Tag Archive for San Francisco

“Project Homeless Connect” Provides Many Services in 220 Communities, Including Wealthy Santa Cruz, CA and Morristown, NJ, Where Homelessness is Increasing

Project Homeless Connect 2009

Project Homeless Connect 2009 (Photo credit: University of Denver)

Although homelessness is declining nationally, it is still increasing in many communities, including wealthy Santa Cruz, CA and Morristown, NJ. One reason the situation is improving in many communities is due to the Project Homeless Connect program, which Mayor Gavin Newsome created in San Francisco in 2004 and which now is providing needed services for people without homes in 220 communities and three countries. The federal government’s Interagency Council on Homelessness has declared Project Homeless Connect a national best practice model.

Project Homeless Connect holds large annual events at which homeless people can take advantage of numerous offered services, including dental care, eyeglasses, family support, food, HIV testing, housing, hygiene products, medical care, mental health services, substance abuse treatment, SSI benefits, legal advice, state identification cards, voice mail, employment counseling, job placement, wheelchair repair and veterinary services. Hundreds of individuals, corporations, nonprofits and government agencies provide these services.

Recently, more than 40 groups offered services at the fourth annual Project Homeless Connect event at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium. More than 700 people attended and took advantage of services including medical care, legal help, food and haircuts.
Kymberly Lacrosse, community organizer for United Way of Santa Cruz County, one of the organizers of the event, said:

It was a great turnout for clients. It was 700 people that didn’t get served yesterday or the day before. Even if it had only been 100, it’ would still be amazing.

According to a recent countywide survey, Santa Cruz County now has 3,536 homeless, up 41% from 2,265 in 2009. The City of Santa Cruz has 892 persons without habitation, or 31% of that total. Forty-four percent of the county’s homeless live on the street, 28% reside in cars or vans, 11% are in emergency shelters, 8% are in encampment areas, 7% are in emergency transitional housing and 2% sleep in abandoned buildings.

Thirty-eight percent of those experiencing homelessness for the first time had been homeless for a year or more. Thirty-one percent of survey respondents reported not receiving any government benefits. Twenty eight people spent one or more nights in jail or prison in the past year.

Three hundred and ninety-five of the county homeless were veterans, and 87% of those lived on the street. Five hundred and forty-four homeless people were in families. There were 128 unaccompanied children, and 97% of them were on the street.

Sixty-eight percent of survey respondents reported a disabling condition. Such conditions included mental illness (55%), substance abuse (26%), chronic physical illness (17%), physical disability (20%) and developmental disability (3%).Thirty-nine percent used emergency room services one to three times in the previous 12 months, and 21% did so four or times.

Affluent Morris County, NJ has seen homelessness rise by 13% over the past four years. Project Homeless Connect recently held an event in downtown Morristown where more than 200 people took advantage of services from haircuts to healthcare offered by 35 entities.
Why does such a rich area see homelessness increasing? Because modest gains in the economic recovery mean rents are rising high enough to disqualify people who depend on federal housing vouchers to subsidize their rents.

Lisa Falcone, director of Project HOMI (Homeless Outreach to People with Mental Illness) said:

When I started placing people in rooming houses five years ago, the rents per month for a room were about $200 less than they are now. Now you can rent a room for anywhere from $600 to $700 a month, and it’s hard to get a $500 room. The cost of utilities and overall living expenses has gone up, too. It’s difficult for people to make ends meet, and there’s a lack of jobs.

Some of the few affordable rental options are barely habitable. To make matters worse, the Congressional sequestration has reduced by 5% to 8% the number of HUD vouchers available in communities. Steve Berg, vice president of programs and policy for the National Alliance to End Homelessness, says:

At a time when there’s a lot of people in a lot of need, the program should be going up to meet the need, but instead, it’s going down.

The national alliance reports that sequestration puts at risk 125,000 individuals and families using vouchers nationwide, as well as another 100,000 in emergency shelters.

The 2013 Morris County Point in Time Count of the Homeless tallied 346 people, including 88 children, this past Jan. 30, an increase of 9% from 2011. Some estimate that the number of people who are homeless over the course of this year could be two to four times larger.

