Committee gets ball rolling on shelter
County board to take up allowing a grant request for a homeless shelter
Efforts to open a homeless shelter in Taylor County inched forward Wednesday morning.
Members of the county’s Human Services Board approved sending a resolution to the full county board that would allow the county to apply for federal community development block grant (CDBG) funds for a shelter project. On a voice vote, member Earl Hinkel was opposed to the resolution.
The homeless shelter efforts are being led by Jessica Mudgett of Taylor County Supportive Housing (TCSH). TCSH is an independent non-profit agency which is seeking grant funding in order to purchase a home to be used as a shelter with the goal of helping people transition into permanent housing.
Last winter the state, at the direction of federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD), pulled back the money from county and municipal revolving loan funds. The money from each area was then made available for CDBG-eligible projects for those communities. Of the $620,000 taken back by the state, about $300,000 was awarded to Gilman to help fund the expansion of the Western Taylor County Public Library leaving about $320,000 remaining. David Rasmussen, a community development specialist with MSA Professional Services, is working with TCSH to apply for the remaining funds in the “CDBG Closed” program. He explained to board members that in order to advance with the request for grant funding, they must have the approval of the county board to apply for it.
“You are not alone,” Rasmussen said, explaining that several counties throughout the state have had these funds and are working on projects. He said a homeless shelter is a CDBG-eligible project and while he was confident in its ultimate approval, there were a number of steps that need to be taken to satisfy the federal requirements. Steps will include ensuring the county has fair housing ordinances in place and other measures and holding a public hearing. The county has previously received federal CDBG funds and many of these requirements are already in place.
However, human services chairman Rollie Thums said he was uncomfortable moving forward with a resolution when he did not have all the information about what was to be required. Rasmussen agreed to provide the county board with a list of the items that will need to be in place prior to the county board meeting where it will be discussed.
The biggest question beyond the mechanics of the application process, was if there was a real need for a shelter in Taylor County. “Are there homeless people in this county?” asked board member Dan Makovsky.
“I would like to see some statistics that Taylor County needs this,” Hinkel said. “Unemployment rate is low here, the human services board is already taking care of a lot of these problems.”
Mudgett responded that she was putting someone up in a motel room that night. Currently, the county utilizes vouchers from the Salvation Army and other sources to pay for short-term motel stays for homeless individuals. She said that between January and August the county issued 61 vouchers to homeless individuals through the Salvation Army program. She said under Salvation Army rules they will only give a voucher to a person once a year, so each voucher was given to a separate person. “It is needed,” Mudgett said, noting the math works out to about seven people per month.
“Putting people up in a motel solves the problem for a night or two,” she said, however in the long term, a shelter would allow them to connect with the county human services, the job center and other agencies to help these individuals to get back on their feet. “We are looking to guide that person to self sufficiency,” she said.
Another concern was if a shelter in Taylor County would serve as an attraction for people from outside the area. “Based on your experience when counties do this, do they become a magnet for people to come here?” Bub asked.
“We are creating a solution for Taylor County residents. We are helping Taylor County residents, we are not bringing people in,” Mudgett said.
“We are looking to help our own community members,” she said.
Board members expressed concern about what the county’s responsibility would be after the grant money was awarded.
“The county would have no long-term involvement,” Mudgett said. The grant funds would be used for purchasing a location and providing the initial staffing. The staff member would then be responsible for seeking additional grant funds. Mudgett said she serves on a statewide board that deals with these programs elsewhere and there is money available from state, federal and private community sources to help support shelters. In addition, she said the Salvation Army has pledged to cover the utilities for the shelter. Mudgett said she did not foresee needing additional financial support from the county beyond the CDBG grant.
As far as the grant process itself, the county will have some administration and record-keeping work that it will have to do. This would be required regardless of any grant project.
Bub said he would not rule out the county having a role in the future. He gave the example of helping if the roof was damaged in the future or some other short-term situation arose.
Bub said he supported the project. “I think part of our job is to take care of citizens. I think we need to provide a safety,” he said noting that he also does not think it should become a lifestyle for people.
Thums agreed. “We need to help the helpless,” he said, noting that his reservations were to protect the county from “oh, by the way” situations down the road.
“I think we have to go ahead with it,” said county board chairman Jim Metz.
The action by the human services board kick-starts the process. Prior to the next county board session there will be a public hearing on the proposal. It will be up to the entire county board to vote on the resolution to allow the formal application to proceed. No date for that meeting has been set.