Proposed homeless center building

This building at 421 E. Sixth St. was the proposed location for a homeless service center in downtown Hanford.

HANFORD — After four months of meetings and back and forth discussions, a plan to purchase a downtown building for a proposed homeless service center is now officially off the table.

At the Hanford City Council meeting Tuesday night, there was a consensus by Council to allocate the funds that would have been used to purchase the building to an alternative use.

The city had not yet purchased or entered escrow on the building, located at 421 E. Sixth St.

Downtown business owners, whose businesses are located near or around the proposed location, had been vocal about their displeasure with a homeless service center since they first heard about the idea in September.

Several business owners were at the meeting Tuesday night and reiterated their concerns, speaking during public comment and saying a center would exacerbate an already growing homeless problem in the area.

Council made it clear that a homeless service center in the area would no longer be pursued at this time and moved on to the task of identifying a potential alternative use for the $225,000 in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds that were going to be used to purchase the building.

CDBG money is a federal funding source from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to provide decent housing to create suitable environments and expand economic opportunities. The money is intended to benefit low to moderate income people, eliminate slum and blight and fulfill urgent community needs.

Community Development Director Darlene Mata said the $225,000 in CDBG money that was originally intended to purchase the downtown building for a homeless center must be spent, otherwise the city could be penalized by HUD and receive less money next year.

One option for the money could be to purchase the Police Activities League (PAL) building, which helps about 70 at-risk kids in the community, to keep that program going.

Police Chief Parker Sever said he recently was informed that the building, which is owned by the state of California, is going up for sale. He said the league has first rights to purchase the building and he would hate to lose the building because of the importance of the program.

“If it does close down, I have no idea what we would do with our PAL boxing program,” Sever said. “There just isn’t another facility in town that I think would be acceptable to house it.”

Due to the government shutdown, it is unclear whether the purchase of the PAL building is an eligible expenditure through CDBG, but Council gave the consensus to pursue that option. If it is not allowed, the back-up plan is for the funds to be allocated into the first-time homebuyers or housing rehabilitation programs.

Since the homeless service center is no longer being pursued at this point, Council also decided not to schedule any town hall meeting. However, members said the homeless issue will not be forgotten.

Councilman Francisco Ramirez said homelessness still needs to be addressed and said he is supportive of working with the county to form some type of commission or committee to solve homeless issues.

Mayor Sue Sorensen wanted to let the community know that the proposed center wasn’t just something the city decided on at the last minute. She said over the last couple of years, numerous locations were considered or pursued and were met with roadblocks.

Sorensen said a report from the County, which cost thousands of dollars to create, was done in 2014 and identified that a homeless service center is needed in the city. Five years later, however, she said nothing has been done still.

Sorensen said other cities across the state are facing the same exact issues with homelessness. She said Hanford can’t be successful if the city doesn’t start somewhere and take that first step.

“We don’t know if a service center in Hanford is going to fail,” Sorensen said. “If we don’t try, we’re never going to know.”

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The reporter can be reached at 583-2423 or jzavala@hanfordsentinel.com

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