Volunteers stop at a homeless camp under the Ort J. Lofthus Freeway in Stockton on Jan. 31, 2022, during the city's annual Point-in-Time count. More than half of San Joaquin County's unsheltered residents reside in the city, according to 2019 data. (Photo by Harika Maddala/Bay City News)

A local health plan program is investing approximately $15 million to build up shelters and housing projects in San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties to address homelessness, Health Plan of San Joaquin announced Thursday.

Health Plan of San Joaquin, which serves over 400,000 Medi-Cal beneficiaries in the area, will allocate funds to invest in multiple initiatives that will create shelters and permanent housing units for unhoused populations in Stockton, Tracy and Modesto.

One of HPSJ’s 13 investments includes sending $5.5 million to build up to150 modular units near a Stockton homeless shelter.

The one-room, private units would be potentially placed in the shadow of the intersection of the 4 and 5 freeways in Stockton, an area that is owned by St Mary’s Dining Room and currently a homeless encampment site.

Another $1.2 million will go towards two interim homeless shelters in Tracy, and they also plan to help launch street medicine programs that will allow healthcare providers to engage individuals where they are and on their own terms, said HPSJ Chief Executive Officer, Michael Schrader.

“We are going right to where the need is,” Schrader said.

Health Plan of San Joaquin is participating in a two-year voluntary state program called the California Housing and Homeless Incentive, which calls on health plans to make upfront investments to helping unhoused populations.

At the end of the year, health plans have the chance to earn incentive funds based on the difference they make.

“The way I look at this is that HPSJ serves low-income residents…many homeless individuals are my members and if I can help my members and help the community then if I don’t get all that investment back, at least I made a difference in the community,” Schrader said.

Schrader said there are 16 different performance measures for the program, including getting homeless people housed and keeping them housed.

“Investing in these modular units, well that could take time…it could take more time to get the units stood up,” Schrader said. “I’m focused on making a lasting difference, I’m not getting tied up into ‘it’s a two-year program’.”

However, Schrader said HPSJ is part of larger stakeholder groups and many of the initiatives are in the conception stage with detailed planning needing to be done before any implementations.

Victoria Franco is a reporter based in Stockton covering San Joaquin County for Bay City News Foundation and its nonprofit news site Local News Matters. She is a Report for America corps member.