RICHMOND -- The city agreed Tuesday to sponsor a conference in June hosted by a nationally renowned job-training organization for the homeless.

Saffron Strand, a Richmond-based membership organization for homeless men and women in Contra Costa County, is set to host a 2013 conference titled Developing the Homeless Workforce: What Will It Take?

The City Council unanimously agreed to waive a $5,000 fee to use the city's auditorium for the event, scheduled for June 17 and 18.

"People and experts from across the country come to this and bring money and recognition," Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles said. "The service they do for Richmond residents is priceless, and getting the word out is priceless, too."

The theme of the conference, and one championed by Saffron Strand since it was formed in 2008, includes private-public collaboration and holistic approaches to reducing homelessness that include mental health services, employment training, housing and medical care. This will be the fourth annual conference.

"The problem of homelessness is accelerating," said Yvonne Nair, CEO of Saffron Strand. "Today's homeless are families, women with children, young adults and seniors. Budgets are shrinking, and more are falling through the social safety network."

Nair said the organization and the city are emerging as "pioneers" in rehabilitating homeless residents and sending them back to work.


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One-third of Contra Costa County's homeless population is in Richmond, Nair said. According to county statistics, an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 residents are homeless at some point during the year and about 5,000 at any given time.

Eighty-one of 150 homeless men and women in the program have achieved steady employment, Nair said.

Councilman Corky Boozé supported the $5,000 subsidy but said he was concerned about the precedent of supporting some community groups and not others during a time of tight municipal finances. Councilman Nat Bates mentioned several other local nonprofits, and said he would "fight for them" the next time they requested city funds. Bates said the city spends less than 1 percent of its $120 million-plus budget on investments in nonprofits.

"It's embarrassing," Bates said. "During our coming budget talks, we need to increase support for these kinds of organizations."

Several residents spoke in favor of the funding and praised Saffron Strand for its approach, which includes making homeless men and women members of its group free of charge in return for their time and work at its center, including training intended to make them employable.

"This conference will benefit the city and the county," resident Margaret Jordan said. "It's an opportunity to bring experts in from all over the country to see what we are doing in this city."

Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726 or rrogers@bayareanewsgroup.com and follow Twitter.com/roberthrogers.