Halfway There

blog 180The 180/180 campaign celebrates housing 90 of the county’s most vulnerable homeless 

The keynote speaker at a celebration this week marking the halfway goal for the 180/180 campaign, a multi-agency initiative to house the county’s most vulnerable 180 homeless individuals, was Becky Kanis, director for the 100,000 Homes national campaign. 

The 100,000 Homes campaign, the parent initiative to 180/180, aims to coordinate communities across the whole country, including Santa Cruz County, to house 100,000 chronically homeless people by July 2014. 

Kanis, a bright-eyed military veteran with short cropped hair, praised a room packed with volunteers, homeless service advocates and community leaders at the Simpkins Family Swim Center on Thursday, Oct. 3, describing the local initiative’s strengths, sharing what other communities have accomplished, and urging everyone to keep up the momentum. 

“This is a great peak moment—don’t burn out,” she told the crowd. “You’re creating a new story about what we can do to end homelessness.” 

The 100,000 Homes campaign has housed 70,399 chronically homeless people so far, and with about 300 days remaining to reach their goal, Kanis said they are on schedule to house 100,000 people three months before the July goal. 

Of the 217 communities across the nation enrolled in the mission of the 100,000 Homes campaign, 46 are housing 2.5 percent of their most vulnerable homeless per month, Kanis said, sharing slides with graphs and numbers detailing the national figures. She referred to the communities that are housing at this higher monthly rate as the “2.5 percent club.” 

The 180/180 campaign, at its current rate, is housing 1 percent of the county’s most vulnerable homeless each month. 

“What exactly is Santa Cruz doing that’s different from what the other 46 communities are doing?” she asks herself. “I’m not sure.”

Kanis says a primary factor is getting all of the county’s agencies to embrace the housing first method, which relies on the best practice of getting people into permanent shelter with wrap-around services first and foremost. 

Knowing the chronically homeless population personally is another factor, which she says 180/180 has nailed—homeless people can identify themselves as highly vulnerable on an ongoing basis.

Phil Kramer, director of the 180/180 campaign, says the most significant challenge is having enough case managers to connect with clients and help to find subsidies, housing vouchers and other programs that can help them, as well as getting those clients into housing. 

The 100,000 Homes campaign compares Santa Cruz County’s homeless population and rate of housing to Phoenix, Ariz. and Nashville, Tenn., which have similar homeless population sizes. 

In its first six months, 180/180 averaged three housing placements per month and increased to an average of nine per month through the summer and then 13 placements in the past two months, Kramer says. 

“This has challenged my own notions of what ‘capacity’ really is,” he says. “There are times when I feel like we’ve exhausted our capacity—that we’re doing everything to its full extent. But then we turn a corner and we go from one month of housing just three people, up to 10 the next month, then 13, then 15 in July.” 

Santa Cruz County has an estimated 1,000 chronically homeless individuals, Kramer says. For 180/180 to join that “2.5 percent club,” they would need to house 22 people each month. 

Kanis says one of the most important things for the 100,000 Homes campaign has been remaining clear on the end goal and being flexible on tactics. 

“I think that’s completely relevant at the local level,” she says. “Do not budge on getting to that 180, and always be willing to rethink how you’re going to get there.”  

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