month, according to Jonathan Russell, the Director of Housing Strategy. Russel said all hires are local and bilingual.

He said they plan to do extensive listening sessions with partners in the community and meet with the local network of homeless service providers to get integrated. Additionally, he’s hoping to spend some time with the local advocate community.

Hunter said that the city still plans to utilize CHS.

“I see it as a win-win because we still have Community Homeless Solutions that we’re going to be committed to and now we have another organization that’s coming here that is greatly expanding our capacity,” she said.

She said that the city is first responsible for addressing homelessness and they have to make data-driven decisions, to which she partly attributes the decision to choose BACS. Additionally, BACS is a housing first organization, which she said was needed because grant funding is tied to the Housing First model.

“We have to be looking at data and we have to be looking at what is the right fit for the outcome that we need to produce and look forward to continuing to work with Community Homeless Solutions,” Hunter said.

Housing First is an approach to fighting homelessness by prioritizing getting a person experiencing homelessness into a safe place to live first and foremost before trying to handle other potential issues such as addiction.

“It is based on the “hierarchy of need:” people must access basic necessities—like a safe place to live and food to eat—before being able to achieve the quality of life or pursue personal goals,” according to the California Department of Housing and Community Development. “Finally, Housing First values choice not only in where to live but whether to participate in services. For this reason, tenants are not required to participate in services to access or retain housing.”

The Local Option

CHS has been operating in Monterey County for almost 40 years and currently runs 10 programs in the area.

“We’ve built a tremendous amount of relationships with the landlords, community members and other agencies that have helped us to both house people that we serve and to the extent that we can out of our shelters to be able to house people as well,” Interim Executive Director Eric Johnson said.

He said he has no “sour grapes” about BACS getting the contract, but noted that they don’t yet have those same relationships in the community and it will take time to build them and get up to speed.

Another concern of Johnson’s is what’s going to happen to the people who are currently in the Salinas Warming Shelter, which is set to close in June. This could bring layoffs to people at CHS, that currently runs the program.

He’s hoping that BACS might pick up some of their staff and said that all the organizations are trying to work on homelessness solutions together.

“It requires extensive communication, cooperation and everything else,” Johnson said. “I hope that that continues to happen but that’s a really important part of solving homelessness in general, not just a one at a time kind of thing.”

In addition, Johnson is hoping there can be a passing of people directly from the warming shelter to the new navigation center.

“I want to make sure that they land hopefully at the new navigation center,” Johnson said. “We’d like to see a very definitive handoff if you will…so those folks don’t end up on the street again.”

Project Homekey, transformed the Good Nite Inn, into a shelter for those in need of a home in Salinas, Calif., on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020. The Good Nite Inn's official opening was Thursday, providing 30 individuals with a safe, warm, and socially distanced place to rest and access additional services. Over the next 4 to 5 months, 85 rooms will be occupied. (Photo: David Rodriguez/The Salinas Californian)

Hunter agrees that the people in the warming shelter who are not housed will be transferred to the new navigation center.

“We’ve always been clear that no one is going to be kicked out of the shelter,” Hunter said. “We did provide some extra additional grant funding to Community Homeless Solutions for rapid rehousing. I mean the goal is ideally [to house as many people as we can].”

She’s hoping that people will be housed and not end up having to go from one shelter to another.

“The [warming shelter] is wholly inadequate for the use,” Hunter said. “It was always meant to be temporary. It’s not in any good condition to remain as that use.”

A meeting planned for Wednesday between the city, the county, BACS, CHS, and a few other players. After the meeting, there should be an update on several items, including more on the warming shelter and what role CHS will continue to play.

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