CSBG American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (2009) Summary
As the designated Community Action Agency of Ventura County, CAVC was notified in July 2009 that it would be awarded $1,086,577.00 to be used for Job Creation and Job Retention. As the need was immediate, CAVC submitted a preliminary plan for the use of the funding within two weeks. When developing its comprehensive plan, CAVC’s priority concern was using the funding in a transparent manner that would be efficient and expeditious while touching all parts of the county. The Agency reviewed its two-year Community Action Plan, in which broad spectrums of Ventura County residents were engaged in discussing their primary concerns for the low-income population in the county in the coming years. The concerns expressed in the open community sessions included housing for the homeless, food availability, an increase in job loss, the need for affordable legal assistance and dwindling funding for integral community programs. With this information, CAVC divided its overall plan into seven major projects:
- El Centrito de Santa Paula
- Equal Access to the Law
- Job Training and Placement
- Green Center
- Community Gardens
- Homeless Shelter Services
- Outreach and Education
In November 2009, the California Office of Community Services and Development (CSD) approved CAVC’s project plans.
El Centrito de Santa Paula
Due to fiscal year 2010 budget cuts in municipal funding, the Santa Paula Police Department Storefront, which employs two full-time employees, was scheduled to close its doors. There would be jobs lost in the Storefront and the loss of the integral services delivered through it would have negatively affected the community of Santa Paula. There would be further job losses due to the closure of services like the Boys and Girls Club, which provides an after-school safe haven for children of parents who work.
With CSBG ARRA funding, the storefront was able to retain the full-time employment of the center coordinator and assistant coordinator. Services were expanded to include immigration assistance, ESL classes, lease assistance, legal services, Home Energy Assistance Programs, and home weatherization intake. During the funding period, the city of Santa Paula was able to identify funding that took effect as the CSBG ARRA funding cycle came to a close at the end of September 2010.
Equal Access to the Law
Due to the economic crisis in California, demand for legal services outpaced CAVC’s small legal assistance program’s ability to provide services to all those in need. In order to meet the growing needs of the community, CAVC expanded the program from one part-time attorney and one part-time legal assistant to one full-time attorney, one part-time attorney, and two full-time legal assistants.
As employee capacity at CAVC’s main office was at its maximum, the expanded legal department moved to an off-site location, shared with the Green Center. Over the course of the CSBG ARRA funding, the CAVC legal team was able to assist 330 clients with legal matters in the areas of family law, housing and landlord-tenant disputes, restraining orders, guardianships, conservatorships, civil matters, wills, and general legal information.
Job Training and Placement
Community Action subcontracted both Goodwill Industries of Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, Inc. and Oxnard City Corps to provide job training and job placement programs.
Goodwill Industries worked to support the expansion and development of the local workforce by providing the following services: classroom training; placement at worksite to develop and/or improve work skills and job readiness in occupations that match the clients’ skill levels and interest; personal, vocational and social adjustment (PVSA); and work adjustment (WA). Clients in the Goodwill program worked 20 to 40 hours per week and received $8 per hour.
Goodwill exceeded its initial enrollment goal of 10 clients and ended up enrolling 50 clients into the subsidized employment program during the CSBG ARRA period. By the end of September 2010, 18 clients completed the entire program and found permanent unsubsidized employment.
Oxnard City Corps
The Oxnard City Corps Quick Jobs Program used a combination of work-along and service-tryout formats for training its program participants. They participated in any single, or a combination of, the 15 average daily projects of City Corps, including five weekend projects. This intense project-oriented training platform provided its participants the best of versatility training that is necessary to deal with the rapidly changing needs of the world of work, especially by those who lack specific training and education. The variety of projects that participants were involved with exposed them to myriad situations that lent itself to quick analysis and thinking as well as rapid response and action. These skills raised clients' versatility and their ability to get and keep a job.
Although originally established for youth and adolescents, the program also served adult parolees and participants under the state CalGRIP (California Gang Reduction, intervention and Prevention) program. Participants worked in a Townkeeper Project, Oxnard Water Division, Oxnard General Services Department, multimedia activities, clerical support duties, distribution of community notices, logistical support, city and community events, and provided support to elementary and middle school programs. The project assisted 37 clients from Oxnard, three from Ventura, 10 from Santa Paula, and two from Moorpark. In the end, City Corps also exceeded its initial goal of assisting 40 clients, assisting 52 clients and finding permanent employment for 10 clients as follows:
2 – Oxnard General Services Department
1 – Oxnard Water Division
2 – City Corps media Team
4 – Townkeeper Program
1 – Private Sector
The goal of Community Action of Ventura County’s Green Center is to provide visitors with information on how to make their homes more energy efficient and initiate education programs on the merits of green building. To make this project a reality CAVC hired one Green Center manger and one outreach specialist.
