Advice on homeless not viable, staff says

The Board of Supervisors is being asked to reject a civil grand jury suggestion that it hire an independent homeless services coordinator and move more aggressively to solve the county’s homeless problem.

The recommendation to hire the full-time coordinator and provide him or her with paid staff, including a grant writer, is “premature and not warranted and may not be feasible to implement,” administrative analyst Ginger Fisher wrote for the county administrator’s office.

In a staff report to be discussed Tuesday by supervisors, Fisher wrote that bringing on board such a person “would circumvent the considerable work done to date by the Homeless Services Oversight Council and would essentially redirect” the council’s responsibilities.

Fisher wrote her comments in response to a civil grand jury report released in June that lauded the county and various nonprofits for fighting homelessness but said the de facto bureaucracy involved is slowing down effective action to solve the problem quickly.

In the lengthy nonbinding report “Are We Solving the Problem?” the grand jury said organizations are helping, but their efforts are not enough.

“For the situation to truly improve, responsibility for coordinating and managing ... resources needs to reside with one person, independent of city or county control, but funded by them,” the grand jury wrote.

The oversight council is “probably too large to be an effective governing body,” the grand jury wrote.

The 24-member council includes one county supervisor and representatives from each of the seven cities; two community members; one member each from the faith, academic, health provider and law enforcement communities; three from nonprofit service providers; two low-income housing developers; three representatives from local businesses; and two from county government.

However, Fisher replied that centralization would be inappropriate because homelessness “is a societal issue” and “no single city, agency, or the county should be solely responsible.” Rather, she wrote, the various governments, nonprofits and other organizations should work together to share the burden, as they are doing.

Fisher also rejected a grand jury suggestion that local agencies “adopt” rather than merely “accept” its 10-year plan to end homelessness.

“Skeptical witnesses told us that our local governments have not ‘adopted’ it because ‘adoption’ would obligate them to actually implement the plan’s objectives,” the grand jury wrote.

However, Fisher wrote, adoption “is not required.” The county “has been and continues to be actively participating in addressing homelessness issues” through multiple county programs as well as county codes.

Fisher also brushed aside a grand jury recommendation that the county join with other governments and nonprofits to “vigorously pursue joint efforts to build and operate a facility” that would provide daytime services and nighttime shelter in the South County’s Five Cities region.

The county’s job, she wrote, is to gather and evaluate data regarding the homeless, make recommendations and “guide allocation” of private donations received. It does this on a countywide basis, she wrote.

The Board of Supervisors is not bound to follow the county administrator’s recommendations. However, it has placed this report on its Tuesday “consent agenda,” which is where it puts matters it does not intend to discuss.