Friday, June 29, 2018

Articles on Housing First-Funded Low Cost Housing


Lately, low cost housing pushing the limits of minimum housing standards have been funded by cities and counties under their Housing First programs.  Here are some articles on those initiatives.

Can Tuff Sheds help Oakland ease the housing crisis? - June 28th, 2018

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Homeless Housing Budget Proposal

Homeless Emergency
Budget Recommendations
2018-2019 City of Santa Rosa

Despite various attempts to help and some mild success, the homeless emergency continues to exist in Santa Rosa.  
·      We have a shortage of critical shelter beds.  Officially, more than half of our homeless residents (769) sleep outside every night and, county-wide, nearly 2/3rds have no shelter.
·      Five large encampments and countless small ones have been cleared without any appreciable improvement in the number of people housed or any lessoning of the suffering of Santa Rosa’s homeless people. 
·      Last winter’s emergency shelter at the Armory cared for approximately 90 people a night, but there is no winter shelter planned for Santa Rosa this year.

There is good news.  The national affordable housing shortage and continuing numbers of homeless individuals has brought attention and some additional money to bear.  California, in particular, is providing new money for the temporary, non-standard shelter we are advocating, and they are looking for creative solutions.  With the help of city staff and non-profit partners, we anticipate bringing some of that money to Santa Rosa in order to provide higher quality emergency “stability first” shelter for many of the 769 people currently left out in the cold.   In addition we recommend a variety of policy changes to address this emergency.

We propose targeting $1.8 million in funding for immediate emergency shelter needs, using a variety of new initiatives and funding sources. We recommend that $310,000 be allocated in the city budget for this purpose.  We’re looking to both the city and county to provide matching funds for these projects in the coming year.  With help from city and county staff members in an ongoing planning process, we can significantly augment your contribution with other sources, some of which are discussed below.

Financial Recommendations


Number Served
Approx. Cost
Year-round “security first” shelter either in surplus buildings or on vacant land

Year-round Safe Parking

Winter Shelter Oct-March

Housing First Facilitator

In addition, we support a budgetary set aside of approximately $1.2 million for one or more permanent supportive housing projects. 

Description:  With the creation of the new senior center on Steele Lane, most of the senior services at Bennett Valley are scheduled to end.  This building could be repurposed to provide single room occupancy housing for approximately 70 homeless seniors on the model of the Palms Inn.  Some of the current classes could continue in a remodeled facility and remain open to the neighborhood seniors.  This project should be able to access some of the state funding detailed below.  If this building cannot be used, this money will be available for other opportunities.

Policy Recommendations

·      Before the Winter Rain.  Use an expedited timeline to get the projects with the least infrastructure and construction sited and ready for use in the next three months.

·      Open Private Land.  Adopt new incentives for private property owners to partner with homeless housing developers to use empty sites for temporary and supported housing until construction begins.

·      Open The Process.   In awarding this money, even for the smaller project, use an RFP process in order to begin building capacity among our diverse homeless service provider community.

·      Open Public Land.  Identify and provide funding to prepare all surplus public property for the development of permanent, supported housing in a variety of housing designs and capacities. 

·      Getting In the System.  Ensure that all homeless facilities and services comply with Housing First entry guidelines, expanding the available short-term beds.

·      Getting Housed.  Hire a “Housing First” Facilitator who is available for both sheltered and unsheltered homeless people.   Oblige all future projects by housing developers that are partly funded by the city or required by inclusionary zoning to include a percentage of extremely low income housing.  Expand the Santa Rosa Housing Authority priority for housing homeless people.

·      Best Advice from Everyone.  Establish an ongoing advisory group to provide guidance to the City on homeless services and facilities, bringing together providers, city staff, homeless individuals, and the community.

Expanded Descriptions

These policy and financial suggestions support a continuum of solutions including independent and supportive shelters, transitional villages, single-room occupancy hotels, master-leased apartments, and newly-constructed and subsidized low income housing projects.

Year-round “security first” shelter either in buildings or on vacant land:
From long experience, service providers, Homeless Action!, and independent volunteers are well aware of the required essentials and costs of making these approaches work. Proposals will be grounded in a growing body of literature on best practices and successful projects.  Whether called transitional villages, safe spaces, sanctioned encampments or something else, these options utilize existing structures within the homeless community’s current camps.  They add enough support and oversight to bring safety to the residents and comfort to the neighborhood.  Security first villages work best with roughly 30 people per site.  To keep the costs reasonable, we recommend an individualized staffing plan for each site, depending on client mix and other factors.  This option combined with some winter shelter beds can eliminate much of the instability, illness, and death experienced by the Last Chance villagers. Volunteers can assist with initial challenges and support at all sites.

