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Merced County, Los Banos joins governor’s 100-day Challenge

A woman sits outside her tent in a homeless camp in Los Banos.
A woman sits outside her tent in a homeless camp in Los Banos.

Merced County and the City of Los Banos are participating in the Governor’s 100-Day Challenge to help address the worsening problem of homelessness encampments across the state.

The 100-Day Challenge began in late 2019 with four counties. Each county identified specific areas of focus, then worked with a broad spectrum of residents to accomplish the challenge goal. In 2021, the program expanded to 12 counties and four more were added this January – Merced, Santa Cruz, Fresno and San Bernardino. The focus of the state’s 100-Day Challenge program is to move people out of encampments, provide them with services and return public spaces to public use.

Merced County will concentrate on alleviating homelessness in the Los Banos area encampments with the help of the City of Los Banos, the State, Assemblymember Adam Gray, Merced Behavioral Health and Recovery Services, Merced County Human Services Agency, Memorial Hospital of Los Banos, the Merced County Rescue Mission, Merced County Community Action Agency, the Salvation Army, the Rapid Results Institute, law enforcement, area churches, and many others.

“The 100-Day Challenge gives us the opportunity to work collectively to achieve a very specific goal,” said Joy Castro of Memorial Hospital of Los Banos, who is one of the 100-Day Challenge leaders. “We want to house 20 people who are currently living in encampments in Los Banos by April 13th and get another 25 on the pathway to housing.”

The area’s tight housing market has exacerbated the problem. Surveys show Los Banos’ rental vacancy rate at under 1 percent. One-bedroom apartments often rent for $900-plus. Recruiting landlords willing to rent available affordable units is a key outcome measure being monitored during this challenge. As part of this recruitment effort, certain incentives will be available such as a bonus payment equivalent to two times monthly rent, double deposits, access to Housing Choice Vouchers, and case management.

“Housing supply and rent rates are two huge challenges,” said Los Banos Police Chief Gary Brizzee, another Challenge leader. “We need housing for the people living in these encampments. We have challenges across the county, but it’s often even harder in Los Banos. It is going to take all of us working together to achieve this goal.”

A lot of groundwork has already been done.

A respite care home was established in Los Banos in 2019, the same year a homeless outreach worker was assigned to the community. Two shared living houses are up and running, each housing 9 people who were previously homeless. Last year, the Merced County Rescue Mission established a sober-living home through its Transition to Hope program. Another program recently housed 25 residents in rooms at the La Plaza Inn with services provided to residents by Merced County Community Action Agency.

Once housed, people are more likely to get help with finding work, health care and counseling. But the first step is finding housing.

“This is a community effort, countywide. We’re one partner of many,” said Lucas Brown of Merced County Community Action Agency. “This is a great opportunity to get this community focused and get help from groups who might not ordinarily get involved in our work to reduce homelessness.”

“You read a lot about the problems in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Sacramento,” said Assemblymember Adam Gray. “We have the same problems in our Valley communities and often fewer resources to address them. But we have a great community full of people who are willing to tackle challenges. That’s why I know this project can make a difference.”

Chairman Lloyd Pareira of the Merced County Board of Supervisors said while much progress has been made on addressing homelessness in our area, a lot of work remains.

“This is an issue that requires participation from all levels of government and community partners,” Pareira said. “That’s exactly what’s happening in Merced County, and I’m proud of that. Taking it one step further with the 100-Day Challenge is an exciting prospect.”

Supervisor Scott Silveira, whose District 5 includes Los Banos, is equally excited about the Challenge.

“The west side of the County is by no means immune to homeless issues,” Silveira said. “We take a lot of pride in our communities being safe, attractive, and desirable places to raise a family or start a business. Transitioning people out of homelessness and into stable living environments is certainly a component of that effort.”

For more information or to join the Governor’s 100-Day Challenge efforts, please contact Christy McCammond, Merced County Human Services Agency at 209-385-3000 ext. 5144.

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