Community effort launches to house county’s most chronically homeless
On any given day, more than 2,700 homeless individuals wander the streets of Santa Cruz County, according to the 2011 Santa Cruz County Homeless Census and Survey. Twenty-four of these 2,700 individuals died on the streets last year. The average age of those deceased was 49 years.
“If this was happening to any other population, we’d hit the brakes, stop what we were doing and be like, ‘What do you mean people are dying at 49 years old? There’s something wrong,’” says Philip Kramer, project manager for 180/180, a recently-launched community effort to help permanently house and provide necessary support services to the 180 most vulnerable, long-term, chronically homeless men, women and families in the county.
The program will survey homeless people across the community in an effort to determine the 180 people who are most likely to die on the streets of Santa Cruz, and assist them in becoming permanently housed. This entails guiding them through the necessary paperwork and providing any necessary support services to assist with mental, physical, or emotional disabilities that have been barriers to becoming housed in the past.
“In the past, in order to be eligible for these housing programs, you had to follow a very complicated path, but people who are most ill unfortunately aren’t able to navigate that system, so they’re left out,” says Monica Martinez, executive director of Homeless Services Center, which is one of the lead agencies involved in 180/180. “[This project] is really saying we need to create very little barriers between those most vulnerable and the resources available to house them.”
180/180 is a joint effort of existing homeless service providers in the area, including the local Housing Authority, Veterans Affairs, Homeless Persons Health Project, and numerous shelters.
“Here is all this talent and expertise, so my job is really to try and just do some of the practical blocking and tackling of how to get something like this started,” says Kramer. The former advertising salesman and Peace Corps volunteer came to Santa Cruz earlier this year and began volunteering at the Homeless Garden Project. It was there that Kramer began a dialogue with city councilmembers and homeless service providers about participating in the nationwide 100,000 Homes campaign.
100,000 Homes is a three-year effort that seeks to house the country’s 100,000 most at-risk homeless people by July 2013. The campaign encompasses 121 community efforts throughout the country, and has thus far housed 12,859 people.
Santa Cruz Mayor Don Lane, who has been involved in the 180/180 talks since the beginning, believes the national model could mean visible boons locally. “I believe the 100,000 Homes’ focus on housing the most vulnerable chronically homeless people combines compassion for some of the most disabled and troubled people in our community with a truly smart, proven approach that saves the public real money and helps reduce the impacts of homelessness on our city,” Lane writes to GT in an email.
Santa Cruz’s 180/180 project coalesced in January, and the 180 homeless persons who will be housed will be identified during Registry Week, from May 6 to 11. In keeping with the methodology of 100,000 Homes, 180/180 is currently recruiting 200 volunteers from the Santa Cruz public to partake in the face-to-face survey project that takes place during Registry Week. The volunteers, led by team leaders with prior knowledge of the homeless community, will seek out and request to survey and photograph chronically homeless people living on the streets of Santa Cruz. The project will draw on the data and research of Watsonville-based firm Applied Survey Research, which conducts the Homeless Census and Survey every other year. Kramer adds that 180/180 is also talking to experts in the county for advice about how to conduct the survey.
The program defines a “chronically homeless person” as someone who has been homeless for one or more years and/or has experienced four instances of homelessness in a three-year period, plus a disability. A “disability” classification includes a wide range of conditions, from being the age of 62 and up, to mental illness, posttraumatic stress disorder, or a physical illness or disability.
“These really are the hardest cases, the people most at risk for premature death on the street,” says Kramer. “And I’m not trying to be dramatic, that’s just the reality.”
The questionnaire used in the survey is the same one applied by all communities participating in 100,000 Homes. It is dubbed the “vulnerability index,” and requests data on health status, institutional history (jail, prison, hospital and military), length of homelessness, patterns of shelter use, and previous housing situations of homeless people in campaign communities.
Based on the vulnerability index, health experts will identify those most at risk to premature death on the streets, and prioritize them for housing and service resources.
The actual move-in process will be staggered over the next two years. Kramer notes that the campaign’s momentum will depend on community support and creative housing solutions based on alterations to the systems and processes currently in place. Mayor Lane tells GT that he plans to explore whether city affordable housing funds can be used for 180/180.
Martinez says Homeless Services is putting a significant amount of its resources behind getting the 180/180 campaign off the ground.
“It’s about reprioritizing existing resources to make sure these people receive the services they need,” she says. “It’s going to take the entire community thinking differently about how to address homelessness. We need to understand that a shelter isn’t the long-term solution; it’s a temporary solution. We need to be putting our efforts into what comes after shelter.”
Martinez adds that permanent housing for currently homeless people is the most cost-effective approach to mitigating the issues that come from homelessness.
“We live in a society where there are limited resources to help people, but unfortunately the majority of those resources are going to a few people who are high utilizers of emergency services,” she says.
100,000 Homes reports success stories and statistics online, and released a “One-Year Anniversary Report” on July 21, 2011. The 13-page report serves as a pseudo how-to guide, outlining six steps to successfully housing at-risk homeless individuals in any given community. It highlights various campaign communities from coast to coast that lead in particular “steps.”
The steps are as follows: 1) “building the local team,” 2) “clarifying the demand,” 3) “lining up the supply, 4) “moving people in,” 5) “keeping people housed,” and 6) “locking in the systems change.”
Washington D.C. was the example of success highlighted for step five— “keeping people housed.” The city had a 94 percent housing retention rate, one of the highest in the country. The report chalks the success up to systems the city offered to newly housed individuals to provide concrete skills for communicating with landlords and paying rent. People with chronic illness, substance abuse and highly traumatic pasts received case managers that worked with clients to address those issues one by one.
Funding for 100,000 Homes comes primarily from donors—private and public. So far, the national campaign has raised $174,000 for “move-in-kits” that help individuals adjust to living indoors. Locally, the 180/180 campaign plans to enlist support from private and community donations, however the ongoing support services will be reliant on a variety of public funding streams, including some governmental funding, such as state and federal grants.
While 180 is only a fraction of the 900 people noted as chronically homeless in Santa Cruz County in the 2011 Homeless Census and Survey, Kramer says it was selected because it is a more realistic number to tackle.
On top of turning the lives of 180 homeless individuals around, Kramer says that the 180/180 campaign seeks to make a 180 degree change in the way the greater Santa Cruz community interacts with the homeless population.
He recalls something he recently heard said by newly announced third party presidential candidate Rocky Anderson at the Resource Center for Nonviolence in Santa Cruz.
“He said, ‘Acquaintance is one of the best ways for us to overcome bias,’” Kramer says. “And I just thought, ‘Yes, that makes so much sense.’ Acquaintance is one of the best ways to overcome violence. There’s a little bit of that, or maybe a lot of that, in asking members of the community to get involved, to come out and [do the] survey. Maybe there’ll be some myth busting, some biases overcome.”
To learn more, visit 100000homes.org or email Philip Kramer at [email protected]