Year-round Safe Parking.  This cost, potentially administered from an expanded CHAP program, covers the sanitation and stipend for an on-site volunteer manager.  Homeless Action! has operated a successful Safe Parking site at McBride Avenue for over a year and we understand the necessary components.   The Bennett Valley Senior Center with its 60 person parking lot is an obvious potential site for some Safe Parking slots.  Other city-owned sites can be located.

Winter Shelter Oct-March.  The $100,000 expense is based on the work of St. Vincent De Paul at the Armory in 2016-2018.  The Armory is expensive, unavailable on weekends and people have to leave early in the dark, cold mornings.  We recommend a search for a better facility.

Housing First Facilitator.  One full-time job similar to the Housing Navigators currently hired by Catholic Charities.  This worker would work in the wider community.

State & Local Matching Money

These state monies are more likely to come to Santa Rosa if the city already has money available for shelter and/or housing projects.  Because of the state-wide housing shortage and homeless emergency, these state-wide funds are likely to be highly competitive.

1)  California’s 2018-2019 budget includes one-time money of $500 million to address homelessness.  Details have not been released yet.   To get a share of this funding Santa Rosa will need a developer who is ready, willing and able to pursue a viable project.  

2)  "No Place Like Home", funding for supportive housing for people affected by mental illnesses.  Likely to be available early next year, although a court case about the legality of diverting service money to housing is being deliberated.  We may also see a ballot measure on the November ballot to allow this.  The initiative specifically targets cheap, innovative solutions, including transitional villages.

3) If the State housing bond is successful in November, $1.5 billion will go into MHP  (Multifamily Housing Program).  There will be a priority and/or set aside for projects that include a supportive housing component.

4)  We will also see funding coming from the "permanent source" approved last year.  It is likely to provide about $400 million annually.   This is not specifically targeted for supportive housing or other homeless-designated housing, but it can be used for those purposes.

5)  Homeless Action! supports a Santa Rosa bond measure for the November ballot.  

6)  Any successful award from one or more of these sources, including any city funding, will increase the likelihood of a project receiving an allocation of tax credits, the largest subsidy for low income rental housing. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Housing Development in Santa Rosa

These properties should be examined by the community for their opportunities to be used for low income housing.. Placemarks in Deep Purple and Orange indicate properties approved and in process of being approved by the City. Green placemarks are properties the City is wanting to sell. Those in purple are moving through the City processes, and have links to staff reports. Those in blue are suspect properties we're still researching.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

More comments for the BOS Meeting

                  CARE: BEST PRACTICES

The CDC provides a deliberately, indeed cynically, skewed perspective on transitional villages, drawing heavily from an interagency body which, despite its existence of over 30 years, has not taken the necessary steps to end homelessness.   Furthermore, the CDC's benchmark of: "Therefore, the success of any service model can be   housing, and the investment required to achieve this goal" is concerning.

Most apparently, defining success in such narrow, bureaucratic terms entirely overlooks the exigencies of being homeless, of the negative housing stock in Sonoma County, and most importantly reduces people, individuals with all their variations, strengths and needs, to whether or not they have accepted this non-existent housing.  The CDC attempts to impose a structural analysis that has little to do with the complexities of living without shelter in a negative housing market. 

Transitional villages do work.  The CDC pointedly ignores evidence from places such as Dignity Village, which has been successfully providing housing for over 15 years and is self-governed.  Or the work done in Eugene,  or Olympia Washington at Opportunity and Quixote Villages, respectively.  The information on Camp Michela is so deeply flawed and deliberately skewed as to be risible, were the stakes not so high.

The homeless need safety and shelter and stability now.  To pretend that the shelter system works for everyone, which is one implication of the CDC's statement, overlooks that not only are there not enough beds, but many individuals living on the streets have not found shelters conducive to their mental health, physical health, sense of autonomy, safety or familial needs. Tent or tiny home villages are, and always have been just one measure to ease the humanitarian toll brought on by living homeless.  And since we do not have housing, easing that toll should be our benchmark in the interim.

