HANFORD – Kings Community Action Organization is proposing a first-of its-kind housing support center for the homeless to be built from scratch in Hanford.

The mostly federally funded anti-poverty organization is in the process of applying for Community Development Block Grant funds through the city of Hanford to build the center.

City officials have discussed the possibility of providing a piece of city-owned land at the corner of Irwin and Fifth streets for the project, but the discussion is in the earliest stages.

The property contains a defunct water tower.

KCAO Executive Director Jeff Garner said he hopes to have the CDBG application finished and sent to Hanford officials in July.

If built, this center wouldn’t be like traditional homeless shelters, who house people for a short period at the shelter then try to place them elsewhere.

This proposal would have no bed space at all.

Instead, the plan is to place homeless in apartments and homes first, then start addressing their other needs.

The approach is often referred to as the housing-first model.

According to Garner, the center would act as a resource center to connect the homeless to housing in Hanford or in surrounding communities.

Garner said the housing would start out as rented apartments or homes owned by private landlords.

Eventually, the program could morph into local government agencies constructing subsidized apartments, houses or condos.

Garner said the current “wave” is “cities and counties getting more involved in building affordable housing.”

The way the model works is that, if the homeless person has any income, it would be applied toward the rent as part of the housing-first program. If needed, a subsidy could be provided to make up the difference.

Some homeless have limited sources of income, such as Social Security or other benefits.

Garner said KCAO is current receiving some money for rent subsidies for the homeless through the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Over time, the idea is rent subsidy would be reduced as the (formerly) homeless person developed confidence and skills.

“Yes, there are subsidies provided, but the goal is really, you kind of pull back from that, and you work closer to being self-sufficient,” Garner said.

Garner said that another part of the center would be sure that other basic needs are met.

Garner said the idea would be to offer showers, food and other social services on site.

He stressed that there would be no “on-the-spot shelter for folks who are homeless.”

The housing-first model has been successfully implemented elsewhere.

The Kings-Tulare Continuum of Care for Homelessness, which is backing KCAO’s plans for a Hanford homeless center, has reported a 91 percent success rate for housing-first programs for chronically homeless people in the area in 2015.

That means that nearly all the participants were no longer homeless and were permanently housed without rent subsidies for at least six months.

During the same period, the Continuum reported a 55 percent success rate for transitional housing programs.

The 91 percent success rate is the same success rate reported by a housing-first program in Utah over the last decade.

Garner called housing-first the “anchor” that makes other progress possible.

“From there, they have a stable environment from which they can take care of their other needs,” Garner said. “You can’t have one without the other.”

Hanford Mayor Justin Mendes said he’s not fully familiar with the housing-first concept, but added that he’s open to considering other options if it can be demonstrated that they’re more effective than some more traditional models of dealing with homelessness.

“If the status quo doesn’t work, we need to have a look at different ideas,” he said. “My policy is to look at everything and get the numbers before we jump into it. If housing-first [programs] have better results, we need to look at them.”

KCAO’s application for CDBG funding for the project will have to satisfy a number of requirements, including demonstrating that it will benefit low-income individuals, that it will be located in an area with the right demographics, that the money will be spent in a timely manner and that the money will actually benefit the homeless, according to Sandra Lerma-Martinez in the Hanford Community Development Department.

Lerma-Martinez said the city has some unallocated CDBG money that could go toward the project if the application is successful.

The reporter can be reached at snidever@hanfordsentinel.com or 583-2432. Follow him on Twitter @snidever.