Tomorrow night the City Council is going to hear the results on a one day homeless count that was performed in Alameda last September. Some of the findings from the staff presentation:
• A total of 17 persons were identified as being homeless, and of that number 8 were interviewed, and an additional 9 were observed but were not interviewed.
• Of the 8 interviewed, 5 indicated they were chronically homeless – that is, either continuously homeless for a year or more, or homeless more than four times over a three year period. Among this group mental health issues also seemed apparent. 3 of the 8 indicated they are veterans.
• The Alameda Food Bank was used by 4 of the 8 individuals interviewed. Several also mentioned they had used the hospital/emergency services several times.
The count was done in response to community concerns that the number of visible homeless individuals had increased over the years. I think the one thing missing in this document is the distinction between visible homeless aka the people you see on the streets and the invisible homeless meaning families and individuals that may be living out of their cars, in shelters, or doubled or tripled up. While this type of homelessness is largely shielded from the general public, it doesn’t mean that it is any less concerning than the visible homelessness that is more in your face.
This topic is particularly timely as, recently, a homeless encampment at the Jean Sweeny Beltline parcel was cleared out. Based on the “Next Steps” of the presentation it’s not clear if Alameda has a protocol for encampment removal. On this topic I wanted to point out two interesting homelessness related items, first in San Francisco earlier this year the Navigation Center was launched to move entire encampments from public (or private) land and immediately begin to triage and provide services in a place these encampments residents felt “safe,” from KALW:
The Navigation Center isn’t like an on-demand shelter, where once you leave the building, you have to go to the back of the line to get back in. Here, people can claim their own space and come and go as they please. People leave their phones out to charge, along with piles of clothes and sentimental items. They talk about being treated like adults, and appreciating it.
“There was just a sense of relief that people had, going, ‘my things are here, my partner’s here, my dog is here,’ and yet still I can access a range of services,” says Bevan Dufty, who’s spearheading the project for the Mayor’s Office of Housing Opportunity Partnerships and Engagement.
The services he’s talking about include case management, and direct access to benefits. There are at least four agencies on site.
“Getting on general assistance here in San Francisco can take six weeks and four appointments, so we’re going to be able to accomplish that in one week,” Dufty says. “So that’s pretty dramatic.”
Let me be clear that I don’t believe that Alameda’s visible homelessness problem is so large that it requires an undertaking on the level of the Navigation Center, but Alameda could take lessons from San Francisco and streamline access to benefits and provide case management services, but, more importantly: housing.
The second thing I wanted to post was a study commissioned by the County of Santa Clara that concluded that the cheapest way to solve homelessness was by simply providing housing, from Mother Jones:
An extensive new study of the county’s homelessness crisis, published yesterday, finds that the most cost-effective way to address the problem is to provide people with homes. Those findings echo a similar approach that’s been successfully adopted in Utah,
They found that much of the public costs of homelessness stemmed from a small segment of this population who were persistently homeless, around 2,800 people. Close to half of all county expenditures were spent on just five percent of the homeless population, who came into frequent contact with police, hospitals, and other service agencies, racking up an average of $100,000 in costs per person annually. Those costs quickly add up—overall, Santa Clara communities spend $520 million in homeless services every year.
The study also highlights solutions. The researchers examined Destination: Home’s program, which has housed more than 800 people in the past five years. The study looked at more than 400 of these housing recipients, a fifth of whom were part of the most expensive cohort. Before receiving housing, they each averaged nearly $62,500 in public costs annually. Housing them cost less than $20,000 per person—an annual savings of more than $42,000.
Naturally there has to be the public will (and the financing) to build that housing and I imagine that Santa Clara County is not unlike most jurisdictions where very-low, low, and housing for the formerly homeless are probably the three most difficult types of housing to win approval.
Anyway, I imagine a lot of quiet murmuring and speechifying about the need to care for the most vulnerable in the community, it would be a nice change if there were actual solutions put into place other than encampment displacement and a glossy brochure.