Housing first must be changed to stability first.  Requiring people to stay on the streets until they have permanent housing is an unconscionable prospect, and yet that is precisely what the CDC's statement intones.   People form tent encampments because they need safety and community.  Below are some of the benefits of having tent or tiny home villages:

a. Community.  Public health and the social sciences are clear: isolation is inordinately damaging to humans, particularly when people are faced with the adverse conditions found in homelessness.  We know that long-term relationships increased likelihood of survival, for instance, among HIV+ individuals prior to the advent of protease inhibitors. We also know that when individuals have "social capital," which can include mutual, reciprocal beneficial relationships, involvement in larger social groupings, and a sense of trust in their environment, health outcomes are significantly better.   

b. Safety:  In CA, 27.3% of women have a lifetime prevalence of being a victim of intimate partner violence (rape, stalking, physical violence). No doubt these data are worse for homeless women.  Members of the LGBTQQIA community, particularly youth, are equally vulnerable on their own. These numbers are notably higher among the homeless, making tent villages, despite their limitations, a better option for many. (

c. Environmental:  Dispersed homeless populations can lead to multiple sites of trash and human waste disposal. A central area, where the homeless can safely use portapotties and dispose of trash in receptacles, decreases environmental impact in the immediate neighborhoods, as well as preserving watersheds, area creeks and riverways. 

d. Centralized public health services. At Last Chance Village, the Sonoma County Dept. of Public Health organized remarkable programs for many of the residents, including needle exchange, HIV testing, sexually transmitted disease testing and referral, Hepatitis testing and referral, and advocacy.

e. Centralized judicial advocacy. Through Homeless Action! and several local attorneys, including CA Rural Legal Assistance, individuals facing camping citations and other charges, have obtained legal representation, with several clearing outstanding bench warrants.

These are only a sampling of how homeless villages lessen the suffering. 

We suggest that the BOS view report delivered today by the CDC with wariness.  The more appropriate document is the one provided by the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human on His Mission to the United States. Its conclusions are particularly telling, given the inhumanity visited upon the homeless on the Rodota Trail on May 30-31:
1.   Decriminalize being poor
71. Punishing and imprisoning the poor is the distinctively American response to poverty in the twenty-first century. Workers who cannot pay their debts, those who cannot afford private probation services, minorities targeted for traffic infractions, the homeless, the mentally ill, fathers who cannot pay child support and many others are all locked up. Mass incarceration is used to make social problems temporarily invisible and to create the mirage of something having been done.
72.  It is difficult to imagine a more self-defeating strategy. Federal, state, county and city governments incur vast costs in running jails and prisons. Sometimes these costs are “recovered” from the prisoners, thus fuelling the latter’s cycle of poverty and desperation. The criminal records attached to the poor through imprisonment make it even harder for them to find jobs, housing, stability and self-sufficiency. Families are destroyed, children are left parentless and the burden on governments mounts. But because little is done to address the underlying causes of the original problem, it continues to fester. Even when imprisonment is not the preferred option, the standard response to those facing economic hardship is to adopt policies explicitly designed to make access to health care, sick leave and welfare and child benefits more difficult to access and the receipt of benefits more stigmatizing. 
73.  A cheaper and more humane option is to provide proper social protection and facilitate the return to the workforce of those who are able. In the United States, it is poverty that needs to be arrested, not the poor simply for being poor.

Were the BOS and the CDC to approach homelessness from a stability - and human rights - first model, we could begin to meet the actual needs of the homeless now. We would engage in harm reduction as opposed to pointing fingers at individuals for self-medicating. We would ensure that the housing needed for every portion of the homeless population would be available, as opposed to channelling people through a system that dehumanizes, that strips them of their autonomy, that arrests them for having the indecency of sleeping while poor. 

We would recognize that the homeless, who die 23 years earlier in Sonoma County, based on median lifespan, than the County as a whole, are very much akin to refugees. They warrant every service that can be delivered, including immediate refugee villages with appropriate levels of sanitation, food, mental and behavioral health services.  We would recognize that some individuals will not be able to go through drug recovery successfully, but we will nonetheless provide them stability, behavioral support, respect and dignity. We will recognize that giving them a bed, privacy, sanitation, a degree of autonomy, while providing supervised "dosing," is a viable model, that finally moves us beyond the drug fear-mongering apparent in the CDC's statement. 

Briefly put, housing first must become not only stability first, but human first.

                                                                                 Dr. Carolyn Epple, Ph.D

Open Letter to The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors

Tomorrow you will get a presentation from your staff on Item 26 which says that sanctioned encampments are NOT a good idea.  The staff report leans heavily on a brief by the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH).  There is much to be said about the staff report and there will be some people from Homeless Action! at the meeting to give you more information.

Right now, I would like to turn your attention to other recent national reports that tell a very different story, the reasons that sanctioned encampments ARE a good idea.

1)  From the National Healthcare for the Homeless Council.

A few highlights:
"...poor responses to encampments can strain our  relationships  with  those  receiving  our  care. This  is  especially  true  when  forced  closures  or  “sweeps”  undermine the effectiveness of our services and damage trust. Forcible moves such as these often prioritize community  aesthetics  over   human  dignity.  They  also  contradict  well-established  principles  of  trauma-informed  care, re-traumatize  the  people  who  are  displaced,  and  potentially  cause  adverse  health consequences when individuals are disconnected from care. . .

