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Alameda County — Efforts to provide health care services for people experiencing homelessness received a boost this month when the Alameda County Board of Supervisors (BOS) voted to accept two grants totaling more than $3.3 million.

The unanimous vote came during the Jan. 11 BOS meeting and followed a recommendation penned by Colleen Chawla, director of the Alameda County Health Care Service Agency.

The bulk of the grant money comes from a Health Center Cluster Award issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), which awarded the county $3.2 million. That money will be used to support the Alameda County Health Care for the Homeless (ACHCH) program.

“Since Nov. 1, 2001, ACHCH has received this Health Center Cluster Award to provide comprehensive primary care, specialty, dental, optometry, enabling, behavioral health and substance abuse recovery services to homeless persons throughout Alameda County,” wrote Chawla in a letter to the BOS dated Dec. 7, 2021.

Among the agencies that will provide services on behalf of Alameda County are: Alameda Health System, Onsite Dental Care Foundation, Fruitvale Optometry and La Clínica de La Raza, Inc. ACHCH staff will directly provide Shelter Health and Street Health clinical and enabling services at sites throughout Alameda County. Shelter Health providers served more than 7,000 persons experiencing homelessness in 2021.

As the COVID-19 pandemic enters its third year and Bay Area housing prices continue to climb, so does the demand for homeless services in the county.

“People are falling into homeless at a rate that’s faster than exiting homeless,” Chawla said. “For all that we do to find people permanent, stable housing situations, more people are entering homelessness. I read recently in our region that the estimate was for every one that’s housed, there are three entering homeless(ness) largely due to the unaffordability of rent in our high-cost area.”

The total HRSA-recommended award for 2022 was $4.2 million. However, the Health and Human Services budget for the calendar year has not been approved yet, and the award was prorated to provide funding support through Sept. 30. The balance of the federal grant for the remainder of the calendar year will be provided in a subsequent action based on the federal government’s final approved appropriations for 2022.

The county also received a $173,000 National Health Care for the Homeless Council award from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It will fund the expansion of ACHCH’s Vaccine Ambassador Project to increase COVID-19 vaccinations among people experiencing homelessness, people with substance-use disorders and people who engage in sex work. The implementation of the project will include hiring two full-time community health workers who have experienced homelessness and have relationships with people currently experiencing homelessness. Those health workers will serve as vaccine ambassadors and work with ACHCH staff in congregate homeless settings.

“I just want to acknowledge (Chawla) and the office of homeless care coordination for stepping up and taking on this behemoth responsibility,” Miley said at the conclusion of his questions. “Clearly this is a major issue. I know the county’s responsible for delivering services to vulnerable populations. I’m just trying to get a sense that (we are) doing the best we can to work our way out of this daunting problem that we continue to face with the unsheltered.”

The BOS approved the acceptance of awards for other county agencies during the same meeting. The Crankstart Foundation awarded $3 million to fund the Alameda County Public Defender’s Clean Slate Program. The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office was awarded $878,968 by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 to allow facilities to implement COVID-19 diagnostic and screening programs for people who are incarcerated, staff and visitors.

Miley acknowledged efforts by the Public Defender’s Department under Brendon D. Woods to secure additional grant funding.

“For the Public Defender’s Department to get a $3 million grant, that’s just phenomenal,” he said. “I think this might be the largest grant I can remember them receiving.”