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Merced starts up 10-year plan to end homelessness

POSTED October 22, 2010 9:04 p.m.

On any day it is ‘normal’ to see a homeless man walking the streets with his cart of blankets and his dog behind him. Homelessness is not something new and has become a norm for the nation.

But the growing number of homeless people and their changing demographics has communities looking for new strategies to fight an ongoing problem.

“It is no longer the stereotypical single guy that doesn’t want a home,” said Joe Sousa, Los Banos councilmember. “Now it is families out there who have lost their homes.”

Merced County has set out with an ambitious agenda to end homelessness in their area by developing a 10-year strategic plan. They kicked off their goal by hosting a community meeting Wednesday to introduce the idea and get the community geared up.

“Homelessness is everywhere in our county,” said Jesse Brown, executive director for Merced County Association of Governments. “It is everywhere in our valley. It is everywhere in our nation.”

There is no plan yet developed, but MCAG hopes to have the 10-year plan all ready to go by April 2011 with the help of the community.

On any given day there are about 400 adults and children who are homeless in Merced County, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. About 25 percent of Merced County residents were living below the poverty line last year, according to the 2009 American Community Survey, which works out to about 61,000 county residents that are at risk of becoming homeless.

“We can all become homeless in a matter of a couple of paychecks,” said Joan Faul, mayor of Atwater and chair of MCAG governing board.

Merced County had decided to not just serve the homeless population, but end the homeless population by getting the homeless off of the streets.

“You are going from serving homelessness to solving the problem of homelessness,” said Philip Mangano, president and chief executive officer of the American Roundtable to Abolish Homelessness.

The association will be studying other 10-year plans — over 350 that have been developed nationwide — to use some other cities ideas’ that have proven to be successful in the past and use them in Merced County.

“We need to see what works in other areas and bring it back to Merced,” said Hub Walsh, Merced County supervisor. “We need to come together as a community and create a blueprint that we will use.”

Some of the plans to end homelessness that have been used have decreased homelessness by 36 percent over the course of four years, Mangano said.

For those that wish to be involved in composing and implementing a plan, Jeanette Garcia, continuum of care coordinator for the Merced County region, suggests attending community meetings that will be held over the next six months, participating in the workshop group that will oversee the development of the plan, and volunteer for the homeless street count.

More information can be found at www.MC10YearPlan.com.

To contact Maegan Martens, e-mail mmartens@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.

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