  Jurisdictions should avoid destruction of encampments and instead focus on rapid creation of permanent, affordable housing with appropriate support services as needed.

  As an interim measure, services should be provided at encampments to promote safe and sanitary living conditions for residents and the broader community.

  As an interim measure, public buildings or other facilities should be opened to provide options for shelter for people without homes. No one should be evicted from an encampment without a safe, stable alternative.

2)  From Seattle University's School of Law Homeless Rights Advocacy Project's Report "It Takes a Village:  Practical Guidance for Authorized Homeless Encampments" (( )

This report says:  "Encampments demonstrate several benefits for people experiencing homelessness... Safety and Security... Community... Autonomy... Stability... and Health..."

"Authorized encampments are not themselves permanent solutions to homelessness.  But, in communities that lack sufficient shelter and affordable housing, authorized encampments can offer safer, more stable temporary living environments than other alternatives such as living alone or in pairs in other public spaces."

These are just a couple of the highly reputable reports that reach a different conclusion than the report cited in tomorrow's presentation.  It doesn't do homeless people much good to fight it out with dueling reports, so I will stop here.  But please do take look.

If you would like more information and reports, please let me know.

Adrienne Lauby
Member, Homeless Action!
(707) 795-2890


Monday, June 4, 2018

BOS, Tuesday, June 4th


After six months of silence, the Board of Supervisors will reveal their mind on policing people in the streets and camps on Tuesday. Judging by the attached report on the subject, we can expect to hear the opposite of what we heard in December, 2017, when most supervisors emphatically approved of a transitional village approach, and wanted to move ahead quickly. Instead, this document discourages sanctioned encampments from being considered, while implying that the Board will provide something much better somehow. Please join us on Tuesday at the Board of Supervisors meeting at 9:30 am, at 575 Administration Drive in Santa Rosa, for the delivery of the county's encampment report and public comment on it. We will be planning our response on Monday at the Homeless Action! meeting, starting at 9:30 am at First United Methodist Church, 1505 Montgomery, Santa Rosa.

This is our chance to hear the supervisors' thoughts on transitional villages, and discover if they have really changed their opinion so much. As long as they address our objections and points explicitly in their conversation, we request that no attempts to shut down or recess the meeting be made. How many of our homeless friends can we help get to the meeting? Those of us with homeless friends should try to find them- please call me at 707.235.8259 if you need help that way, and we can try to coordinate. Their presence is essential for the raw testimony and examples of courage that we need to refute these obsessions with budget, process, and the misunderstood risks of homelessness.

We need people to hold large signs, and others to hold other signs. We have plenty for those who can't make them. 

Let's reach out to our nonprofit and clergy friends, please! 

Homeless Action! has asked to do a 20 minute presentation as an offset to this complete turnaround of stated intention. Contact Kathleen if you'd like to participate. We will need 6 to 9 of us speaking, centering on the "talking points on the CDC Encampment presentation" below. 

See you Tuesday morning! 


Talking Points on the CDC Encampment presentation

Below is an expanded list of points we'd like to make together about the county's presentation. Our list of points is long because the document is full of errors in emphasis, facts, and logic. Please review the presentation itself if you have time (attached) and think of your own concerns. Connecting with the below points when you speak where appropriate will make our points more memorable and clearer.

- There isn't only one goal of Sonoma County's homeless system of care worth mentioning ("the goal of the homeless system of care is to end
homelessness"). It is a system of care: it doesn't in the least exist only "to end homelessness." Mostly, our system of care provides necessary health and welfare to the indigent, and helps prevents unconstitutional abuse by government and others. This is not a shocking or dastardly fact that contradicts the spirit of Housing First: our emergency shelters and all other programs leading to housing place the safety and care of the individuals in their care far above housing as a priority.. Budget has nothing to do with it. Comparing and contrasting the care and housing budgets, or commingling the budgets, or trying to cut corners on charity to build houses is ludicrous. 

Government uses housing needs as a battering ram against those in camps and the streets, providing an excuse for scattering and other poor tools of homelessness management. Government must stop asserting that the needs of the indigent may be ignored because spending money on them would use money we need for housing.

- Government cannot ignore the needs of the indigent simply because they can't or won't go into emergency sheltersThis is yet another government document on the subject that doesn't acknowledge a key fact, one that several supervisors mentioned at their last discussion of encampments: many people cannot and should not enter emergency shelters. Why are we still ignoring this fact? Why won't government include this population in its strategic vision? Why are they scattered and lost instead?

