Saturday, December 24, 2016

Stepping Out of Homelessness: Clear and Accessible Pathways to Housing


I know all of you have been supportive of building a system of housing and supportive services which addresses the needs of our community.  And over the past five decades, we have enacted, administered, and fought to improve and retain many excellent components of that system.  And I applaud the more recent initiatives by local and state governments to respond to the accelerating housing crisis.  Our representatives have heard from a unified citizenry that all are effected, and are pursuing solutions like gifts under a Christmas tree.

But more than ever before, what is needed is a stronger coordination of programs to insure that they facilitate clear and accessible pathways to permanent housing for all.

If we agree that a general acceleration of housing development at all levels is an essential component of the solution, and we believe that the housing mobility that results will contribute to those pathways, we must do everything we can to link and coordinate access at each level of housing.

To insure that those living on the street or woods can access shelters, we funded shelters with the expectation that they will be available to them.  

To insure that those in shelters can access transitional housing, we funded shared-housing placement programs, rental deposit and security funds, and short-term rental units with the expectation that they would be available to them.  

To insure that those in shared transitional housing can access stable, individual permanent housing, we built and rehabilitated housing stock with long-term low income access requirements, and established government rental subsidies to attract an even larger pool of available housing.

And those social service agencies working with the occupants of this housing stock assisted them in understanding the many, and often confusing, rules governing eligibility and access.  And supported them to utilize personal services which addressed many additional needs. 

As a result of an unprecedented emergency housing crisis, we are now embarking on both the addition of new housing alternatives between the street and subsidized permanent housing (safe camping and parking, encampments, tiny homes, accessory units, etc), and the modification and augmentation of a level above government-subsidized rental units - affordable housing beyond in-lieu-funded, nonprofit-built housing.  Santa Rosa’s Affordable Housing Incentive Pilot Project and Sonoma County’s Community Development Commission initiatives to partner with local developers are good examples.

In order to insure that those who continue to utilize our housing continuum can truly achieve their goals of self-sufficiency, we need to improve and expand our access coordination for them throughout all levels. A greater sharing and coordination of participants, coupled with coordinated policies for priority eligibility of those in the system to these new levels we are supporting would be good steps to those goals.

Currently, the successful outcomes we report from our homeless support efforts are the number of homeless engaged by our teams who receive health and housing screenings; among those permanently housed, the increase in the number who have a primary health care provider; and the number of emergency room visits and ambulance trips utilized by homeless.

That data, while evidence of the impact on government program use, is not difficult to obtain, and requires little coordination or bridging of silos.  But it doesn’t measure how well we directly assist all homeless to obtain improved housing.  In our efforts to assist homeless at every level of need, we need to better understand how well our system supports upward mobility now.  Let's track and utilize the impact of our housing resources on successful transitions of our users through all levels of our housing resources, from the streets to permanent housing?   

This shouldn’t be that difficult to accomplish. By sharing resident occupancy data and supported improved housing applications, we can build a valuable housing outcome information system.  This information is crucial to the operational improvement of each program, is necessary for effective system policy development and overall funding decisions, and is essential to creating a barrier-free system with the goal of housing for all.

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