IMPERIAL COUNTY — Before the pandemic hit, 1,413 people were reportedly homeless in Imperial County.
County officials believe that number has only gone up since.
The second-largest department in the county is looking at restructuring, and part of that includes taking a new approach to the homeless problem in the region.
The Imperial County Board of Supervisors approved a reorganization plan for the Department of Social Services, which also includes adding a division to work on homelessness in the Valley. The board also approved funding five limited-term positions to support the Imperial Valley Continuum of Care administration.
“Before the pandemic, we had a homeless problem,” Imperial County Supervisor Ray Castillo said. “Once the pandemic hit, it just made it worse. I think it’s coming at an opportune time, and I wholeheartedly support this. I know you need those positions to make this program succeed.”
In January 2019, more than 1,200 homeless residents were reported to be without temporary or emergency housing, according to the most recent report available from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. A total of more than 1,400 people was reportedly homeless in the Valley at that time.
Imperial County saw a 22 percent, or 259-person, increase in homeless people between 2017 and 2019. Of the 1,413 homeless in 2019, 33 percent were women, 4.3 percent were veterans, 20.7 percent were families with children, 4.9 percent were young adults 18 to 24, and 35 percent were chronically homeless, according to past Calexico Chronicle reports.
While none of the supervisors said they were critical of adding the new positions — all voted to approve them and the reorganization — some board members wanted more information about what the Continuum of Care has done, as adding the positions included a jump in budgeted costs.
Those costs for at least the first two years would be covered with grant funding, assistant social services director Paula Llanas told the board. And Supervisor Ryan Kelley reminded both the assistant director and director that the positions were limited-term positions before the vote was announced.
The social services department has developed a strategic plan to help homelessness in the Valley, Llanas told the board. And the new program manager will be tasked with implementing that plan.
“Homelessness is a regional issue,” Llanas said. “We have been working very closely with our service providers and city governments to try and address this homeless crisis in our community, and I think we’re doing an exceptional job. But we do need some additional assistance with some of our staff to help us process some of the aspects of the COC.”
The full reorganization was prompted by a review where two issues were looked at: how the department delivers services and how they will enter the digital age, said department director Veronica Rodriguez. It will help the department deal with the caseloads they have, which have doubled in size since 2013, she added.
“As the department faces the challenges of serving the broad and diverse needs of our growing community, it becomes important to ensure that our organizational structure is aligned to deliver services to the community in an effective, efficient and secure way,” she said. “To accomplish this goal, the department aims to reorganize into divisions, allowing each to target and focus on the role of organizational constructs that support each service delivery objective.
“… So, with this reorganization, we begin the first step of transformation to improve the goals, to empower our staff to do their work more efficiently, … move into modern platforms and systems that are more secure and flexible to adapt to new policy and integration, … and improve the experience of those in our programs,” she said.
On Jan. 1, the department will move to divisions: transitional services, children, and family services, aging and disability services and administrative services, as well as the operation of the Imperial Valley Continuum of Care.
This reorganization is anticipated to save $110,000 per quarter, Rodriguez said.
That was the first point Supervisor Jesus Escobar said he noticed about the change in operation. “I love that final one that says you’re saving $110,000 per quarter,” he told Rodriguez at the meeting.