Buried in this discrimination is a tendency to think too much about how worthy homeless people are for housing programs, how acceptable their behavior is, how obedient and reliable they are. There's a strong sense that one must be worthy to sign up for and wait for housing. But as the Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights recently discussed, government must first provide our homeless friends their basic human rights. Government may sort out who is worthy for what housing program, or express concern when homeless people aren't progressing the way they'd like– but that's a separate process from providing them life's basics and leaving them unmolested.

- None of the high costs of the scatterings of encampments are even mentioned, let alone discussed, despite the county having just undergone an extraordinarily expensive set of evictions in rapid order. We will repeat these costs and risks, if the CDC recommendation is allowed to stand, and keep ignoring them.

- It doesn't discuss a single advantage to encampments or transitional villages except to say in passing that some residents "feel safe" in encampments. In fact, public health, the police, and any service provider who has had a hard time finding their clients can attest to the increased safety and stability of even the bad encampments we've had recently over a scattered population.

- The final section uses phrases like feedback loop, consolidated leadership, multi-agency, response to data, and flexibility to promise a bright future ahead– after a report that simply denigrates encampments. None of these phrases are explained or justified. 

- This is an attempt to effectively deny the existence of a suffering community. Current policy remains a rout of our rights, an unreasoned, cruel approach with our friends and families. We are being force-fed evictions like geese, while an insane, misplaced emphasis on permanent housing lets us stay blind to cruelty, scattering, and open oppression.

- Attacking living outside as unacceptable is deceptive and beside the point, when 1) government scatters the disabled enthusiastically, at any and all times of the year, to justify spending money on "permanent" housing, and 2) government doesn't discuss providing insulated tents or insulated inexpensive sheds in sanctioned villages for the estimated 400 in encampments now. 

Officials lump all "living outside" lifestyles together as unacceptable in this and other Housing First documents. This false statement is then used to justify a procedure of putting pressure on street and camp people to go into emergency shelters, whether it's right for them (and others) or not. This government talks down "living outside" as unacceptable ("not meant for human habitation")while pretending living outside is optional for homeless people. They condemn it nonsensically, and then make the experience far riskier and more painful through evictions

There are a few aspects of "living outside" that need to be considered before we figure out how acceptable it is. There's the nightmare of being 1) scattered 2) in winter 3) while sick, because someone doesn't want you where you are. Then there's an opposite experience outside, in an 4) insulated tent or shed, on your own piece of 5) earth, in a warm sleeping bag, watching a movie, knowing that 6) nobody is going to rip open your door, tell you to move everything you have now, and 7) throw you and your possessions out into whatever weather prevails, into 8) whatever neighborhood they allow you in. In other words, there are outdoor experiences that range from good to nightmarish, and government should acknowledge that.

Here is a sentence from the report, used to make "encampments" (of any kind, apparently) look unhelpful: "The number of people living in conditions not meant for human habitation would not be reduced by permitting such camps." Let's reword this and see if it makes as much sense to the reader: "We shouldn't have sanctioned villages because the same number of people will still be outside." We have made many efforts to explain the advantages of transitional villages to the CDC and the Board. Stability can be obtained out of doors. it is wrong to equate "tent" and "transitional villages" to "not fit for human habitation". Especially when we know that for many, that is the best they will get, Housing First miracles or no. It is a circular, tangential argument.

- Local police will acknowledge off-the-record what police in areas with transitional villages often state, that homeless people in groups are much easier and cheaper to police. The local police are afraid to reveal this common opinion among themselves due to politics. Yet anyone standing in even unsanctioned encampments day after day can testify how relatively easy they are, simply by observing that a whole local police unit devoted to homelessness rarely feels the need to be present more than one to three brief times a day, no matter how large the encampment. Emergency police calls to the Roseland camps were relatively rare, partially because the "first responders" are friends and leaders who break up fights, distract the angry, negotiate, respond to theft and overdose situations, and protect the elderly.

- Worrying about how hard it might be to wind down transitional villages some day is another feint. One has such a concern about almost any social welfare project.. If we build housing, transitional villages will empty. If we don't build adequate housing, we will still need the villages. It's that simple. This is yet another straw man argument of the opposition of transitional villages.

- The report says that transitional villages may be poor at getting a challenged population into permanent housing. That assertion then allows the report to declare that transitional villages are a waste of money. But sanctioned encampments are designed first to satisfy goals of safety and stability, not as some optimal path to the tiny, clawed-after pool of permanent housing. They provide stability to a highly unstable population. Well-designed and managed transitional villages can provide health, safety, and useful services at a very reasonable cost; these are all essential steps to stability for any housing search. It would be strange if many of them were particularly good at foisting candidates for permanent housing opportunities. Some villages, focused say on the elderly, the immediately employable, or veterans, might be great funnels into permanent housing. The narrowness of the analysis of the report makes this assertion of high expense deceptive, yet another irrelevant, missed mark. 