The Morris County Point in Time Count also revealed that 18% were unsheltered; 24 %were in their 40s; 31%had been homeless for more than a year; 60% were Caucasian and 60% suffered from a mental illness.
Project HOMI started the year with a caseload of 80 and is ending it with approximately 180, according to Falcone, whose mental health association also was involved with another 700 people.

Exacerbating the problem, Falcone said, is the reality that rooms with rents affordable enough to meet HUD voucher requirements are less likely to be in hub towns like Dover, Morristown or Parsippany, where there are services. Instead, they tend to be in outlying areas of the county, not close to public transportation, so these people can’t get to jobs or the treatments they need.

The recently updated Morris County Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness calls for several measures, including the creation of a centralized homeless management information system as well as permanent housing solutions for specialized populations.

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“Housing First” Approach is Saving Money and Providing Homes for the Most Vulnerable Homeless People

English: A homeless man in New York with the A...

A homeless man in New York with the American flag in the background. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the early 1990s New York University School of Medicine prof Sam Tsemberis and the Gotham organization Pathways to Housing pioneered the “Housing First concept” which focuses on the chronically homeless, without requiring them to first give up alcohol or substance abuse.

Housing First is an alternative to a system of emergency shelter/transitional housing progression. Rather than moving homeless individuals from the streets to a public shelter, from a public shelter to a transitional housing program, and then to their own apartment in the community, Housing First moves the homeless individual or household immediately from the streets or homeless shelter into their own apartments.

Housing First, when supported by HUD, does not only offer housing but also provides wraparound case management services to the tenants. This provides stability for homeless individuals, increasing their success, accountability and self-sufficiency. The housing provided through government supported Housing First programs is permanent and “affordable,” meaning that tenants pay only 30% of their income towards rent.

With Obama Administration support (and 30% of HUD homelessness funds), Housing First resulted in an unprecedented 29.6% drop in the number of chronically homeless living on the streets (175,914 to 123,833 people)—from 2005 to 2007 alone. Today, Housing First programs successfully operate in New York City, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Denver, Seattle, Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles and smaller cities, such as Anchorage AK, Plattsburgh NY and Quincy MA.

Housing First is currently endorsed by the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) as a “best practice” for governments and service-agencies to use in their fight to end chronic homelessness. These programs are all parts of the communities’10-year plans to end chronic homelessness, as advocated by USICH.

In Los Angeles County, the Home For Good project hopes to house all the area’s chronic homeless by 2016. Robert Harper and Charles Miller of Americorps make daily rounds of LA’s Skid Row seeking the most vulnerable homeless and working with other agencies to find them housing fast.

Harper declares:

A person is out here about to die and you tell them ‘Sign a waiting list and wait for a year? Come on, now. We’re known as the 90-day people.

When Home For Good case managers meet someone on the street, they create a vulnerability score from items like income, medical history, substance abuse and usual whereabouts. That info is computerized and made available to all participating agencies.

Considerable research has shown that the Housing First approach can save lots of money by keeping the chronically homeless out of jails, shelters and emergency rooms.

Housing First is now growing in popularity in Canada and is in many communities’ ten year plans to end homelessness. In Calgary, fewer than 1% of existing clients return to shelters or rough sleeping, there are 76% fewer days in jail and there is a 35% decline in police interactions This demonstrates improved quality of lives for those in the program, along with a huge cost savings on police, corrections and shelters

The Denver Housing First Collaborative, serving 200 chronically homeless, found a drop of 34.3% in emergency room visits, a 66% decline in inpatient costs, an 82% plummet in detox visits and a 76% reduction in incarceration days. Two years after entering the program, 77% of participants were still housed through it.

In Seattle, the Housing First program for alcoholics saved taxpayers more than $4 million in its first year. Thanks to Housing First, Boston was able to close some homeless shelters and reduce the number of beds in others.

The US Congress appropriated $25 million in the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants for 2008 to show the effectiveness of Rapid Re-housing programs in reducing family homelessness. On May 20, 2009, President Obama signed the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act, which allows for the prevention of homelessness, rapid re-housing, consolidation of housing programs and new homeless categories.

The Housing First methodology is also being adapted to decreasing the larger segment of the homeless population, family homelessness, such as in the LA-based program Housing First for Homeless Families, which was established in 1988.

Dennis Culhane, a University of Pennsylvania homeless researcher, says:

There’s a lot of policy innovation going on around family homelessness, and it’s borrowing a page from the chronic handbook—the focus is on permanent housing and housing-first strategies.



