Linda Shaw, executive director of the Madera Housing Authority, appears to have solved a problem that has been plaguing the city for years: How to provide more housing for the homeless among us during winter months.
In past years, homeless people who occasionally appeared before the Housing Authority commissioners asking for help were sent back out into the cold with the news that the authority had no way to help them.
The authority administered federal rent subsidies to provide low-cost housing for families, but if you were homeless you had to look elsewhere for help. The authority was basically a rental agency for subsidized housing — and for that matter, it still is.
There was no solution for homeless people who could not afford rent.
Gradually in Madera that has changed. The Madera Rescue Mission has been enlarged, and now provides places to stay for more homeless people than before. Other services are available for homeless families.
But Shaw, a Navy veteran who has been running the Housing Authority for more than a year now, has opened up new doors to provide housing for the homeless. She has been able to put to use some 50 previously unused agricultural-worker housing units in the housing authority’s Pomona Ranch development, and offer them as temporary housing for homeless families.
She applied for and was approved to receive a $150,000 federal Community Development Block Grant, which in plain English is money provided by the federal government for use on local projects that meet certain qualifications.
The vote to award the money to Shaw’s agency, to be used to fix up the Pomona Ranch dwellings, was taken Wednesday night at a city council meeting that dealt with many block grant requests.
The thing that makes this newsworthy is that Shaw saw something that needed to be done, recognized a way to get it accomplished, then followed through on it — something that doesn’t always happen in government.
Very often, you will find, as it often is in the private sector, that people in government will see reasons why things can’t be done rather than figuring out how to turn them into reality.
The Pomona Ranch housing development, 1777 Woodward Way, was always vacant part of the year, and was always available to provide relief for homeless families. But past housing authority administrators made the decision to keep the houses closed when they were vacant rather than putting them to use, and not pursue authorization from the Office of Migrant Services to make further use of them. The houses were viewed as a liability when their agricultural tenants moved out.
Shaw saw them instead as an opportunity. She went to work finding ways to make the Pomona Ranch housing available as homeless-family housing during the part of the year they weren’t being used as housing for agricultural workers — and she was successful.
An ad hoc committee, co-chaired by city council members Charles Rigby and William Oliver, has now expanded to 20 members representing both county and city.
It seems like a small victory, and it is in the overall scheme of small-town government.
But it is a big victory for common sense.
Shaw and other city and housing authority workers deserve much credit for seeing what others had not seen and doing something to help homeless people find their ways off the street.