As demand for green technology grows, the Green Center serves as a central place to learn these new technologies through interactive exhibits sponsored by “green” companies in Ventura County.
Another goal of the Green Center is to connect homeowners who want to make their houses more efficient with contractors who can help them to complete projects. It also serves as a learning center for contractors who wish to learn more about new green technologies and how to help their businesses incorporate new products and practices.
The Green Center is for the whole family. Boys and girls can learn the environmental benefits of water and energy conservation and experience how green technology achieves success through fun, hands-on exhibits.
Bottom line, the Green Center wants to help people change the way they live. “Going Green,” means they are helping save the planet and money.
The Green Center is the hub of new energy-efficient technology. Local vendors showcase green products and services, from solar panels and water-saving plumbing supplies, to energy-saving construction materials and premium mulches and soil amendments for gardens made from recycled yard waste.
New employment opportunities are increasing in the growing Green economy, from weatherizing homes and businesses to installing and wiring solar panels. The Green Center serves as a learning site for local contractors to upgrade their job skills. Experts in various green industries also demonstrate new skills and practices for those looking to build a new career.
Community Action of Ventura County earned an Environmental Sustainability Award for the Green Center. State Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Santa Monica) honored Community Action of Ventura County as June’s winner of the 23rd Senate District’s Environmental Sustainability Award.
CAVC was recognized for its efforts in establishing the Green Center that opened to the public on June 2. Callie Hurd, field representative for Pavley, presented a Certificate of Recognition to CAVC’s Executive Director Socorro Lopez Hanson and Javier Saucedo, Green Center manager.
Community Action of Ventura County recognizes that community gardening improves people’s quality of life by producing nutritious fruits and vegetables, encouraging self-reliance and reducing family food budgets. Gardens have other benefits as well, such as beautifying neighborhoods, preserving green space and conserving resources.
CAVC provided financial and operational support to the North Oxnard United Methodist Church’s Community Roots Garden. Garden masters were available to provide community members with gardening tips and to educate them on water-conserving practices such as incorporating mulches and drought-tolerant plants.
With this funding, the Community Roots Garden was able to develop initiatives that connected people with healthy food, good work, and community. The time and money invested in teaching gardening skills to low-income Ventura County residents and other community members not only made gardening knowledge accessible, but created opportunities for empowerment and self-sufficiency. The garden held 26 workshops, had 104 volunteers for a total 1,672 hours, developed bilingual education materials and produced more than 2,800 pounds of food, 90percent of which was donated to community food pantries and programs in Ventura County. Learners became producers through practicing their new skills, and they sowed seeds that will produce the unquantifiable rewards of greater self-sufficiency and better health.
According to a report by the Interagency Council on Homelessness for 2009, it was projected that there will be a 20 percent increase of urban homelessness across the nation due to the continuing recession. On any given day there are already 2,200 homeless adults and children in Ventura County, but this number doesn’t include the families that are at risk of becoming homeless. These at-risk families have limited income and often have to choose between paying rent or mortgage and other daily living costs that often put them at risk of becoming homeless. They need help.
Many of the newly homeless are hardworking families that have never experienced homelessness before and are unaware of the resources and services that are available to them. These families, with their vulnerable children, are sleeping on friends’ couches, living in cars, makeshift living quarters, or other unsafe places where the children are in danger of being hurt or abused. These newly homeless families need a stable living environment; however, Ventura County currently has a shortage of transitional housing units for families with children. The families also need assistance to help them become self-sufficient and secure permanent housing. The longer these families are unstable they are more at risk of becoming chronically homeless, which is usually associated with increased alcohol and drug addiction, child abuse, domestic violence and other issues making it more difficult for them to become self-sufficient.
In an effort to address these issues, CAVC used CSBG ARRA funding for two different programs, The Wide Umbrella and The Regal Lodge.