This is another example of housing used as a cudgel to discourage a foundation of basic care. Most of the MIS this board should be looking at to evaluate transitional villages should have nothing to do with a person's eventual housing, or some "competitor" program housing, but with the cost of quality of care, and quality of life.

- Transitional villages are completely different from "large encampments", and the report continually blends the two as "encampments", "permitted encampments", camps, and other phrases. Among other evidence of carelessness with the principles involved, neither "transitional" nor "village" are used in the report (the village concept is key to any successful encampment strategy; the term is endemic in research.) 

Transitional villages can also have a variety of implementations, to handle a widely heterogenous population with widely-varying risks. Key for all transitional villages, though, are bathroom facilities, clean water, trash service, adequate security fencing, an application requirement, and the ability to evict villagers. One version of a funded transitional village is as an outside, more spacious, relatively private emergency shelter.  Some villages can be much less expensive than a shelter resident counterpart; others might be as much or more, depending on the resident profiles and community goals. 

- Government must allow people a place to live unmolested. People cannot be punished for being poor while waiting for permanent housing to suddenly appear from impending Housing First miracles. It is the simplest of points. It is incredible to me that government still wiggles on the end of this hook, in and out of court, denying our Constitutional right to avoid cruel and unusual punishment at every turn. 

- The CDC's statistical permanent housing measures are a manipulation and a set of mirages. Temporary stays at Palms, one of the most exalted of the "permanent housing" options, gives them months of shelter before being sent back on the streets. One friend at the Palms is already having eviction nightmares, worrying about what will happen in a little over a year. Other mere delays of homelessness make up the majority of "permanent housing" by Catholic Charity's measure. The only housing that should truly be labeled permanent is incredibly expensive new housing or astronomical rent subsidies in perpetuity, both of which are vanishingly rare. Yet these statistics are used as a bludgeon against transitional villages.

- Camp Michela, which the report makes an effort to hold up as an important failure, should never be thought of as a model village or a failure, for many reasons too involved to go into here. 

– small tiny-home villages can leverage recent permitting changes to offer tremendous, cost-effective, permanent solutions for many. Not only are they not being aggressively evaluated as a cost-effective solution, neither they nor inexpensive huts are even mentioned in this report.

- the "navigation center" at the hardware store, an abuse of the term, was a terrible waste of funds. An equivalent amount could've generated a year of services support far beyond basic services, with an insulated tuff sheds tossed in for each person evicted from the encampment in late April. Instead, the county's program was developed without the input from either volunteer or village resident, and suffered from astounding lack of common sense. The failure of bad management and strategy is being set at the feet of the homeless population itself, who never asked for the navigation center, and rarely used it.

- No discussion of the systematic, documented neglect by current practices of the disabled, many on federal assistance, who comprise at least a large minority of our friends on the streets.

- Focusing on achieving the vanishingly rare "functional zero" level of homelessness, when our homelessness problem is far worse than the average county, allows government to justify the abuse homeless people and pretend a fiction about ending homelessness, with talk about flexibility and responsiveness and best practices and feedback loops. There is virtually no true permanent housing available, no matter how flexible a supervisor is getting. Ironically, that focus is being used to reject safe, healthy transitional villages as part of the Housing First solution.

- The statistics used are a manipulation. Evaluating success in both housing and care of the homeless is much more complicated and nuanced and perplexing than is presented.

- No homeless advocates were consulted to prepare this report, and apparently no homeless people were, either. Involving select stakeholders is not good government in action; in social services, it is a recipe for failure.

TITLE:  The Sonoma County Homeless System of Care: Best Practices for
Maximizing Exits from Homelessness into Permanent Stable Housing
TO:  Board of Supervisors and Board of Commissioners
Staff Name and Phone Number
Geoffrey Ross, 565-7508 June 5, 2018
Executive Summary:
In this presentation, the Commission will provide local and national guidance regarding sanctioned encampments, in the context of the Sonoma County homeless system of care. While the work of the County and City Homeless System Redesign Ad Hoc Committees is not yet complete, the Commission will also offer a preview of the recommendations that are in development.
Discussion: Sanctioned Encampments
Earlier this month, the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) published a timely brief summarizing the experiences of communities nationwide that have tried sanctioned homeless encampments as a strategy to address homelessness

Titled Caution is Needed When Considering “Sanctioned Encampments” or “Safe Zones,” the brief’s findings provide a useful framework for exploring the feasibility and utility  of sanctioned homeless encampments as a model to address homelessness in Sonoma  County. Following national best practices, analysis of this model should be seen against  a preliminary set of assumptions: the goal of the homeless system of care is to end homelessness—both for individuals and for the community as a whole. Therefore, the success of any service model can be measured by the number (or percentage) or people exiting that intervention into permanent housing, and the investment required to achieve this goal.

