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Region works together to help homeless

SAN MARCOS — With the unseasonably mild weather this late in the year, it might be easy to forget that winter is coming, and that means exceptional hardships for the region’s tens of thousands of homeless. The Alliance for Regional Solutions, coordinating homeless shelters and relief organizations across the county, is redoubling its effort for its second year of operation.
The Alliance’s Regional Winter Transitional Shelter system was a success last year, serving nearly 700 homeless persons in the winter of 2007-2008. This year, member shelters within the system will open their doors Dec. 1 and remain in operation until March 31, 2009 — 20 days longer than last year.
The budget is increased as well, from $413,000 to $447,000. The nine Alliance member cities each contribute annually. Some cities provide money directly to the Alliance while others have a tradition of directly supporting member shelters.
“Instead of cutting a check to the Alliance, we just cut it directly to the shelters,” Karl Schwarm, San Marcos’ director of housing and neighborhood services. “The Alliance is all for it. They just subtract it out of their budget.”
Melvin Takahara, the Alliance’s system administrator, said that the shelter system will offer expanded services to its tenants. These will include more on-site medical assistance, literacy training, employment guidance and transportation.
A completely new feature, Takahara said, will be the introduction of “wraparound” support for the chronically homeless. This technique focuses more on an informal community and family-based approach to caring for the homeless rather than exclusively relying on shelters and agencies.
“It’s been found (that) when only professionals are providing the support, and it’s all contract fee for service stuff, when contracts and fees change or dry up, supports disappear,” Takahara said. “Commitments made on an informal level tend to be more resilient and last longer.”
Takahara remarked that the shelter system had worked better than expected last year, but that this year might pose additional challenges due to the economic crisis.
“We expect possibly a higher level of utilization,” Takahara said. “Our capacity has not increased so we’re going to have to somehow deal with that.”
The Alliance officially kicked off its 2008-2009 season with a ceremony on the steps of the San Marcos City Hall on Nov. 20, attended by elected officials and staff from several North County cities as well as representatives from myriad relief organizations. United Way contributed $70,000 at the event, the single largest donation.
Laurin Pause, Alliance chairperson, praised the member organizations and cities for the speed with which they put the shelter system into effect last year.
“I think that says a lot for us as a community that we can actually function as independents but still come together for one common cause,” Pause added.
“The community mobilized around these most vulnerable of our natives, and as a result of this help, hundreds of these shelter residents moved on to more stable housing situations, better employment, better health, improved lives,” Takahara said.
The event also posed an opportunity to expand the Alliance’s network. Representatives from Tri-City Medical Center attended with an eye toward coordinating their services with the Alliance.
“We’re seeing such an increase in the homeless population, and there’s limited places that we can discharge them to,” Tri-City Director of Clinical Effectiveness Patricia Richardson said. “We’re trying to find other avenues that we can use to support our patients.”
A full list of Alliance members can be found at