The Wide Umbrella – Rent to Shelter Program
Community Action of Ventura County provided “seed” funding to The Wide Umbrella’s Rent to Shelter Program. To provide transitional shelter to the newly homeless families, the Rent to Shelter Program leases homes for an 18-month period from low-income homeowners who can no longer afford their current mortgage and are in danger of foreclosure. After attending a debt counseling workshop and developing a plan of action for budgeting and credit repair, the homeowners move into affordable housing, leaving the home vacant for newly homeless families with children. At the end of the lease, the homeowners choose to either 1) to move back into their home if their income has increased; 2) renew their lease for an additional 18-month period; or 3) sell their home.
During the CSBG ARRA funding period, The Wide Umbrella was able to lease two homes and working homeless families into the homes. Once moved in, the Wide Umbrella used the “Critical Time Intervention” (CTI) model to prevent recidivism to homelessness. The time-limited program uses three stages, moving from intensive to light assistance as families moved from transitional housing to permanent housing.
The Regal Lodge
All the facts show that it is next to impossible for a person to hold down employment when homeless. It is difficult enough for some people to get out of their bed in the morning and get to work, let alone crawl out from behind a bush and head to work without a shower or clean clothes. Because of these factors, Community Action rented five motel rooms to house working homeless individuals and families.
During their stay, clients worked with a CAVC caseworker who assisted them in navigating the complex process of enrolling in social service and benefit programs and the acquisition of longer-term housing. With the use of CSBG ARRA funding, CAVC was able to assist 11 employed adults and eight children. As the funding period came to a close, CAVC was able to assist six adults of those adults and all eight children into permanent housing.
Outreach, Education, and the Self-Sufficiency Calculator
Community Action of Ventura County reaches out to communities across Ventura County using several different mediums. By educating the community more effectively about the agency’s services relating to poverty, CAVC strove to engage the broader community about low-income and poverty issues. Families and individuals learned to access services and find opportunities to help make a difference in the community. CAVC accomplished this by participating in the Cal/Neva media campaign, “Fulfilling the Promise,” producing bilingual print media, and engaging the community via Spanish and English radio advertisements.
The Self-Sufficiency Calculator
In collaboration with United Way and First 5 of Ventura County, Community Action developed a Self-Sufficiency Calculator for broad use by Ventura County Social Service Agencies. The purpose of the Self-Sufficiency Calculator is to assist caseworkers in helping their client’s access work supports and make more informed budget and life decisions based on accurate information about their circumstances. Getting this information expeditiously and accurately has been difficult for caseworkers, who often spend weeks trying to help clients get information about just one benefit let alone several. The Calculator allows caseworkers to help clients in a new way that is valuable because of how easy it is to use, how fast it can calculate a family’s financial health and with accurate information, show the whole “financial picture” of a family. Primarily, it serves its purpose of increasing the ability of clients to get connected with social and economic benefits.
Many benefits such as Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC) and CalFresh food subsidies are not used by all those qualified to receive the benefits. Most often, this underutilization is a result of otherwise qualified individuals and families being ill-informed about the program, the process for application, and/or their ability to qualify. This leaves hundreds of people without needed assistance, and, on a countywide scale, leaves millions of dollars that would otherwise be spent locally. Several agencies in the county are now working with the Self-Sufficiency Calculator in conjunction with their clientele case management. As a result, more Ventura County residents are being connected with new services and benefits.
Community Action of Ventura County would like to thank its Subcontractors, Collaborators and volunteers who donated more than 2,500 hours assisting Ventura County residents under the ARRA projects. Through these efforts, 88 jobs were created and an additional 17 jobs were saved from elimination or reduction. In addition, housing was provided to 19 working homeless; 2,800 pounds of food was harvested and donated assisting more than 400 people with fresh organic vegetables; and more than 3,200 clients with a wide range of programs designed to help our neighbors who are most in need during this difficult recession.
Though the Federal Stimulus funding has run its course the work is not over. The economic outlook for businesses seems to be turning for the better, but an unprecedented number of Americans are still unable to find employment, often through no fault of their own. As the income gap between the wealthiest and poor widens to its furthest point since 1938, many of our friends and neighbors are struggling to scrape by on unemployment insurance while they search for work. Many of those have now lost that final lifeline and will face the New Year with great uncertainty about how to obtain even the most basic of necessities, such as food and shelter.This economic climate will cause the need to increase and, thus, the impact on Community Action’s ability to meet those needs.
Guided by service, compassion and fairness, Community Action will continue its mission to advocate for and assist low-income, disadvantaged, and at-risk families and individuals to become self-sufficient by providing quality programs, outreach services and counseling to effectively serve the comprehensive needs of the disadvantaged in the Ventura County community.