Best of the West: Individualized approaches to reduce homelessness; geothermal innovation; a growing electric vehicle hub; re-mapping wildfire hazards

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the latest news in the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting Dec. 19, 2022. (Photos courtesy Unsplash and ElectraMeccanica)

Earlier this week, the Biden Administration rolled out a nationwide push to reduce nationwide homelessness by 25% by 2025. The announcement highlighted the federal government’s plans to help communities streamline the construction of affordable housing and workforce training.

Western Governors recently approved a bipartisan policy resolution that lays the foundation for how federal programs can more effectively benefit states, but many western communities have taken it upon themselves to do even more.   

Christmas came early for Habitat for Humanity of Missoula County, Montana with a donation of 26 acres of undeveloped land. The gift is the largest land donation in the organization’s history and will support the development of energy-efficient homes for lower-income families. 

In Colorado, the Summit School District will create a multi-year housing plan to help educators access affordable short-term or long-term options. It could improve teacher retention rates and overlaps with Summit Habitat for Humanity’s strategy to build workforce dwellings.

Washington state is focusing on helping students, and the Office of Homeless Youth received a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to fund programs that help more than 13,000 unhoused youths. The contribution prioritizes underserved areas, with funding going towards 11 rural counties. Since 2016, the number of kids who experienced homelessness after leaving a public system decreased from 21% to 17% in 2020.  

The Native Americans for Community Action (NACA) in Arizona is getting to the root of the issue with a research model that puts Indigenous voices at the forefront of the conversation. The Rapid Assessment, Response, and Evaluation (RARE) study focuses on the lived experiences of unsheltered Native Americans. Volunteers will integrate this information into a report to determine the cause. 

Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is also prioritizing Indigenous populations. A local task force recommends that the city implement a street team to build trust and raise awareness about services that can help. In 2021, Sioux Falls also opened a community triage center with around-the-clock services to treat behavioral health crises or substance misuse.  

Bernalillo County in New Mexico will spend $3 million to support unhoused veterans. The Veterans Integration Center of New Mexico is spearheading the development, which includes a 20,000-square-foot supportive housing center with 42 beds and 33 low-income units. According to the Veterans Integration Center, 80% of veterans that use the program find permanent homes within a year. 

As a successful example for the rest of the nation, Houston, Texas, has reduced homelessness by 63% since 2011 with assistance from HUD’s Continuum of Care program. The Way Home model allocates federal funding for nonprofit service providers and state and local governments to rehouse those in need quickly. 

Geothermal Innovation: Chevron New Energies, the clean energy extension of Chevron, is launching a joint venture with Baseload Capital to explore the development of geothermal technology. The companies intend to explore a location in Nevada that’s shown promising results. "We believe that to make the geothermal ecosystem a reality, we must take these important steps through collaboration and partnership, and this example with Baseload Capital is a great start toward pursuing our lower carbon goals for the future," said Barbara Harrison, a vice president at Chevron New Energies. Watch WGA’s latest Heat Beneath Our Feet webinar to learn more about the potential for enhanced geothermal systems. 

Mapping and Mitigation: For the first time in 15 years, The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection updated the fire hazard map for unincorporated areas of the state. Officials hope the model will encourage the public to better prepare for wildfire season with mitigation. Download an episode of WGA's Out West podcast to learn more about ways to enhance wildfire mitigation in a discussion between the Founder and CEO of Coalitions & Collaboratives, Inc., Carol Ekarius, and WGA Policy Director, Troy Timmons. 

Electric Vehicle Hub: Since 2016, five electric  vehicle (EV) manufacturing facilities have opened in Arizona. ElectraMeccanica out of Canada is the most recent to move its headquarters to Mesa. The business selected the state because of its young workforce and growing EV footprint. Once completed, the facility will produce up to 20,000 innovative three-wheel, one-seater, all-electric vehicles annually.

Gifting Dream Bicycles: For the 16th year, Idaho’s Boise Bicycle Project refurbished nearly 600 bikes for children in the community. The program relies on donations of old bikes. Kids can illustrate their dream bike each year, which engineers turn into a reality. Learn more about the program and see more of this year’s impressive designs. 

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