The attached USICH brief makes four key points. Each point is quoted below and accompanied by the local experience with that content.

1. Creating these environments may make it look and feel like the community is taking action to end homelessness on the surface—but, by themselves, they have little impact on reducing homelessness.
People living in a permitted encampment would still be homeless. Tents by their nature are not suitable for human habitation, nor can they provide ADA accessibility for people with physical disabilities. Permitting camping in one or more locations does nothing to change that fact: even with adequate sanitation and running water, there would be exposure to cold and rain, and participants would be unable to prepare food in sanitary conditions. The number of people living in conditions not meant for human habitation would not be reduced by permitting such camps.
2. Creating these environments can be costly in money, staff time, and effort.
Some advocates for permitted encampments claim these programs have had great success at getting homeless persons into permanent housing, it seems without investigating actual results and costs of existing programs. They also promote the idea that a “self-governing” model would be an inexpensive bridge to housing.
The City of Seattle was the first in the country to offer public land and funding to support permitted encampments. The encampments were operated on a self-governance model with clean and sober program requirements comparable to those promoted by local advocates. These were supplemented with case management for an annual program cost of $755,500. In June 2017 that city reported that of 759 persons served through the city’s six permitted encampments, 121 (16%) exited to permanent housing destinations, for a total investment of $8,888 per homeless episode ended.

Annual Budget
Episodes Ended
% of exits to
Permanent Housing
Costs per homeless Episode
Seattle Tent City




COTS Mary Isaacs


CAPSC Sloan House


These costs are comparable to that of a large “high barrier” (e.g., clean and sober) shelter. In FY 2016- 17, COTS operated the Mary Isaak Center Emergency Shelter in Petaluma as a clean and sober facility, on a budget of $609,762 for 100 beds that served 545 single adults in that year. Of 461 persons exiting the shelter over the course of the year, 151 (33%) went to permanent housing destinations. For each episode of homelessness that was ended, the investment was $4,038.
Even a small high barrier shelter can exceed the Seattle permitted encampments’ performance at lower cost. In FY 2016-17, Community Action Partnership’s Sloan Women’s Shelter assisted 36 out of 44 women who exited the program (82%) to enter permanent housing on a budget of $115,198. The cost of each episode of homelessness ended was just $3,200.
As the local system of care implements federal mandates that prioritize limited resources to those with the highest needs, the cost to end homeless episodes will rise. It should be noted here that high barrier shelters, and self-governed clean and sober encampments, do not even attempt to assist the most vulnerable persons, leaving them outside in the elements.

