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By Shawn Raymundo

The city council on Tuesday, Dec. 15, unanimously voted to accept more than $445,000 in community block grants from the federal government to address the COVID-19 pandemic locally, directing most of the money to go toward economic relief for small businesses.

The $445,109 in Community Development Block Grants to the city marks the latest round in funding under the CARES Act—the economic relief measure passed in late March to provide aid to families, businesses and municipalities during the pandemic.

More than $253,000 has been earmarked for economic development purposes, providing grants to businesses in need of personal protective equipment, as well as helping pay rent and utilities. The funds could also help restaurant owners recoup some of the costs associated with establishing their outdoor dining areas.

Another $103,044 will pay for the city to hire its own homeless outreach worker, contracted under a limited term and tasked to work alongside code enforcement staff and homeless liaison officers from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

“The position would serve as the City’s liaison to other service providers and mobile street outreach organizations and coordinate services and provide linkages to available resources for people and families experiencing homelessness due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the city said in its agenda report.

Most of the remaining $89,021 from the grant has been allocated toward the city’s administrative costs associated with the management of the funds, the program and its reporting. However, the council directed staff to identify any cost savings for the administrative funds and redirect those potential savings toward the economic development monies.

Initially, city staff had recommended the total sum of the grant be split three ways, with 40% going to public service for homeless and food assistance, 40% toward economic development and the remaining 20% for administration.

Under that plan, $178,044 would have gone toward public services, with the $103,044 earmarked for homeless outreach and the rest of the $75,000 allocated toward rental, utility and food assistance programs, helping those residents to keep from being homeless.

First-year Councilmember Chris Duncan proposed that the $75,000 in homeless prevention monies be redirected into the economic development funds, believing that it would have a cyclical impact and benefit residents.

He also emphasized that his proposal wasn’t meant to “discount the rental assistance” for families, but rather to address the urgency in supporting small businesses that are struggling as a result of the latest stay-at-home order.

“It’s also important to remember that it’s going toward rental assistance for the businesses so they have their own rental and utility issues, too, and all of the people that they support, so it’s all kind of connected,” he said.

On the homeless outreach services, the council also had the option to either allocate the funds toward City Net, the city’s current contractor for performing mobile homeless outreach, or hire the in-house contractor.

City management explained to the council that they’ve reviewed other nearby cities that have community outreach workers on staff to look at best practices, job descriptions and qualifications.

“We have a good idea of the skill set necessary and their ability to connect individuals with resources,” said Community Development Director Cecilia Gallardo-Daly. “It would be a matter of making sure that we create a job description and finding the right employee who would find those resources and connect those individuals with programs and services.”

Interim City Manager Erik Sund further explained that the in-house contractor would essentially take over the role of City Net, while also being afforded the same resources from the county’s continuum of care for homelessness.

Editor’s Note: An abridged version of this story was published in the Dec. 17 edition of the San Clemente Times.

SR_1Shawn Raymundo
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for the San Clemente Times. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow San Clemente Times @SCTimesNews.

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