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Citrus Heights homeless navigator in limbo after nonprofit closure

Homeless Navigator
File photo, then-Citrus Heights Homeless Navigator Toni Morgan talking with an unhoused person. // Image courtesy, HART

Updated May 8, 11:08 a.m.–
By Mike Hazlip— The future of homeless services in Citrus Heights is in question as a key regional nonprofit organization faces closure at the end of June.

Sacramento County announced in a March 29 release that it would not renew contracts with Sacramento Self Help Housing (SSHH) due to what the county said was “significant financial issues at SSHH.” That move prompted the organization to announce it would be closing, which will have far-reaching effects, including homeless services in Citrus Heights, according to Irene Hronicek, board chair of the volunteer-run Citrus Heights Homeless Assistance Resource Team (HART).

Hronicek confirmed SSHH will close at the end of June, but could not comment on any reasons for the move. She said the closure will impact workers like homeless navigator Gabriella Yost who works with residents of Citrus Heights who are homeless.

“With their implosion, [the navigators] livelihood is now in question,” Hronicek said, referring to navigators from SSHH who help homeless find access to services and get into housing.

Yost told The Sentinel in a May 4 phone call that money for her salary came from funds the Citrus Heights Police Department paid to SSHH. As the closure of SSHH draws near, Yost said the city is looking for another provider to continue homeless services in Citrus Heights.

“We’re looking at other nonprofits and organizations in the area to hopefully pick up our contract,” Yost said. “We’re inquiring about that but at this point, there isn’t any done deals.”

If the city is unable to find an organization to continue the services, Yost said the help she and others like her provide will be reduced or eliminated.

Just in Citrus Heights alone, there are 150 clients Yost is currently working with, and Citrus Heights HART has helped 42 individuals obtain transitional housing in the last four months, she said.

Yost is optimistic that another organization will be found to provide services, but warned there could be a gap in assistance until a new contract is in place.

Hronicek said the city is reluctant to take on homeless services directly, preferring to contract with a non-profit organization.

“The City seems to be waiting for another provider and does not appear willing to engage the Navigators as full time and part time employees,” Hronicek said in a May 3 email to The Sentinel. “It’s understandable why the flexibility of a contract is preferred. But perhaps funds can be budgeted from the new County Tax money coming available, CBDG Funds, or even ARPA funds.”

HART has been approached about hiring and managing navigators, but Hronicek said the volunteer-run organization does not have the infrastructure to provide that level of services to the community.

In a May 5 email to The Sentinel, city spokeswoman Meghan Huber said the City “has been made aware of the closure of Sacramento Self-Help Housing” and is working to find a replacement solution.

“The Navigator Program is an important tool in the City’s effort to connect our unhoused individuals with the resources they need to find housing and services,” said Huber in the brief statement. “The City is actively evaluating opportunities to continue the Navigator program through other provider options and exploring all available opportunities.”

SSHH Responds
In a March 29 interview on the Pat Walsh Show, SSHH Chairman Ethan Evans called the reasons behind the closure “complex,” citing significant growth in the organization’s budget In recent years.

“Taking on too much work with not enough money in the bank caught up with them,” Evans said.

SSHH was founded by John Foley about 20 years ago as an outgrowth of Loaves and Fishes, the organization that serves meals and offers assistance to homeless residents in downtown Sacramento. The organization has garnered praise from community leaders in the last two decades, but Foley recently left the organization for unconfirmed reasons, according to a Jan. 18 report by the Sacramento Bee that raised questions about missing financial audits and evictions of tenants by SSHH.

The organization’s budget grew from about $2 million in 2015 to more than $14 million in 2020, according to financial records obtained by The Bee. Evans said the organization simply could not sustain the rapid level of growth.

“John Foley said yes to contracts to house people that most providers in town said no to,” Evans said on the Pat Walsh Show, adding that some of those contract decisions were financially based. “John looked at it from his heart and said if they’re going to give us money to house another person, I’m taking it and we’ll figure it out. And he just did it too often.”

Sacramento County announced May 3 that it had entered into an agreement with City Net to provide homeless assistance. The Anaheim-based organization was founded in 2003 by Brad Fieldhouse and serves the counties of Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside, with 140 employees, according to a 2020 stakeholder report, the most recent available.

For now, it remains unclear if the work of homeless navigators in Citrus Heights will be able to continue. Hronicek said HART will likely be able to continue assisting with distributing donated supplies, paying for bus passes, taking homeless clients to appointments, and more, but “to a lesser degree and with far less effectiveness” without a navigator.

“Hopefully, this will not become an issue about money,” said Hronicek. “It is a human issue- it’s about people: the Navigators and their job security, and the people they serve in our City.”

Correction: An original version of this article incorrectly stated that the city had approached HART about providing additional services. This article has been updated to state that HART has been asked to hire and manage navigators, but not by the city.

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