A plan to end homelessness requires permanent housing solutions as a shared vision by Orange County community support services agencies and municipal leaders. The municipalities and communities that have achieved significant reduction in homelessness have focused on permanent housing solutions, measurable shared objectives and technology.
The priority is permanent housing as an alternative to shelters and unsheltered locations. The National Alliance to End Homelessness continuums of care survey May 2020 reported 56% of 168 communities ranked future funding for permanent housing as the number one priority. The State of Homelessness 2020 edition by the National Alliance reported 37 states reduced homelessness since 2007. Michigan led the way with a 70% reduction. Permanent housing programs such as permanent supportive housing, rapid rehousing and other housing programs have increased 20% over the last 5 years to end homelessness. Bakersfield, CA, has created a flexible funding pool that covers the needs of permanent housing placement. Bakersfield and Kern County joined 5 communities that have been certified for functional zero to end chronic homelessness. A community has reached functional zero for chronic homelessness when there are zero to three people experiencing chronic homelessness. Chronic homelessness is defined as people who have experienced homelessness for at least a year or repeatedly, and are struggling with a serious mental illness, substance use disorder or physical disability. Santa Ana City Councilmember, Phil Bacerra addressed how the City of Santa Ana manages homelessness in the Voice of OC community opinion section regarding El Centro, published May 4, 2021. Mr. Bacerra stated that 6,492 people were referred to City Net., a nonprofit organization contracted by the City of Santa Ana. City Net was formed in 2005 in Long Beach, CA, with the objective stated on their web site to reduce homelessness to functional zero in Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside and Santa Barbara Counties. City Net has experienced a reduction in homelessness in cities like Long Beach. The homeless numbers continue to climb in the City of Santa Ana from 6,860 to 6,978 as reported for 2019-2020 on the website by the National Alliance to End Homelessness Point in Time Count, April 2021.
The relationship with City Net is a baseline start. The next important step is creating an action plan to end homelessness with specific measurable objectives for accountability by municipal and community agency leaders. Michigan and Bakersfield provide examples of measurable objectives in their action plans to end homelessness. Michigan’s state action plan (MCTEH) 2020-2022 has four measurable objectives to end homelessness. Michigan’s primary objective is to increase access to stable and affordable housing by utilization of state and federal resources to fund housing and services including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) for a limited time. The Bakersfield Kern Regional Collaborative 10-year plan to end homelessness by 2028 contains six objectives that are evidenced based approaches to ending homelessness. (The first objective is to establish a coordinated entry, assessment and referral system. The fourth objective is to ensure that emergency shelter, transitional housing and interim housing beds are adequate to meet current and future demands. Objective five is to increase the affordable housing inventory for homeless individuals and families by 10,470 new beds. Bakersfield changed how its homeless response system works by building a unified regional team with each community support agency using the same definition of “chronic homelessness.” The shared definition creates a singular operational system to refer people in the appropriate vulnerability category for timely interventions.
Next, implementation of technology software relationship database systems can help people identify alternative housing arrangements and financial assistance to secure permanent housing. Bakersfield used data to redesign the homeless response and strategically target community resources. In July 2019, Bakersfield sourced funds for a new housing locator software that locates housing units and increases case manager capacity. Padmission is the housing locator software utilized for connecting individuals and families experiencing homelessness with landlords and property managers. The software system includes a notes tab of landlords that will work with homeless clients, and it provides a referral platform for case managers. Michigan has a similar strategy in their third objective to advance a cross-sector system alignment database to address barriers to housing.
Orange County municipalities and community support agencies each have unique circumstances. The key to the success of an action plan to end homelessness will address circumstances by prioritizing evidence based successful strategies including permanent housing solutions, accountability with measurable objectives and leadership that will engage local partnerships with landlords, healthcare and behavioral health professionals through technology-based software solutions.
Jeffrey Taylor is a 1st-year graduate student in the Master of Social Work program online at the University of Southern California. He lives in Santa Ana, CA.
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