Heather Mostajo-Flores had four teeth and no home when she arrived at Serna Village with her husband and two sons in 2013.
On Wednesday, she flashed a smile made bright by a full set of pearly whites as she talked about her husband’s steady job as a union construction worker and their search for a house now that they have income coming in. Serna Village, she said, has put her family back on its feet.
But they may be among the last people to benefit from the homeless program located at McClellan. Serna Village has lost $250,000 of federal funding for this year – the entire amount it spends on services – putting its future in question.
It is not the only successful local homeless program in jeopardy. Mather Community Campus in Rancho Cordova lost $2.6 million in federal money for the coming year.
When Sacramento Steps Forward, a joint agency of the city and county that funnels federal money to local organizations, put in its bid for that money, it prioritized programs that are more in line with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s evolving guidelines.
In recent years, HUD has prioritized programs that give permanent housing to people without restrictions and prioritize the most chronically homeless. The idea behind the “housing first” model is that government should not create barriers for people to find housing, and that people are more receptive to getting the services they need once they have shelter.
In contrast, Serna Village requires that residents first become sober before they can live there. Mather is considered a “transitional” program, with most residents staying an average of eight to nine months.
Leo McFarland, president of the local Volunteers of America chapter, said Mather has relied on HUD funding for almost 20 years. The campus houses 180 single homeless people, 60 families and a small number of former foster children who have reached adulthood.
“All of a sudden, it was perceived as a transitional housing program, which doesn’t align with HUD thinking,” he said.
In order to maximize federal funding this year, Sacramento Steps Forward decided to exclude transitional housing programs from its application, said Michele Watts, vice president of programs. If the group asks HUD to fund programs that go against the agency’s guidelines, it puts some of Sacramento’s funding in jeopardy, she said.
“This is a problem with many of our older projects because they were designed before HUD had many of the requirements they have today,” Watts said.
Sacramento Steps Forward received an extra $773,000 this year compared to last year.
Meanwhile, Serna Village and Mather are scrambling to find money to keep their doors open despite years of success stories. Programs in this situation have two options – they can adapt to new requirements or look elsewhere for funding.
David Husid, director of community development for Serna Village’s parent nonprofit, Cottage Housing Inc., said he believes the clean and sober requirement is important to the success of Serna Village.
“There is not a program in Sacramento that if you are clean and sober, that you can go to and be around clean and sober people because they’re taking that out of the equation,” he said. “I want this to be the program where families can come that want to be clean and sober, that want to use this as a stepping stone.”
He said three dozen families have gone from homeless to homeowner through Serna Village. The program is named after former Sacramento Mayor Joe Serna Jr.
At Mather, the most immediate obstacle is that the program would have to install kitchens to units to turn them into permanent supportive housing under HUD guidelines.
But McFarland also believes in the success of the program, which graduated 411 individuals and families last year. Of those, 85 percent moved on to permanent housing and 67 percent left with a job. Three percent of graduates end up back on the streets, he said.
“If you had a college that was graduating 1,000 people a year, you wouldn’t tell them to keep those 1,000 people for 15 years because we think they’ll be really, really smart by the end,” he said.
Sacramento County staff helped find some bridge funding to get Serna Village through the first six months of the year, Husid said. He has implored the county Board of Supervisors to find room in the budget for the program and he’s seeking private funds, he said.
County staff are expected to suggest some funding options for Mather at a March board meeting along with a slew of other plans for addressing homelessness.