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Board approves coordinator position for Riverside homeless program

The Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to establish a “coordinator” position within the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services to oversee implementation of a countywide action plan that focuses on ending homelessness through housing assistance, outreach and awareness programs.

“Our goals are preventing homelessness … and ending it for those who are experiencing it,” DPSS Director Susan Von Zabern told the board. “We need a coordinated response to support intervention and prevention efforts.”

The supervisors’ unanimous vote in favor of the coordinator post, which will be funded by multiple departments using funds already budgeted, marks the first step toward animating the Homeless Action Plan recently drafted by a team of staffers from DPSS, the county Economic Development Agency, the Executive Office, the Sheriff’s Department and several other agencies.

“I’m excited about what you’ve created,” board Chairman Chuck Washington told Von Zabern. “Collaboration is the only way to get our arms around this. You have to recognize what the problem is and what resources are available to address homelessness.”

Just over 2,400 people were counted as homeless, living on the streets or in shelters, countywide during last year’s Continuum of Care survey sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development. The tally is not considered comprehensive but intended to provide a rough estimate of the displaced population. Another census was taken last week, but figures won’t be available for several months.

The draft Homeless Action Plan calls for the county to develop processes that will steer people away from a life of transience and give those who are chronically homeless avenues to permanent housing.

The plan envisions the use of no-cost `bridge housing,” a “shelter diversion system,” expanded public support services and long-term affordable housing to curb homelessness.

Implementing the plan will require the interaction of county agencies and municipalities — a key function of the new coordinator, according to DPSS.

Funding the plan’s initiatives will mean turning to state, federal and regional government sources for grants, and partnerships with nonprofits that specialize in helping those in need will be another critical component, officials said.

The county model is similar to one established last year by the city of Riverside, which now operates an Office of Homeless Solutions.

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