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Riverside partners with local church to help fight city’s homeless problem

With the help of a local church and members of the business community, Riverside is upping its efforts to eliminate homelessness in the city.

Mayor Rusty Bailey and members of the public and private sector last month held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Grove Village, a four-house complex on the grounds of Grove Community Church at 19900 Grove Community Drive.

The 600-square foot structures at 19900 Grove Community Drive will serve as temporary housing for homeless families who are trying to get their lives in order so they can move into permanent housing. Residents will have access to services designed to help them become self-sufficient: job training and placement, child care life skills training and classes on financial planning.

“This project is an extension of our efforts to help homeless veterans in 2016,” Bailey said. “We were very successful with that program, so we figured why stop there? Homelessness is one of our biggest problems, and we know we can help people reorganize their lives and get back on their feet.”

Grove Village is also following the “housing first” approach to fixing homelessness: first find homeless people a place to live, then fix whatever caused them to be homeless.

It also avoids merely moving homeless people from one community to another, which is what happens when a jurisdiction “cracks down” on its homeless population.

“You can’t fix homelessness without a home,” Bailey said.

Grove Village is being paid in part with $120,000 in funds from Measure Z, a one-cent transaction-and-use tax that voters passed in November 2016 to help pay for critical needs, including first responder staffing and vehicles, road and tree maintenance and building repair.

The Measure Z funding works out to about $6,000 per housing unit per year, according to a statement.

The houses are on property formerly occupied by volleyball courts that church members seldom used, said Andy Gibeault, associate paster with Grove Community Church.

More than 50 businesses and various community organizations helped pay for the project, which cost approximately $160,000, Bailey said.

Among those who contributed were Riverside-based Tilden-Coil Constructors, which built the 600-square-foot cottages, and Path of Life Ministries, also in Riverside, which will provide long-term support services to anyone who participates in the program.

Rotary International District 5330, which covers the Inland Empire, donated $40,000, according to the statement.

The plan approved by the city council in June calls for the project on the southwest corner of the church’s property to remain in place for at least five years. At that point the program will be reassessed, but officials say they expect it be continued.

Riverside had approximately 400 homeless people living within its borders when Grove Village got started about three years ago, Gibeault said.

“It’s difficult to say how many homeless people any city has because it’s a transient population,” said Gibeault, who has helped oversee the project along with Pastor Tom Lance, Grove Community Church’s head pastor.  “But it’s a serious problem in Riverside, and when Mayor Bailey approached us we knew we could help. We had property where we could build the houses.”

Families may use the houses for as long as they need to, although the program isn’t entirely open-ended, Gibeault said.

“We don’t have a deadline, but if someone is still there after one year and we haven’t been able to find them a job then one party is doing something wrong,” Gibeault said. “But we don’t think that will be a problem.”

Anyone with a chronic drug or alcohol problem will be referred to other facilities.

“We’re trying to avoid chemical dependency issues,” said Gibeault, who has been at Grove Community Church – a non-denominational church with approximately 4,000 members – since 2006. “We feel like there are other programs better equipped than we are to help those people.”

Homelessness has multiple causes, including drug or alcohol abuse or the loss of a job, but right now the problem is getting worse in California because the cost of housing is so high. 

Not as many single-family homes or multifamily units are being built, which is driving up prices even more and putting a median-priced home out of reach for many potential buyers.

Grove Village has a solid chance of succeeding, and perhaps being copied by other faith-based institutions, because it’s taking a “housing first” approach to homelessness, said Eric Gavin, former coordinator of Upland’s Community Restoration Team.

“It’s a good approach, and I approve of what they’re doing, because it includes transitional housing,” said Gavin, who until recently was working to eliminate homelessness in Upland. “We need to build more of that and let homeless people use it for up to a year.”

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