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IMACA working to prevent homelessness

July 8, 2013

Inyo-Mono Advocates for Community Action’s new Homeless Prevention Program is administered by Housing Program Specialist Kathy Keesler (center), here with her colleagues. Photo courtesy Inyo-Mono Advocates for Community Action

During the season of celebrating independence, Inyo-Mono Advocates for Community Action is now providing a range of services to help community members facing homelessness move toward greater independence through its new Homeless Prevention Program.
The program, funded by a recently-awarded $100,000 California Department of Community Services and Development grant, offers emergency shelter vouchers, rental deposit assistance and related services to assist Inyo and Mono counties’ growing homeless population. Housing Program Specialist Kathie Keesler said, the program was up and running on July 1, two weeks ahead of schedule, in response to the recent “heat wave. And because of the (The Inyo Register’s June 29 News at a Glance item), people were here first thing Monday morning.”
Homeless Prevention Program provides assistance from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday. After completing applications and interviews, Keesler said, the type of assistance needed is determined and applicants are usually notified within 48 hours. However, in an emergency weather situation, for example, “we go all out to meet their needs more quickly.” Services are provided first-come-first-served although “severe circumstances might warrant immediate assistance.”
Emergency shelter vouchers for one- to three-night hotel stays, at a cap of once every six months, are available for people with no income and ones “who are stranded here for whatever reason,” Keesler said. At this time, there are “no permanent shelters here that I know of.”
Rental deposit assistance is available to clients with a sustainable income – including pensions, social security or disability, for example, Keesler explained. Payment of one- to three-months’ rent is available “in the face of huge medical or home repair bills.”
The program can also issue camping equipment and pay campground fees and more is in the works, Keesler explained. “We’re still working the program out.”
Although there are no accurate homeless statistics available for this area, Keesler said, based on the observations of IMACA and other “service providers we work with, that population is on the increase. The statewide average is 36 per 10,000 so a rough estimate for Inyo and Mono counties is about 120 homeless.” Daily calls and referrals for assistance have increased noticeably over the last year or so, she added.
Homelessness is most prevalently in Bishop and Mammoth Lakes, Keesler said. Though they may not be visually identifiable, “people camp by theriver, canal, on public lands and in campgrounds – some couch surf,” moving from one friend’s house to another. During the winter months, it’s more prevalent in South County.”
Because families with children generally have more access to social services agencies, the program manager said, “people between the ages of 50-65 come in here because there’s very little help for that age group.” Also, a significant number of clients are facing homelessness precipitated by “health issues, loss of employment or some catastrophic life event.” Some are walk-ins, some are referred by Owens Valley social services agencies, preschools, churches and social workers.
IMACA submitted the California Community Services Block Grant Program application in early March and was notified of the award in early April. If the Homeless Prevention Program successfully establishes a “continuum of care by working together with individuals and organizations to affect a united front, we can apply for additional state and (Housing and Urban Development) funding.” For now, the program is funded for the July 2013/June 2014 fiscal year, during which “we have to keep records which will be audited. We’re accountable for how the money is spent,” Keesler said, who also manages the Housing Choice Voucher Program, formerly Section 8 Housing; Mammoth Lakes’ affordable-housing Glass Mountain Apartments; and Bishop’s senior Valley Apartments.
IMACA’s long-term goal is to “provide a continuum of care as a coalition,” combining many other service provider agencies, such as counseling, healthcare, rental and employee assistance, that will “work together as a united front to serve our people more effectively,” Keesler said.
“The program is about a hand up, not a hand out – anyone can hit a bump in the road. This program is so needed in our valley and hopefully it can make such a difference, one person at a time.”
For more information, contact Keesler at (760) 873-8557 ext. 26 or kkeesler@imaca.net.

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