County Snags Large Federal Grants for Homeless Projects


San Diego's growing homeless population will be getting more federal help, as four county homeless agencies were awarded almost $5.5 million this week from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The money, which goes to three programs in San Diego and one in Escondido, comes from HUD's Transitional Housing Program, created for efforts at returning the homeless from the streets to useful society, instead of "warehousing" them.

The county scored big with the department, getting more than 4.5% of the $119.5-million grant outlay for the entire nation. The McKinney Act, which provides the one-time grants each year, is the source of the money.

Across the country, 143 programs received grants, including 17 in the state.

With the money comes recognition that San Diego--once considered a wealthy, self-sufficient county that needed no federal help to solve social problems--faces a tough social ill in homelessness.

Frank Landerville, project director for the Regional Task Force on the Homeless, said that, during the past five years, the homeless population in the county, not counting migrant workers, has risen from 5,000 to 6,000.

Including migrants, the total homeless population is about 18,000, he said, with an additional 1,500 or so who live in shelters throughout the county.

San Diego's homeless population was a factor in the consideration of the awards, said HUD Assistant Secretary Anna Kondratas, but the primary reason the county got so much money was the quality of the applications.

"San Diego County has been one of the pioneers in homeless policy," Kondratas said. "I really do think they're in the forefront of coming to grips with that problem."

In fact, the biggest chunk of the money--almost $2.5 million--goes to an innovative project that seeks to take the homeless from the stresses and temptations in the city to a country atmosphere.

The Alpha Project, an El Cajon-based organization, will house and feed homeless in a 26-acre compound in rural Campo.

Participants will be able to stay there for up to six months, said Alpha Project executive director Bob McElroy, provided they show they are serious in their intent to get off the street and into a regular job and home.

They will be shuttled into San Diego-area jobs daily, he said, while their temporary country homes will give them a "breather" from the hardships of city life.

McElroy expects to start the program with 25 to 50 residents, eventually expanding to 200.

The residents will be taught how to get and keep jobs, arrange their own housing, open bank accounts and other skills to get them back on their feet.

Some residents in Campo are eyeing the plan warily, not wanting to see the facility, once a church retreat, housing indigents from San Diego.

"It's not that I begrudge the homeless, but it's a bad area to have them," said Lory Rimoldi, who lives next door to the compound.

Rimoldi said residents could challenge the group before the County Board of Supervisors on grounds that the site is not zoned for such a program.

"If we have to, we will," she said.

McElroy said he has received supportive phone calls from other Campo residents, but never heard from the people who have spoken out against it.

"That hurts me and frustrates me," he said. "We are not going to be a blight."

As for the zoning, he said all that is needed for the facility is a conditional-use permit.

In San Diego, Father Joe Carroll, who runs the 350-bed St. Vincent de Paul/Joan Kroc Center, is looking for a downtown spot to locate the youth shelter he will build with the $2.1 million grant HUD gave the Diocese of San Diego Education & Welfare Corp.

Carroll's proposal--dubbed Teen Quest--will house, feed and school 30 homeless children at a time in hopes of preparing them for life as young adults.

He said he has several possible downtown locations for the project, which he hopes will be operating by January.

"It will teach kids who can't go back home how to be independent," said Carroll.

Also in the city, San Diego Youth and Community Services will receive $311,250. Liz Shear, the organization's executive director, said the money will go to house, in San Diego buildings that either will be purchased or leased from the city, about 14 homeless people at a time in a family-type setting.

In Escondido, Sister Claire Frawley, who runs St. Clare's Home, Inc., will use the home's $530,414 grant to provide transitional housing to 10 families at a time.

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