Union City to hire first ever homelessness coordinator with state grant money

Efforts to help house people who are homeless in Union City are getting a major boost from the state, which is set to award the city a little more than $1.5 million in grant money over five years to hire the city’s first ever homelessness coordinator.

The money, which comes from the Permanent Local Housing Allocation grant program funded by $75 fees attached to home sales in the state, will also fund the hiring of a part-time outreach worker, and help support the city’s long-running safe parking program.

City officials said people making use of the safe parking program — known as CAREavan, which lets people living in their cars park overnight in secure lots around the city — will benefit from the new hires, which will be chiefly tasked with case management work, increasing the city’s focus on assisting homeless people in finding permanent housing and employment opportunities.

The homeless coordinator and outreach worker will also expand city outreach to other homeless people in encampments around the city, according to Sharon Petrehn, a management analyst with the city.

“The real purpose of that is to facilitate these individuals and families to move into permanent housing, which could be living with relatives, or also into supportive housing. So that’s really the purpose, is to get people in and out and housed,” Petrehn told the city council during a May 25 meeting.

“Right now, we have multiple people touching the issue of homelessness within the city, but not one main point of contact whose sole job and responsibility is to do outreach and also respond to the public and the business community. It’s a very important job,” Petrehn said.

Officials counted 106 unsheltered homeless people living in Union City during the 2019 Alameda County homeless count and survey, a major increase from 2017, in which 40 homeless people were counted among the city’s residents.

Experts say the tallies, which are conducted every two years, usually represent an undercount of the actual number of homeless people in a given area, but are still used as a critical yardstick in measuring the issue.

Alameda County, like many other Bay Area governments, postponed the 2021 count because of safety concerns arising from the coronavirus pandemic.

Petrehn, in an interview Friday, said the city staff believes the 2021 count would have shown a dramatic increase in homelessness in the city.

“We can visibly see an increase in our unhoused population throughout the city,” she said. More encampments are popping up, as some councilmembers mentioned during the meeting, and people living in RVs and campers often park along industrial roads and in major shopping center parking lots, Petrehn said.

The coordinator and outreach worker will also maintain and log “critical homelessness data,” Petrehn said.

The city previously contracted out some case management work to Abode Services, a Fremont-based nonprofit that provides services and housing aimed at ending homelessness. But that contract ended more than a year ago when the workload wasn’t sustainable for Abode, Petrehn said. Since then, the city has had only one staffer who works less than half time on case management services.

“So we’re providing a service with safe parking, but we’re not able to bridge the gap as successfully to be providing them means to get employment and retain permanent housing,” Petrehn said.

The city applied for this grant funding with the goal of getting people housed more quickly, to improve their lives and reduce the level of needs of homeless people in the city, Petrehn said.

Roughly $200,000 will go annually to paying for the new hires, Petrehn said. In the first year, the city is set to receive $253,953, the remainder of which will go toward operational costs for the parking program, including providing some mobile shower days at the sites.

“These funds can be used for a variety of things but we felt…this was the main need that was missing, case management,” she said.

Petrehn said Union City expects to hire the full-time coordinator and the part-time outreach worker in the fall.

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