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Help is available for the homeless

December 13, 2013

It’s impossible to know Inyo’s total homeless population, but – with temperatures ranging from 10-40 degrees lately – Health and Human Services has been offering assistance to 50 single homeless men and 15 single homeless women, all between 21 and 64 years of age, and as of Dec. 9, four homeless families with seven children between them. Photo courtesy MetroCreativeConnection

Inyo County agencies and organizations are offering a variety of assistance to homeless community members during this year’s bitterly cold winter season.
Along those lines, a program is currently being established that is especially dedicated to addressing the needs of the homeless population.
The Eastern Sierra Continuum of Care Program, a state- and federally-funded program, would provide essential services to the homeless population of Inyo, Mono and Alpine counties, said Larry Emerson, housing and planning director for Inyo-Mono Advocates for Community Action.
ESCOC, which is funded by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the California State Department of Housing and Community Development, is designed to provide a variety of homelessness prevention services, Emerson explained:
• Collect and evaluate data about homeless populations;
• Allow each community to tailor their programs to the particular strengths and challenges within that community;
• Evaluate existing programs and the need for homelessness prevention services; and
• Determine how funding should be allocated.
Emerson said that COC “allows for the collaboration and coordination of As an aside, Wild Iris Director of Programs Susi Bains, who also chairs the ESCOC, said she hopes the program will successfully provide services “particularly to those who have fallen through the cracks.” Inyo County Health and Human Services “is bound by criteria that unfortunately” hinders access to the full spectrum of the homeless population. Furthermore, Bains said it is Wild Iris’ specific goal to provide “longer and more meaningful services” to women and families who are homeless due to domestic violence.
However, the first tasks of the ESCOC will be to rate and rank Emergency Solutions Grant Program funding applications and consider anticipated applications for board membership. Monies for which IMACA and Wild Iris are applying will fund the operation of ESCOC and provide additional services such as homelessness prevention, street outreach and rapid re-housing such as short- and medium-term rental assistance, Emerson explained. Those are agenda items for the next ESCOC board meeting, scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 15 in the Jill Kinmont Booth School conference room, 166 Grandview Dr., Bishop.
ESCOC was established Oct. 30 when its board of directors was approved. Currently, the board consists of Bains, Bishop United Methodist Church Pastor Kathleen Puntar, D.B. Mattovich of the Inyo County Wellness Center, local residents Bettylee Hinga and Pam Mitchell, homeless community member Kevin Lynch and Salvation Army Pastor Cathie McCulley, Emerson said. “We hope to have Mono and Alpine members soon.”
In terms of homelessness, “we see need based on clients who come to IMACA, the county, Wild Iris and various other COC-member agencies,” Emerson said. At this time, it’s difficult to estimate the homeless population in the 14,102 square-mile area that ESCOC will serve.
However, Inyo County Department of Health and Human Services Director Jean Turner said HHS is currently serving about 50 single men and 15 single women, all between 21 and 64 years of age, and as of Dec. 9, four families with seven children between them. “We don’t see many homeless families. Broader assistance is available to them than to single adults (but) all assistance is limited by government regulations.” That assistance comes in the form of cash, food stamps, rent and utilities monies and access to indigent medical insurance.
Inyo County District 2 Supervisor Jeff Griffiths said he was glad to see this issue highlighted in the news as “the homeless tend to be pretty invisible, out of sight, out of mind on the outskirts of town.”
In fact, homeless community members report that they are camping or “staying with friends off and on,” Turner said, mostly due to lack of affordable housing or mental health and/or addiction issues. “They can’t sustain income levels that get them into housing.” In the case of transient individuals, “we try to help them get back to where they have contacts” and possible support systems.
According to Turner, although HHS has no dedicated homelessness program, when individuals come in for social or mental health services, “we try to connect them to other services in our agency or send them to be assessed to find out how they might be helped by another department.”
HHS also does outreach, especially when alerted by law enforcement, other agencies or community members, Turner said. HHS’ Wellness Center staff drives along the canals and river where homeless people tend to camp, she explained. Bringing food along, staff members try to assess the kinds of HHS services needed and offer access to food, hot showers, laundry facilities and job and life skills education. However, “not everyone wants to come in.” Wellness Center staff works primarily with adults “struggling with emotional or mental health issues.”
The wellness centers are located at 130 Short St. in Bishop and 126 W. Washington St. in Lone Pine. Staff can be reached at (760) 873-8039 for both locations. HHS has offices at 914 N. Main St., Bishop, (760) 872-1394 and 380 N. Mt. Whitney St., Lone Pine, (760) 876-5545. HHS staff also does assessment and referral at Tecopa Community Center, 400 Tecopa Hot Springs Rd., Tecopa. Staff can be reached at (760) 852-4264.
Emerson stressed that IMACA is still providing emergency shelter vouchers, rental deposit assistance and related services to Inyo and Mono counties’ homeless persons. IMACA is located at 224 S. Main St., Bishop,  (760) 873-8557. Food and donated clothing are available at the Bishop office and at the Mammoth Lakes office, 625 Old Mammoth Rd., (760) 934-3343.  
Griffiths said, “I recognize homelessness as an issue in the Bishop area. I’ve met and seen a lot of homeless people at the (United Methodist Church) soup kitchen. The most important thing we can do is coordinate our efforts to service them, between faith-based organizations, nonprofits and the county and city.”
For more information about ESCOC and other homelessness services, call Emerson at (760) 873-3021, ext. within and between agencies in a large geographical area.” Inyo, Mono and Alpine counties cover 14,102 square miles, including water bodies, he added. One of ESCOC’s responsibilities will be to tabulate a point-in-time count of the counties’ homeless population.

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