The County Voice

On the Road Again — and Meeting Those Who Benefit from County Programs

Willie Nelson wrote a popular song titled “On the Road Again.” For me, being on the road again and seeing county programs in action is one of the most rewarding parts of working at CSAC. But it’s when we have an opportunity to meet the residents who are benefiting from county services that we receive true and personal insight into how vital these services are in the lives of so many vulnerable people.

We’ve spent time with at-risk teens in Inyo County and probationers in Shasta County; with incarcerated veterans in San Diego County and emancipated foster youth in San Mateo County – all who have seeing their lives improve significantly thanks to innovative county programs.

But lately it seems like a lot of our visits are with individuals who were able to access county programs that got them off the streets and into housing. When you meet these people you understand that this is more than just a program; it’s about making a huge difference in people’s lives. It’s not about counties giving a hand-out, but about counties offering a hand up.

For instance, take Alameda County resident Shanika Pate. We met her on a recent visit when learning how the County is utilizing its $580-million general obligation bond to combat the local affordable-housing and homelessness crisis. Shanika is a vibrant single mother to a 14-year-old daughter. Yet they were living in a neighborhood plagued by crime and violence – so much so that she wouldn’t even let her daughter outdoors.

After putting in her application for a new townhouse development built with county bond funding, Pate and her daughter would pray every day outside the construction site hoping their application would be accepted. When they received the green light to move, their lives started on a new path. “If this program was not here, I would be miserable – mentally, emotionally and physically,” says Pate,. “I would be in a cycle of just going down, down, down.”

On that same trip, we heard the story of 81-year-old veteran Charles Mealy, who was living out of his truck. If it weren’t for the affordable-housing project he was able to move into, he would still be on the streets. Now he tells his life story with a smile.

We’ve heard these stories throughout California – from people of all ages and races. There’s the story of Placer County residents Donovan and Elizabeth, a married couple who had been homeless, but now live in a two-bedroom apartment thanks to an intensive, custom-designed county program focusing on individuals who are most apt to fall through the cracks. “They reached out and helped us when we needed it the most,” Donovan said. “Placer County gave us the strength to move forward and that the future would be brighter and better. “

In Yuba County, we spent time with Mary Ontiveros, a “graduate” of the County’s successful 14Forward very transitional housing program. She’s one of more than 100 local residents who now have housing thanks to this program. It was our third trip in two years to the 14Forward complex and each time we met individuals who were turning their lives around. I asked Mary where she would be without this program and she answered honestly, “My life would still be going downhill. I would still be homeless and I would have lost my custody battles.”

And on a trip to San Bernardino County, we were treated to the smiling faces of Justus Brown’s five children, who finally have a place to call home after being shuttled from hotel to hotel. Justus received help from a collaborative county program that provides rapid re-housing assistance to CalWORKs-eligible homeless families with children.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to stories we have heard from residents of just a handful of our 58 counties. It’s equally important to hear from the committed staff who put these programs in place and provide tools and support for those who need it the most.

We are looking forward to opportunities to hear more stories – and learn about the county programs that are making a difference. We often first learn about these programs through CSAC’s annual Challenge Awards, which spotlight the most innovative best practices developed by California Counties. Our judges come together in two weeks to select the 2019 recipients.

We are looking forward to reviewing these programs, getting “on the road again” to hear from the staff that created them and perhaps most importantly, meet the residents whose lives are being turned around.

On the road again
Goin’ places that I’ve never been
Seein’ things that I may never see again
And I can’t wait to get on the road again

If you know of a story that needs to be told, but perhaps did not rise to the level of a Challenge Award submission, please feel free to reach out the CSAC Communications Team: Sara Floor or myself. We’d love to collect more of these stories from across the state to better tell the county story to the world.

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