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Report finds Gov Brown’s planned closure of state juvenile facilities financially viable, but is that a good thing?

Earlier this January California Gov. Jerry Brown announced his strategy for fading out the Division of Juvenile Justice system by 2014. Counties would have to cough up $10 million towards developing local alternatives to the state level facilities that will close. Members of the law enforcement community and the counties themselves have been quite vocal in their concern that they lack adequate secure juvenile placement facilities for high-risk youth offenders the DiJJ currently serves.

It would now seem, according to a report just released by The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco, not to be the case. According to their numbers California’s counties easily have the capacity required to implement the Governor’s proposed closures.

Rina Palta of KALW News gives us some details:

The CJCJ reports a different picture. From 1996-2007, CJCJ says 41 counties have invested $438 million in state and federal funding for building new and secure juvenile justice facilities. That’s resulted in California having a surplus of 4,090 beds that the CJCJ says is enough to house and serve high-risk offenders at the county level over the proposed realignment period.

Even though juvenile crime in California has been in steady decline for several decades and at an all time low of 52,000 felony arrests in 2010—down from 76,100 in 1998—counties continue to build jails and increase their bed capacity.

In the last ten years, Alameda County has replaced the dilapidated 48-year-old Alameda County Juvenile Hall with a new 358-bed facility given. San Francisco County built a new 150-bed juvenile hall to replace the 51 year old run down 132-bed facility.

Youth justice advocates, probation chiefs and district attorneys are apprehensive about the proposed closures. They warn that it could well lead to more youths being sentenced to doing time in adult facilities, something proven to simply manufacture hardened criminals.

While the ability to afford the closures is there this is not a simple issue of finances. There is little training at the county level for servicing the the very specialized needs of juvenile offenders. Once more it becomes a matter of short-term fiscal savings vs. the long-term damage that can be done.

Facilities and staff must be prepared for the influx of youth if we are to refrain from creating an even larger problem, and that at the cost of lives that could have been reintegrated into society.

Decisions of this magnitude always require the best data available, and hard numbers are always a good thing. Now that we have a clear picture of the actual ability to bear the costs we can begin to focus on what steps would be needed to prepare the counties to properly handle the transition. Otherwise we face exponentially greater expense as these kids enter the revolving door of recidivism.

These are the steps that will guarantee success or failure, not mere finances. The current set up is surely flawed, but we run the risk of sacrificing the future for small “gains” today.

What are your thoughts on the matter? Do you support the Governor’s aim to close the state facilities over the next few years or do you think it’s a mistake? Let us know and tell us why!

Jesse Jackson to Spend the Night in a Mission District Homeless Shelter

Jesse JacksonIt is a fact of the modern, media-driven mentality that celebrities attract a lot of attention. This is frequently leveraged, where possible, to attract attention to causes of various sorts. Back in my home town of New Orleans, Brad Pitt is the resident champion of sustainable housing. Jerry Lewis has his famous telethon; Oprah consistently casts her spotlight on social issues, and so on.

Today, another celebrity is in the news as he tries to attract the eyes and the ears to the plight of the homeless — Jesse Jackson. Rev. Jackson will be spending the night in a homeless shelter in the San Francisco’s Mission District.

Jackson observed the following in a statement to San Francisco’s ABC 7 :

‘Two things strike me when I come to the homeless shelter, the number of people who are working by day who live in the homeless shelter and the number of children in these shelters who in fact end up being disconnected from school,’ said Jackson.

This is what we all need to keep in mind. This is not a partisan issue, it is a human issue. There is not an ounce of liberal or conservative agenda in the simple and chilling observation I just quoted. It was only yesterday that I was writing about the importance of staying in school.

There are many homeless people in the U.S. — and the numbers grow daily — who, while employed, have suddenly found themselves bereft of a roof. It could be a subprime home loan, accumulation of debt, or a variety of other factors, but the simple reality is that more and more everyday people are hitting the streets.

Jackson is a colorful character, and I am sure that his overnight stay will attract a lot of attention. I certainly hope that it helps. Every effort to raise awareness is important.

Source: “Jesse Jackson spends night in homeless shelter,” ABC 7 San Francisco, 10/26/10
Image by PublicResource.org, used under its Creative Commons license.
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