“Thank God I’m still alive,” said Leonard McGensy while talking to News Channel 3's Jeff Stahl in his temporary apartment located in downtown Cathedral City. It's a new feeling for McGensy to have a roof over his head and not be living on the streets of Indio.
An I-Team investigation is uncovering the successes and failures of a program working to identify people like McGensy, the Coachella Valley's chronically homeless people, and get them off the streets forever.
Talking about his new home, “I love every minute of it because it’s warm at night," McGensy said. "I don’t have to worry about who’s going to come running through that park, shooting or chasing somebody. Who’s getting beaten up? I don’t have to worry about any of that. When I lock that door I know it’s not going to open until I do.”
Homelessness and addiction are things McGensy knows all too well. For 12 years he sought help at Indio’s ABC Recovery Center, Martha’s Village and Kitchen, and the Coachella Valley Rescue Mission. But most recently he lived in his car parked behind Indio’s Dr. Carreon Park. He prays those days are finally behind him.
"When they said they were going to put me in a place, this is what they did."Leonard McGensy, CV 200 participant now permanently housed
“When they said they were going to put me in a place, this is what they did,” McGensy said as he spoke to I-Team reporter Jeff Stahl in his new temporary apartment's kitchen in downtown Cathedral City. McGensy says he takes pride in finally accepting help from the Coachella Valley Association of Government’s CV-200 program. The program developed a list of our area’s chronically homeless, who don’t want to be in a shelter and have frequent contact with police.
Homelessness is a growing problem statewide. California now has 28% of the nation’s homeless population and the highest rate of people who are unsheltered– more than half the entire nation’s total, according to the Riverside County Homeless Action Plan.
Tom Kirk with the Coachella Valley Association of Governments said, “You see that same person on the corner every day for the past three years and you think, 'Is there any way we can help that person?' And we are."
Kirk says local cities are kicking in $100,000 dollars each this fiscal year ending in June, along with tribes, $300,000 from the County, $500,000 from the Desert Healthcare Foundation, plus grant dollars, to address homelessness through the CV Housing First budget. It adds up to $1.4 million dollars.
Last year, the CV200 placed 144 homeless people into temporary homes. 32 returned to the streets, program failures. But 75 moved into permanent housing– a more than two to one success ratio.
Kirk said, “We talked to police chiefs around the Coachella Valley and asked them to name– by name– the chronically homeless people in our communities.” "We're putting them back into permanent housing," said Kirk, "getting their records straight, sometimes even helping them get a job. Or helping them up for government benefits."
"It's a message to myself, to you, and your viewers, homelessness isn't impossible to solve," said Kirk.
McGensy’s case managers have helped him obtain ID and Social Security cards, also medical insurance, while connecting him with Social Security Supplemental income.
“I’m not totally disabled," said McGensy, "but I’d just like to go to work and make an honest living.”
We’ve just obtained the latest numbers for the first quarter of this year from CVAG. They show that 33 more homeless people moved off the streets into temporary rooms. 5 returned to the streets, but 15– nearly half– like McGensy have now moved into permanent housing. Most with subsidized rent, but some are now able to pay their own way without further assistance.
“I don’t have to live like that no more," said McGensy. "I never had to live like that in the beginning,” he added.
The average length of stay for successful cases this quarter was 69 days. Longer stays tended to lead to failures. How much does all of this cost? CVAG says the price tag hasn’t yet been established. But the costs for housing people like McGensy here are higher than for those in shelters.
"It isn't cheap," said Kirk, CVAG's Executive Director heading up this new effort to solve a growing problem statewide. "But neither is having chronically homeless people on the street. There are code enforcement issues, certainly, there's petty crime. And a lot of these clients end up in the emergency room for relatively minor things," Kirk added.
Kirk says he doesn’t expect to solve the entire homelessness issue but says this program is helping, not with handouts, but with a hand up to permanent housing.
CVAG says those who fail the program and return to the streets aren’t out forever. A CVAG statement said they remain on “the CV 200 list in case there’s an opportunity or interest in them working with the program again” while looking for other shelter solutions or partners to help out as well.
For McGensy, he’s just celebrating his new shot at life. “And as long as I can help it, I will never be homeless again… Never,” McGensy said.
We've posted with this article the full CVAG progress reports on the program's successes and failures. You can also read about other initiatives being tried to get people into homes.
“There is hope. And you’ve got to have faith and believe.” Without faith, there is no hope," said McGensy.
Read the CVAG CV Housing First 2021 Year in Review
Read the CVAG CV Housing First First Quarter Report for 2022
It’s an uphill climb even for those who find success. Riverside County’s Homeless Action Plan says the Inland Empire, including Riverside Count, has one of the most severe shortages of affordable homes in the nation. There are only 18 affordable and available homes per 100 renter households. And more than half of Riverside County renters– 58 percent– pay more than 30-percent of their household income on rent and are considered rent-burdened by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, HUD.