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There is no question that availability of affordable housing is a problem throughout the state of California, and El Dorado County is no exception. The cost of existing housing coupled with the lack of affordable housing units is one factor, among many, driving homelessness in the county. These factors affecting housing and homelessness were exacerbated by COVID-19, further complicating the prospect of sheltering the county’s homeless population during the winter months. It is for these reasons, and the need for action, that a collaborative effort was put forth in mid-2020 to find a pathway to a solution.

Enter Housing El Dorado, a collaboration of driven community members and individuals from multiple Western Slope organizations dedicated to providing assistance and shelter to those that often find themselves without the basic necessities. Their initial focus was on a Winter Lodging program for the 2020/2021 winter months and a program dedicated to navigation for connecting unhoused individuals to local supportive services, with the ultimate goal being a pathway to sustainability for their clients.

Challenges faced by Housing El Dorado leading up to and through the 2020/2021 Winter Lodging program ranged from difficulty finding volunteers to having to structure the entire program around being COVID-19 safe to ensure the program would be safe for staff, volunteers, and clients. In order to develop the Winter Lodging program to be COVID-19 safe, Housing El Dorado worked directly with El Dorado County’s Public Health Officer, Dr. Nancy Williams. Their diligent work in creating a COVID-19 safe environment was worth it and they managed to get through the entire Winter Lodging program without a single case of COVID-19 in their staff, volunteers, or guests. Despite the challenges Housing El Dorado faced bringing their 2020/2021 Winter Lodging program to fruition, their efforts paid off and the program was a resounding success! Housing El Dorado served 49 individuals, aged 18-75, providing 761 bed nights from January – March of 2021 at Green Valley Community Church. Navigation services for these individuals were provided in the evenings and guests of the program felt safe, cared for, and supported.

The upcoming 2021/2022 Pathways Winter Lodging program is also facing a challenge in volunteer hesitancy as well as hesitancy from churches concerned about participation in the program with COVID-19 still a threat. Fundraising has also been a challenge with the lack of in-person fundraising events through 2021. The Caldor Fire has also played a part in creating difficulty for the 2021/2022 Pathways Winter Lodging program by causing significant delays in planning with the local churches that will be offering lodging for this year’s program. Despite these challenges, the Pathways Winter Lodging program will be open from January through the end of March of 2022, and four separate churches (Discovery Hills Church, Foothills United Methodist ChurchGreen Valley Community Church, and Faith Episcopal Church) have partnered with Housing El Dorado to lodge unhoused individuals on different days of the week. The participation of these four churches allows for the Pathways Winter Lodging program to operate all seven nights a week. The program will be overseen by Housing El Dorado’s new Program Manager, Charlie McDonald and the new Assistant Program Manager, Nichole Paine. Additional locations are still being sought out but with reluctance due to the pandemic, more locations may not materialize.

The Pathways Winter Lodging isn’t the only program that Housing El Dorado is involved in. They are also restarting their Pathways Shower & Day Navigation program, providing clients with the dignity of cleanliness, and connecting them to local resources and services, bringing them closer to sustainability. Affordable housing projects are another area that Housing El Dorado lends their efforts to. Maureen Dion-Perry, Housing El Dorado’s President, shared that through the pandemic the county’s shortfall of affordable housing units has increased by nearly 30%, from 3,070 units short to 3,920 units short. Housing El Dorado is also leading efforts to help inform and educate the community on the need for these programs and the overall need for affordable housing. They plan to continue their outreach efforts throughout 2022 to bring knowledge and understanding of the issues to the community. Housing El Dorado is always willing to speak to any organization or group that would like to learn more about the issues of homelessness and the availability of affordable housing.

Housing El Dorado continues to advocate for a permanent emergency shelter & navigation center for the underhoused populations within our community. El Dorado County remains one of only a handful of counties in California without a permanent emergency shelter & navigation center. They are also engaged in efforts to connect affordable housing developers with owners of property suitable for affordable housing projects to help address the nearly 4,000 affordable housing units needed within El Dorado County. These efforts are in partnership with other efforts being led but local county government and other nonprofit organizations. Housing El dorado focusses on collaboration in their mission so as not to diminish the efforts put forth by organizations and entities with similar goals. They recognize this need for collaboration in tackling the greater housing related problems facing El Dorado County and know that it takes the efforts of many to affect real positive change.

Access to mental health services is another key component that Housing El Dorado is looking to provide through their navigation program. They are also exploring the possibility of providing onsite mental health services through the Pathways Winter Lodging program. At this time, getting an appointment for mental health services can take as long as 24-36 weeks, so anything that can be done to improve this process would be beneficial. Many of the affordable housing projects that Housing El Dorado is helping to get launched have supportive onsite services that would include assistance in accessing mental health services. These onsite supportive services are put into place because individuals moving into housing from homelessness often need support, be it mental health, employment support, training, etc. to help them maintain sustainability in their daily lives and remain in housing as opposed to falling back into homelessness. Housing El Dorado has developed a good working relationship with Mercy Housing, Jamboree Housing, and Pacific Housing to begin the process of making these supportive housing projects a reality.

The work of Housing El Dorado is ongoing, and they are currently in the middle of a fundraising campaign. They rely on community support in the form of volunteers and monetary donations to continue the critical work they do in supporting the unhoused population and the development of affordable housing within El Dorado County. If you are interested in supporting the mission of Housing El Dorado, you can volunteer by visiting https://housingeldorado.org/volunteer or make a donation here.

Visit housingeldorado.org to learn more about Housing El Dorado and how you can get involved!