Oakland non-profit gets nod on Salinas homeless shelter

Peninsula Premier Admin

SALINAS — Bay Area Community Community Services has been chosen to operate the area’s first permanent year-round homeless shelter in Salinas.

During a special joint meeting on Tuesday, the Salinas City Council and the County Board of Supervisors both voted to name the Oakland-based non-profit organization as preferred operator for the SHARE (Salinas Housing Advancement, Resource & Education) Center under construction on East Laurel Drive.

The new facility is a partnership between the city and county and is nearing completion. It has a target opening date of April 30. It must be fully operational by June 30, according to city and county staff, or about $6 million in state Homeless Emergency Aid Program funds might have to be repaid.

By a 5-2 vote, the Salinas council backed the organization with councilmen Steve McShane and Tony Barrera dissenting, while the county board voted 4-1 to do the same with Supervisor Luis Alejo dissenting.

A contract still needs to be negotiated with the 67-year-old organization, which beat out the other bidder Marina-based Community Homeless Solutions in a competitive process that resulted in a recommendation on its behalf from a six-person panel. That recommendation was the subject of much criticism during Tuesday’s meeting, mostly from Community Homeless Solutions, for not including a local preference element in the bid scoring.

Salinas community development department director Megan Hunter and county community affiliation manager Lauren Suwansupa, who served on the evaluation panel, both said the panel scored East Bay Community Services higher largely because of its experience and success with permanent housing placement, reporting an 82% success rate at a Berkeley homeless center as recently as 2017. That success rate has been criticized as inaccurate in Bay Area media reports.

Salinas Mayor Kimbley Craig and the rest of the council majority indicated they were comfortable with the city-led process. She lauded East Bay Community Services for its experience and knowledge as the best choice for the local homeless community while also praising Community Homeless Solutions for its local contributions including operating the Salinas homeless warming shelter and the Chinatown Navigation Center, and other programs. Craig said she understood the “politics and hard lobbying” around the shelter operator selection process but argued serving the homeless should be the focus.

Councilman Anthony Rocha, who made the motion to back East Bay Community Services, said the organization’s stated commitment to hiring local employees “spoke volumes” for him about its approach.

McShane, however, expressed disappointment with the recommendation and said he favored rejecting the two bids and re-starting the competitive process, though he also said he was excited to welcome Bay Area Community Services and acknowledged he was in the minority on the issue.

County board chairman Wendy Root Askew also said she saw the choice as doing “what’s right for the homeless community” rather than engaging in politics, adding that Bay Area Community Services would help “build capacity” for local homeless services.

But Alejo flat out said he didn’t regard the competitive process as fair since the scoring didn’t specifically include local preference. He argued that if it had, Community Homeless Solutions would have been scored higher. He praised the “longtime local operator with local employees” for its efforts. He was worried about some of those employees losing their jobs once the new shelter facility is open and the warming shelter closes.

Alejo’s comments echoed those of Community Homeless Solutions CEO Eric Johnson who argued his organization would have scored higher with a local preference element. Johnson also said his organization was unfairly marked down for its lack of housing placement acumen when it had only been contracted to offer that service last fall and was showing early success.

At the same time, Alejo said it was an exciting time to be able to choose a year-round homeless facility operator, as well as progress on other homeless services including the pending opening of the Casa de Noche Buena shelter in Seaside – the Monterey Peninsula’s first such facility, the new Chinatown center, and the Good Nite Inn purchase and conversion to housing and the new Moon Gate Plaza low income housing project in Salinas.

Supervisors Mary Adams and Chris Lopez also expressed concern about the absence of a local preference element in the scoring, but ultimately voted for the out-of-town organization although Lopez said he would demand local preference be included in future competitive bids.

Hunter and Suwansupa said the scoring process did include a “community knowledge and engagement” element in the written and oral interview processes, but did not include local preference policy.

Bay Area Community Services edged Community Homeless Solutions by less than 10 points out of a possible 160, 135.67-126.

The 16,000-square-foot, 100-bed facility is designed to offer temporary shelter, housing navigation and supportive services for men, women and families.

Earlier Tuesday, the county board approved about $19.2 million in COVID-19 pandemic-related spending requested by various county departments, and decided to tap cannabis tax revenue, general fund contingencies and strategic reserves, in that order, to pay for the requests which included lost revenue due to the pandemic, as well as continued and new or expanded county response.

County health is in line for about $6.6 million, most of it for employees re-directed to other pandemic-related duties such as testing, contact tracing, and vaccination; social services will get about $7.9 million including for Project Roomkey motel housing for homeless at risk of exposure to the virus and Great Plates meals program for medium-income seniors; the Sheriff will get about $1.1 million; the former Resource Management Agency departments get $1.8 million, mostly for lost rein venue; and the County Administrative Office gets about $1.74 million for the county Emergency Operations Center and a third round of funding for the small business relief program.

Askew’s request for $100,000 for Spanish-language translation services was also approved.

The spending will deplete both the cannabis fund and the contingencies, and take about $12 million out of the county’s $65.9 million in reserves.

Also Tuesday, the board approved a 24-month extension of a subdivision improvement agreement involving the York Highlands resubdivision after several months of deliberation, and after approving a deal with Salinas construction magnate Don Chapin on Tuesday allowing him to foreclose on property in the development to recover money he is claiming for work his company has done there.

Contributed by local news sources

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