In a significant stride toward combating homelessness, Representative Pete Aguilar, in collaboration with Lutheran Social Services, announced a substantial $34,944,702 grant from the California Department of Housing and Community Development’s Homekey Program. This funding, aimed at addressing the burgeoning homelessness crisis in San Bernardino County, will pave the way for the construction of 140 new interim housing units and the provision of comprehensive supportive services.
The announcement, made during a press conference on January 24th, 2024, comes at a critical juncture as the county grapples with a staggering 25 percent increase in homelessness, with 71 percent of the affected population unsheltered, as reported in last year’s 2023 Point-in-Time Count survey.
The newly allocated funds are expected to transform the landscape of homeless care in the area. The interim housing units will be situated in an existing campus, designed to provide a sanctuary for the homeless. Moreover, the initiative includes an array of supportive services such as case management, peer support, rehabilitation services, and assistance in obtaining essential documentation, further supplemented by educational and employment services.
Rep. Aguilar, a key advocate for the American Rescue Plan, which funded the grant, emphasized the importance of this project in making housing more affordable, particularly in the Inland Empire. Aguilar also spotlighted the recent introduction of additional housing vouchers specifically for local veterans.
Governor Gavin Newsom lauded the efforts, stating, “San Bernardino is helping the state address homelessness by delivering a unique Homekey project. Their Community Wellness Campus is a creative approach that will serve individuals experiencing chronic homelessness. The work and partnership behind this effort demonstrates what is possible when people think outside of the box and refuse to accept the status quo.”
The vision behind the Community Wellness Campus was passionately shared by LaSharnda Beckwith, President and CEO of Lutheran Social Services, who highlighted the collaborative efforts and initial steps taken in 2021 to upgrade facilities, signaling the inception of a broader vision to establish wellness campuses across Southern California.
Mayor Helen Tran of San Bernardino expressed immense pride in securing the grant, stating, “This grant represents the largest sum awarded during the current round of Homekey funding, and this is believed to be the most substantial, competitive grant ever received by our city. This is huge for San Bernardino.”
City of San Bernardino Public Information Officer Jeff Krauss detailed the significant role of the American Rescue Plan and Rep. Aguilar’s continuous involvement in ensuring the effective utilization of funds. He stressed the importance of the homeless point-in-time count (which was scheduled the next morning), an initiative crucial for understanding and addressing the needs of the homeless community.
A testament to the profound impact of the initiatives led by Lutheran Social Services was shared by Ramona Jimenez, a former recipient of the organization’s services, who has now transitioned to an employee role. Jimenez recounted her harrowing journey from a tumultuous childhood marked by poverty and violence to her struggles with addiction and legal challenges. Lutheran Social Services played a pivotal role in her rehabilitation, offering wraparound services that enabled her to regain custody of her children, maintain sobriety, and eventually earn a bachelor’s degree in human services.
Jimenez, now a peer support advocate, emphasizes the transformative power of the services provided, stating, “This project is all about the power of prayer and people taking the time to see beyond somebody’s circumstances and see the human being that they are, despite how they’re living. Through that, Lutheran Social Services supported me so that I could get my bachelor’s degree from California Baptist University in human services. Since then, I have been able to flip that switch from being a person who is being helped to being a helper.”
Rep. Pete Aguilar, reflecting on the broader implications of the grant, remarked, “This grant is not just an investment in our infrastructure, an investment as we just heard in second chances. On top of the interim housing units, it’ll also be used to provide education and employment services, behavioral and physical health, peer support activities and much more so that our unsheltered friends and neighbors can get back on their feet for a better and brighter future that is secure.”
As San Bernardino embarks on this ambitious project, the concerted efforts of government officials, community organizations, and dedicated individuals like Ramona Jimenez underscore a united front against homelessness, paving the way for a future where every individual has access to shelter, support, and the opportunity for a renewed life.