Volunteers needed for homeless count
By DOUGLAS W. MOTLEY
The Mountain Homeless Coalition (MHC) is seeking volunteers for its annual count of homeless persons residing in the mountaintop communities. The official count, which begins at 7 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 26, is part of a nationwide accounting that takes place on the last Thursday in January of those who have no place to reside other than on the streets, sidewalks, vacant lots, in their cars or in rural areas of America.
Hosted by MHC President Sue Walker on Sunday, Jan. 8 at the Lake Arrowhead Community Presbyterian Church, the event drew about 25 interested locals, community activists and MHC members, as well as keynote speaker Don Smith, an independent contractor/consultant, who has spent the past 25 years responding to the needs of people experiencing homelessness and the people that serve them, in communities throughout the Inland Empire and Los Angeles County.
In opening the meeting, Walker explained how MHC was awarded a $1.1 million grant from the San Bernardino County Housing Authority to partner with them in finding shelter for the mountain’s homeless population and how some $700,000 of the funds were used to purchase and renovate a property on Georgia Street in downtown Big Bear Lake with six cabins and room to add two more. “With the remainder of the funds, we were able to subsidize the rents for three years,” Walker said, adding, “We are looking at other places in Big Bear and would like to have something in Crestline.”
Smith began his PowerPoint presentation with a chart illustrating how the Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario metro area is tied for second place among the 50 largest metropolitan areas with the most severe shortage of rental homes affordable to extremely low-income households with only 18 affordable and available rental homes for every 100 renter households with incomes below 30 percent of AMI (area median income).
Smith pointed out that the latest nationwide count shows that 582,452 persons are living without shelter. “This is a growing concern; the number of unsheltered vets is up 11 percent and older adults (55 and older) is up 18 percent and the fastest growth is in San Bernardino County.”
Noting that the fair market rent (FMR) for a two-bedroom apartment in California is $2,028, Smith said, “You would need to earn $39 an hour in order to afford this level of rent and utilities. This is an economic issue more than any other issue,” he said, pointing out that there are 100,000 households in San Bernardino County waiting for assistance.
“California needs 1.2 million more affordable homes by 2030, approximately 120,000 per year to keep pace with demand, but income is not keeping up with rent. The people who clean our homes can’t even afford to live here,” Smith said, adding that there is a need to create more housing at a low cost for low rent. “We don’t need more of these expensive Airbnbs with the owners making excessive profits. We need to create more housing at a low cost for low rent that covers the cost of the project, like the one in Big Bear.”
At this point, conversation turned into questions from audience members, one of whom brought up the struggle with the County Planning Department that Crestline contractor Mick Hill has encountered after buying an abandoned and unused school site (Mary Tone Elementary School), which Hill had planned to remodel and turn into low-cost housing units for low-income families. After two years of attempting to get building permits and other “hoops to jump through” and the high costs associated with gaining approval for the project, it still sits vacant. Smith suggested that Hill should contact the California Department of Housing and Community Development, which provides grants and loans from both state and federal housing programs.
Another audience member asked why the homeless count is always held in the winter, when many of the homeless persons have left the mountain for an area with a warmer climate. The answer was that the count is always held nationwide on the last Thursday in January. Smith suggested that the Mountain Homeless Coalition could hold their own count in the spring or summer. Someone else suggested converting some of the empty stores in Lake Arrowhead Village into low-cost housing. Several others offered that it was not realistic in that it would be heavily opposed by the Village management and the public in general.
Running Springs resident Stan Howe suggested using some of the currently vacant Running Springs homes to house low-income families and seniors. Smith suggested logging onto the County Tax Collector’s website to find out who owns the home and then contact the owner, who may be willing to rent the home instead of having it stay vacant.
Persons interested in volunteering for the Jan. 26 homeless count can contact the MHC by calling (909) 713-4099 or by logging onto their website: https://www.mountainhomelesscoalition.com.
Mountain Homeless Coalition President Sue Walker hosted last Sunday’s meeting at Lake Arrowhead Community Presbyterian Church. (Photos by Douglas W. Motley)
Keynote Speaker Don Smith provided a PowerPoint presentation illustrating the need for low-cost housing and the strengths and goals of the Mountain Homeless Coalition.
A portion of the approximately 25 persons attending the Homeless Coalition meeting.
PowerPoint graphic showing the Mountain Homeless Coalition’s success in providing permanent housing for 76 individuals.