| Victorville Daily Press
The Victorville City Council recently took steps to move the High Desert’s largest homeless shelter closer to reality, authorizing an application for grant funding that would pay for the project.
At Tuesday’s meeting, city staff said they are asking for $16.8 million in Homekey grant funding from the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development — $15.8 million for construction costs and a $1 million subsidy to initially operate the facility.
The Homekey program made available $600 million in July to public entities to purchase and rehabilitate housing, including hotels, motels, vacant apartments and other buildings, for conversion into interim or permanent housing, according to the department’s website.
Of the total funds, $550 million comes from the state’s allocation of federal Coronavirus Aid Relief funds and $50 million from California’s general fund.
The 168-bed Wellness and Recuperative Care Center would be built just north and adjacent to Eva Dell Park on 10 acres of undeveloped city-owned property.
Cassandra Searcy, the city’s Homeless Solutions Coordinator, said the shelter would have low barriers to entry and on-site supportive services, or what’s known as a navigation center.
“What our city has learned is that not only do navigation centers work, but they are effective at meeting the federal mandates required so that we ourselves can resume enforcing our own anti-camping ordinances,” she said.
A 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in 2019 found it unconstitutional for cities to prohibit people from sleeping outdoors on public property if adequate shelter space or beds were not available.
Searcy said a separate ruling by federal judge David Carter clarified that cities could avoid lawsuits if they provided shelters capable of housing at least 60% of their unsheltered population.
Victorville has had the second-highest homeless population in San Bernardino County for three years in a row.
In 2020, there were 451 homeless people living in the city, 118 more than those individuals tallied the year before, according to the annual Point-In-Time Count. There were 298 unsheltered people, who represent a 66% jump from the 179 counted in 2019.
Searcy said the proposed center would be different from traditional shelters in that individuals would be housed in clusters of modules that would provide a sense of independence and autonomy.
“What’s unique about this is that when you talk to individuals who are homeless, many of them do not want to go into a typical shelter. Maybe they’ve had a bad experience, they don’t feel safe or secure, there’s no privacy, they can’t bring their pet,” she said. “But with LifeArk’s design, it has really removed a lot of those impediments.”
LifeArk is a building system that uses pre-made modules made from plastic materials that can be assembled in numerous ways, said Paul Cho, cofounder of the nonprofit Illumination Foundation.
Cho’s organization and LifeArk partnered with the city to design the center.
“This Victorville wellness campus really is an opportunity that we think will set a new standard for homeless-shelter design, particularly in the post-COVID world,” he said.
According to Cho, the clusters would be built from the 64-square-foot modules using materials that are easy to sanitize, 100% recyclable and have a life expectancy of 30 years.
In addition to 120 beds of interim housing, the 24-hour wellness center would also feature 48 beds for recuperative care, a multipurpose center, dining, a medical clinic, a dog run/kennel and offices for support services.
Searcy said more than 13 organizations had already agreed to partner with the city on the project to help provide services ranging from substance abuse counseling, mental health, utility and rental assistance, life skills and job placement.
City staff said if the grant funding is awarded, construction could begin as early as October with the facility fully operational by March 2021.
The city will be notified in late August or early September whether their grant application is approved.
Daily Press reporter Martin Estacio may be reached at 760-955-5358 or MEstacio@VVDailyPress.com. Follow him on Twitter @DP_mestacio.