Inyo County gets into the homeless, housing issues

By Deb Murphy

There are 141 homeless people in Inyo County.

That was the number counted during the Point in Time survey in late January. The count, which determines funding for services for the homeless, is done annually by Inyo Mono Advocates for Community Action with the county’s Health and Human Services staff.

The number doesn’t necessarily reflect reality said Larry Emerson, IMACA’s housing and planning director, at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting. As Supervisor Jeff Griffiths explained, there are a lot of people in the area couch surfing, staying with friends in an over-crowded unit or just flying way under the radar.

The reasons behind homelessness are complex. Mental health issues often play a role; some choose to live an unfettered life; others work in the valley’s tourist industry and just can’t afford what few units are available.

Emerson gave the Board a run-down on IMACA’s programs primarily focusing on emergency and transitional services as well as rent subsidies. IMACA also has what Emerson described as “a person on the street” whose job is to work with the homeless and link them to County services. Another project would identify a safe parking lot for those living out of their cars.

IMACA has federal Housing and Urban Development funding for technical assistance throughout the tri-county area (including Mono and Alpine counties) as well as a needs assessment and identification of projects to fill the housing gaps.

The Silver Peaks project, a 70-unit affordable housing complex slated for the southwest corner of MacIver and Spruce streets, is in the works. The sale of the 3.5-acre lot has been approved by the Los Angeles City Council. IMACA is working with Visionary Home Builders to secure financing; the finished project is in the future.

IMACA is also in the process of looking for land for veterans housing.

Both projects will help secure housing for the low-income and have the potential of opening up existing units for the working homeless.

Health and Human Service’s Meaghan McCamman told the Board about the department’s plans to supplement IMACA efforts and strategies. With the help of grant funding, HHS will be exploring housing that includes treatment modalities for the homeless. Another possibility is funding through California’s No Place Like Home program to dedicate five units at Silver Peaks that provides both housing and treatment.

Inyo County’s Planning Department will be applying for $160,000 grant funding under Senate Bill 2. The funding will be used for a consultant to take a long look at the County’s residential zoning and identifying potential sites, including the North Sierra Highway Specific Plan that included a residential/commercial mixed use.

The Supervisors reaction to the presentations was encouraging. “The County should take the lead in identifying and building affordable housing, Supervisor Matt Kingsley said.

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