3. These environments can prove difficult to manage and maintain.
In Sonoma County, there is broad recognition by local law enforcement agencies, social services agencies and local elected officials that homeless people face substantial stigma and negative interaction with the general public when living outside. Law enforcement agencies have welcomed the re-introduction of street outreach programs to Sonoma County in recent years, offering their agencies an alternative to simply “pushing people down the road.” When encampments are small, engagement into the system of care is now the primary intervention. For two years, the Commission did not take enforcement action against a small encampment on its Roseland Village property—warning the group regularly that when development timelines required, the camp would be required to move. The HOST team set up its shower trailer on the Roseland Village site twice a week, and worked to engage people into services and out of homelessness.
Over two years, Commission staffers observed this self-governed camp. This camp started out stricter than most local shelters, but became increasingly dysfunctional and dangerous as the camp leaders resolved their homelessness and moved on. In the year before the influx of November 2017, the leadership of the HOST team prohibited outreach workers from going inside this supposedly “model” encampment, due to illegal drug activity taking place there.
Some encampment occupants have stated that they feel safe in encampments with the supportive community there. These sentiments should be taken seriously. But it is important to recognize the real public safety threats when one is living outdoors. In the last month alone, there have been three stabbings at the Joe Rodota Trail encampment. Within the County’s homeless system of care, there are alternatives available that can offer similar community networks and support, while also ensuring privacy and security.
4. Although often proposed as “temporary” approaches, these programs prove difficult to close once they open.
When encampments grow so large that they pose significant threats to public health and public safety, as in the recent cases of the Roseland Village and Joe Rodota Trail encampments, public officials have a responsibility to close them. During these highly visible and sometimes contentious camp closures, law enforcement is still focused on engaging homeless people into the system of care, rather than imposing criminal charges for living outside.
To address the Roseland Village encampment, the Commission brought together service providers from across the County system, along with non-profit providers, to create a “Housing Navigation Center” with intensive health and human services resources as well as housing placement workers. On May 22nd, the Board approved the addition of $100,000 to the Commission’s contract with Catholic Charities for the Homeless Outreach Service Team in order to allow the team to anchor the Navigation Center full-time for the six weeks the Center was open, and for several weeks of intensive engagement of participants even after the closure. The Commission set aside another $100,000 of its HOME funds to assist Roseland Village occupants into permanent housing, adding it to $90,000 that the County provided through its FY 2018-19 budget to the City of Santa Rosa, for rapid re-housing of people moving from encampments. These costs do not include the costs of providing sanitation facilities to minimize the public health risk, lease the former Roseland Hardware Building and make tenant improvements so that it could function as the Navigation Center, and maintain the lease in order to provide storage for any person leaving the encampment who wished to utilize it, for 90 days.
It is due to these efforts that, when a motion for a temporary restraining order was heard in federal court on April 5th, the County of Sonoma and the Commission prevailed. The judge’s order denying the restraining order stated that “ this case, the record developed so far suggests the government has made adequate shelter options available to encampment residents.”
The difficulty of resolving the Roseland Village encampment was complicated by advocates who claimed without basis that there were not enough beds, and sometimes discouraged unsheltered people from accepting assistance with the promise of a sanctioned encampment. Despite this difficulty and a larger number of people moving to the Rodota Trail, 12 people were permanently housed through this effort, and 63 people accepted temporary housing.
The Sonoma County Homeless System of Care
The USICH brief concludes with the question, Are we doing all we can within our existing emergency shelter programs, and can we also create more effective indoor shelter or crisis housing options, if needed?
Like all homeless systems of care across the United States, Sonoma County’s homeless system of care is in the midst of transformation, putting in place a Coordinated Entry system that prioritizes our limited resources to the people who need them the most. The current program standards for State and federal funding sources all require substantial implementation of a “Housing First” strategy that quickly resolves homeless episodes by lowering the barriers to entering shelters, placing people into permanent housing, and wrapping services around them to ensure stability. In Sonoma County, Coordinated Entry began for all homeless populations in September 2017, and has expanded exponentially as agencies serving low income populations, advocates, and homeless people themselves begin to understand the value of this systems change. We have only begun, and there is much to improve as we evaluate our progress and adjust our system of care.
Emergency shelters do not end homelessness, but they improve the safety of people who are homeless by bringing them inside. As emergency shelters adapt to the new requirements, people who are experiencing homelessness will have increased access to resources to find permanent housing. As an indicator of our progress to date, between 2016 and 2017 the percentage of people leaving all emergency shelters for permanent housing increased from 20% to 27%. During the same period, the percentage of people who retained their housing after a rapid re-housing placement increased from 86% to 90%.
The best investment of public dollars by far is in developing permanent supportive housing. To fully meet the needs of vulnerable populations countywide, it is estimated that we need six times the amount of permanent supportive housing that is currently available. For the last decade, every estimate of needed housing for homeless persons has suggested that if we had enough permanent housing, we would need many fewer shelter beds. We do need to invest in the current shelter system so that it functions optimally. Beyond that, stewardship of our scarce funds requires that every extra dollar go into permanent housing.
Homeless System Redesign
Together with the County and City Homeless System Redesign Ad Hoc Committees, the Commission and City of Santa Rosa staff have reviewed nine communities across the nation that have been able to achieve “functional zero” for certain sub-groups among their homeless population.
“Functional Zero” is a concept developed by Community Solutions (originators of the 100,000 Homes Campaign and other national innovations) and adopted by HUD. “Functional zero” is reached when the number of individuals experiencing homelessness within a community is less than the average number of individuals being connected with permanent housing each month. The nine successful communities share four critical features in their systems of care:
.                 (1)  A real-time feedback loop (e.g., clean, up-to-date data);
.                 (2)  A consolidated leadership body representative of a multi-agency team, and capable of making fast decisions in response to data;
.                 (3)  Flexible and aligned resources that can be shifted and reallocated in response to changing information; and
.                 (4)  A menu of proven best practices, organized according to the types of problems a community may need to solve over time.
These concepts will be incorporated into the Ad Hoc Committees’ developing shared recommendations to the Board and Council regarding a new governing structure for the homeless system of care, designed to maximize impact and reach functional zero. The Commission and the Ad Hoc hope to bring the fully developed recommendation to the Board in the coming