Homelessness cannot be solved without housing

POSTED: 03/25/17, 2:51 PM PDT

Authors: Katie Rice and Damon Connolly

Publication: Marin Independent Journal

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The number of people falling out of housing began to rise in the early 1980s; the challenges facing them became more severe, the problem more visible.


Despite decades of investment, effort and the best of intentions, our community sees the problem only getting worse for those suffering on the streets, and the increasing impacts on downtown San Rafael, residents in surrounding neighborhoods and those who visit and do business here.


Eighteen months ago, county and San Rafael city officials, local service providers and business leaders took a field trip to Palo Alto and toured the Opportunity Center. The “OC” is a multi-service homeless day center with 90 units of permanent supportive housing in the midst of Stanford University, the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, a high school, transit center and a thriving business district.


Local leaders from the university, the faith-based and business communities and local government all participated in its creation, with community buy-in.


Palo Alto cut its homeless numbers in half. The results were clear — more housing meant less homelessness.


During that tour we also learned about a program in San Mateo called the Homeless Outreach Team (HOT). Over four years, HOT has effectively ended homelessness in downtown San Mateo and the program is now in five communities across San Mateo County.


The common approach in both these efforts, and the key insight, was that they prioritized services and housing for the chronically homeless. These are people who have been homeless for five, 10 or 15-plus years. They suffer severe mental illness, substance abuse issues, developmental disabilities and often all of the above.


When you see erratic behavior or heartbreaking vulnerability in the people on the street, that person is likely experiencing chronic homelessness. These people are the hardest to reach, the hardest to serve, and the hardest to house.


A year ago, we launched our own version of HOT, a partnership of St. Vincent’s, the city, the county, Marin Housing Authority, Ritter Center and Homeward Bound. We prioritized and coordinated care for the most vulnerable chronically homeless people in downtown San Rafael. This resulted in an 80 percent reduction in 911 calls and close to a 100 percent reduction in emergency medical transports for HOT-identified participants, and most importantly, progress in regaining stable housing.


We are now focusing all efforts on moving chronically homeless people through a process called “Housing First,” which is also a prerequisite for federal and state funding local efforts.


We use an assessment tool to determine a person’s vulnerability and are developing coordinated entry to match a person with an appropriate unit of housing.


To be successful, housing must be accompanied by ongoing intensive case management. Working with service providers, county staff and staff from cities across the county, and community leaders, we are committed to developing more housing units across the county through a variety of strategies, one of which is expanding the number of landlords participating in Marin Housing Authority’s voucher program.


In our study of best practices around the state and nation, one individual affected us more than anyone else.


Iain De Jong is an internationally recognized expert on chronic homelessness and housing first. Iain’s thinking on this issue is so critical and persuasive that we have invited him to Marin on April 7 for a daylong session at the Marin Civic Center in the Board of Supervisors’ chambers, Suite 329.


Whether you are a service provider, board member or funder of an agency that provides services to the homeless, an elected official or policy maker for your organization, or you are just interested in how to make progress in addressing the homeless challenge in our community, we want to cordially invite you to join us.


Space is limited, so please register today: iaindejong.eventbrite.com.


Damon Connolly of San Rafael and Katie Rice of San Anselmo are members of the Marin Board of Supervisors.


To read original article posting, click here: http://www.marinij.com/article/NO/20170325/LOCAL1/170329895

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