Advocates applaud IE city's multi-layered approach to achieve 60% drop in homeless count

Corona officials say they hope other cities will see what they're doing and use it as a blueprint for success.

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Thursday, June 1, 2023
Advocates applaud IE city's approach to achieve drop in homeless count
Corona city officials say their systems-oriented approach is showing positive results with a 60% drop in the number of unsheltered homeless residents since 2019.

CORONA, Calif. (KABC) -- Corona city leaders and homeless advocates celebrated the grand opening of a new 40-bed shelter known as the Harrison Hope Center.

They say they hope to start welcoming clients within the next two weeks.

At the same time, they acknowledge that to help address homelessness will require much more than a place to stay, and they said their systems-oriented approach is showing positive results with a 60% drop in the number of unsheltered homeless residents since 2019.

"We need to look at homelessness holistically from A to Z," said Karen Roper, the city's homeless solutions manager. "We've been able to move the needle really fast because we have a whole continuum: the component of prevention, outreach, services and shelter and permanent housing."

Roper, along with other advocates who attended Wednesday's ribbon-cutting ceremony, said when it comes to addressing the issue of homelessness, it all starts with housing.

Before the opening of the shelter, the city was already renting motel rooms to get the chronically homeless off the streets.

"Even though we're just now opening up this shelter, we've had 25 motel rooms per night that we use as emergency shelter with wraparound services."

Last year, Riverside County announced a $12 million grant from Project Homekey to purchase the vacant Ayres Lodge and Suites and convert it into permanent housing for the homeless.

"Literally, 52 of our chronically-street homeless were moved either from our streets or in our motel program right into housing."

But advocates say housing is only one aspect of the solution.

"While at the end of the day what works is housing, your shelter system is only as good as your outreach workers who bring folks to you," said Larry Haynes, the CEO of Mercy House, which will operate the Harrison Hope Center.

Outreach in the city is handled by the police department's Homeless Outreach & Psychological Evaluation (HOPE) Team as well as social workers from the city's contracted partner City Net.

However, getting people into shelters is often difficult.

"A lot of people will decline our services the first couple of times," said Pamay Bui, program manager for City Net. "It's really about maintaining the consistency."

Bui said persistence can pay off.

She pointed to a recent success story in which she was finally able to convince someone who had been on the streets for more than 10 years to come into their program.

"He finally said, 'You know, I think I'm done. I'm ready to get into a program, I think I'm ready to go,'" said Bui.

Another issue is the number of barriers homeless people face in getting into shelters.

"In a lot of places, they will look for reasons to exclude someone," said Haynes.

Many shelters across the state do not allow clients to bring their belongings or pets inside, but at the Harrison Hope Center, there are large storage lockers for items. Plus, several of the rooms have animal cages where people can have their pets sleep.

"We have a lot of people on the streets that wouldn't otherwise want to come to a shelter unless they can bring their pets, so we wanted to remove that barrier," said Roper.

While they acknowledge that they still have a long way to go to get to what they call "functional zero," they hope other cities see what they're doing and use it as a blueprint for success.

"If every city, regardless of their budget, would just do something," said Corona Councilman Jim Steiner. "If you have a small budget, OK just do five motel rooms, just to start, and let's see what happens. Because when you start doing something, all of a sudden you start getting grants and outside money coming in from outside resources.

"We know we're not going to solve homelessness, that's not what we're doing here. But every city and agency needs to do something to manage their homeless."