LYON — There are private agencies that help homeless families find temporary housing, but for the homeless, it’s largely up to the Wayne County Department of Social Services to meet the need — and that response can be costly.

A hotel room can cost the county up to $100 per night. And, sometimes, a room cannot be found in a county with a limited number of hotel beds. This forces the county to seek shelter for the homeless in other counties. The scramble to find a bed often takes the work of a social worker — the agency is on call 24/7 — and a sheriff’s deputy, said Department of Services Commissioner Ellen Wayne. social.

Now the county has found an alternative to hotel rooms by allocating $360,000 in federal funds for homeless housing in Lyon. The second and third floors of a downtown building across from the DSS’s Water Street offices will soon offer 12 single rooms for the homeless.

“It eliminates a significant cost to the county,” Wayne said.

Indeed, the price of temporary housing for the homeless — mostly single people — reached $80,000 in 2019 and nearly $100,000 in 2020, the last year social services placed 28 people, Wayne said.

The problem is only getting worse. The agency has already placed 29 people in such accommodation for around six months in 2022.

The reasons someone becomes homeless can vary — from eviction to experiencing domestic violence to substance abuse — but the county still has a responsibility to find homes for those people, Wayne pointed out.

She convinced members of a county committee identifying the best use of $17 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds that the agency should provide its own temporary housing, defined as less than 28 days, it said. she declared.

“Our (ultimate) goal is to find permanent housing,” she said.

Lucas Dobbins of Dobbins Painting and Contracting is the owner of the building where the temporary accommodation is located. Wayne and Dobbins said they were linked through Lyon business owner Bob Ohmann.

The 12 rooms are rented by the county for three years at $130 per unit per week, compared to $85 to $100 per night for a hotel room. They are finished and just awaiting furniture, Dobbins said.

Wayne expects the rooms to be available within the week.

“This is an immediate response to the fact that there aren’t enough emergency housing beds,” Wayne said. “It’s not going to solve it, but it’s going to help us demonstrate that this model works.”

As a security element, residents will receive a code to enter the building, but also another for their individual rooms. And, it’s set up so sheriff’s deputies can access it — in consultation with social services — and place the person in the room. It could happen at any hour, Wayne pointed out.

The rooms have a bed, a fan, a bedside table and a small refrigerator, while the residents share a laundry room. Kitchenettes, equipped with a microwave oven and a sink, are found on each floor, as are the bathrooms with showers.

“It’s sparsely equipped as it’s exclusively intended as emergency accommodation,” Wayne said.

The site is unstaffed, but common areas have camera monitors, she said.

Each person receiving housing will be assigned appropriate case management, Wayne noted, adding that if homeless people are housed, for example, in the city of Ontario, it is more difficult to work with clients on their needs. . Having them close to social services offices should benefit clients and save time and travel costs for social services and any other agencies providing support services, Wayne added.

The social services commissioner, who steps down next month, admitted the city was reluctant to approve the scheme – it needed a usage gap – but she believes it ultimately benefits Lyon by helping to renovate a building that was in disrepair while tackling homelessness. .

Wayne, along with County Administrator Rick House, made personal presentations to the city, asking them to approve the usage variance.

“You can have them sleep on park benches or put them in a structured environment,” House said. “It is an advantage for the city and individuals.

Dobbins, who began preliminary renovations last November, said the second- and third-floor spaces were messy, in part because of the nature that has taken hold there. Bird droppings were everywhere.

“It was bad,” he said as he walked through the establishment. “Apartments appeared to date from the 1940s.”

Dobbins said he invested $250,000 in the building and would, in theory, get his money back during the three-year lease. If the county decides not to renew the lease, it has at least some renovated spaces that can be converted into traditional apartments, he explained.

Dobbins said he was happy to not only improve a historic downtown building that needed repairs, but also help the homeless in Wayne County.

“It’s one of those really rewarding jobs,” he said. “It makes you feel good.”

House said the ARPA committee, which also included county treasurer Patrick Schmitt, was impressed with Wayne’s speech.

“We had a lot of really good proposals (to use the $17 million in ARPA funds),” House said. “It was important, and we saw the need for it.”

“I give a lot of credit to Dr. Wayne for setting up this project to fill a need that our Department of Human Services saw,” he said. “A lot of people think there are no homeless people in Wayne County, but Dr. Wayne has information to prove otherwise.”

Wayne said if this pilot project is successful, it could be expanded to also provide emergency housing for families, with the county renovating homes, possibly through the Wayne County Land Bank, to provide temporary housing. The land bank obtains dilapidated properties, largely the result of foreclosures. The goal is to renovate them if possible and return them to the tax roll, while eliminating the scourge.

Wayne called the new housing project for the homeless unique.

“I have other (social services) commissioners paying attention to it,” she said.