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Frequently Asked Questions

1. What are best practices to helping those living homeless?

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Housing First is a homeless assistance approach or framework that champions permanent housing as a solution for those who are homeless. Access to programs is not contingent on sobriety, minimum income requirements, lack of a criminal record, completion of treatment, participation in services, or other unnecessary conditions. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) prioritizes Housing First proposals in its annual funding to local regions.

Deviating from past practice of “transitioning” those without homes through a temporary house or apartment in which individuals and families must prove or demonstrate their readiness to live in a permanent home, Housing First is built upon the belief that everyone needs a permanent place to live before successfully addressing mental health, illegal drug use, employment and other issues.

 

The Housing First model has two components:

  • Rapid Re-Housing for individuals who are temporarily homeless and need little support to obtain employment or maintain housing.  The tenets of rapid re-housing are:  1) Find housing quickly 2) Help pay and 3) Help stay. In this current year, Yolo County Center for Families receives $265,000 and continues to provide rapid re-housing for families.  The majority targets those who have lost their housing. A small portion, $25,000 can be used for eviction prevention.

  • Permanent Supported Housing for those who are chronically homeless and need supportive services such as case management, substance abuse or mental health counseling, and assistance in locating and maintaining employment.

On September 29, 2016, Governor Brown signed Senate Bill 1380 into law making California a Housing First state that requires all state programs targeted to end homelessness to incorporate Housing First into its core principles. The Davis City Council also adopted Housing First as its approach to homelessness.

Although the word “homeless” is used to describe those who are unhoused, research indicates that differences exist in characteristics and effective interventions among individuals who find themselves without shelter.  If temporarily or situationally homeless due to a recession or other life events, the preferred intervention is rapid re-housing.  Transitional housing is no longer seen as the preferred paradigm for most, although it is still viewed as effective for those recovering from domestic violence.  Those who are chronically homeless generally suffer from severe disabilities and respond best to permanent supportive housing.

2. Is there a “silver bullet” to solving homelessness?

Although research has provided best practices and guidance on effective interventions, there is no “silver bullet” to ending homelessness.  The issue is multi-faceted; individuals and families who are homeless range from

  • those experiencing short-term money issues to

  • those with lifelong incapacities from

    • poverty,

    • mental illness,

    • drug and alcohol use,

    • deinstitutionalization (the right of those with disabilities to live in the least restrictive environment),

    • incarceration and

    • unemployment.

To date, recommendations include a combination of interventions including prevention, rapid re-housing, and permanent supportive housing.

Not everyone living on the streets wants to move indoors, but the overwhelming majority do. Davis police officers, the Homeless Outreach Services Coordinator and their social service partners have found that more than half of those living on the streets have asked for help with housing.  Others make different choices after establishing trusting relationships with police officers and outreach workers, resulting in their eventual request for housing and accompanying services.  The smallest group, approximately 10 percent, remain steadfast in their desire to continue to live unhoused.  These individuals can benefit from ongoing outreach services and check-ins as to their health and well-being.

What we do know is that no single person or no one community organization can solve homelessness. The most effective strategy to making headway on this complex social issue is to strategically and collaboratively work together. Government, faith-based organizations, businesses, schools, and residents are all needed to work toward housing for all. This is accomplished by taking steps incrementally over time to increase housing and service options for those chronically homeless and preventing homelessness whenever possible for those already housed.

Policy and housing experts concur that prevention is a critical part to eradicating homelessness. Strategies that keep people housed or return them to housing quickly, such as rapid re-housing programs, are an essential component to turning the curve on homelessness. While difficult at times to dedicate limited funds to keeping people housed when people currently unhoused require immediate attention, prevention efforts avoid the high costs of returning individuals and families to housing once homeless.

3. Do public costs associated with individuals and families who are homeless increase or decrease when housed?

In 2015, Santa Clara County published the largest and most comprehensive body of information that was assembled in the United States to date analyzing the public costs of homelessness.  Authored by the Economic Roundtable, this study concluded that the Santa Clara community had a significant opportunity to use public funds more efficiently.

The results indicate that the top 5% of the homeless population accounts for 47% of all public costs.  By prioritizing those who are chronically homeless for housing, it is possible to obtain savings that greatly exceed the cost of housing.  In addition, the study found that the top 10% of high cost utilizers had an average public cost of $62,473; the average cost after being housed was $19,767, an annual cost reduction of $42,706 for those who remained housed.

Data from the study suggests that communities adopt the following three strategies in their efforts to reduce homelessness:

  • Invest in homeless prevention.  Once individuals and families lose their housing, it is costly and hard to get them back into housing.

  • Expand local rapid re-housing programs.  Participate in federal grant programs and invest in local programs that provide funding to return those who are recently unhoused to housing.  This interrupts the slippery slope to chronic homelessness.  

  • Build permanent supportive housing and create new housing.  Coupling housing and supportive services is the most effective strategy for those with a history of chronic homelessness.  Redirecting public funds such as those used to police and clean-up encampments and the inappropriate use of hospitals and emergency rooms, results in less public spending and greater stability and well-being for those who are chronically homeless.

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