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California City Solutions: Elk Grove’s Transitional Housing Gets Homeless on New Track

October 10, 2014
This story is part of an ongoing series featuring Helen Putnam Award entries.
 
The 2014 entries are available on the League’s website as a resource for cities in a searchable database called California City Solutions. Elk Grove’s Grace House was submitted in 2014 for the Housing Programs and Innovations award category.
 
Homelessness is a growing issue in Elk Grove, a suburban city just a few miles south of California’s capital city. With funding primarily concentrated on homeless services in the urban core, the city decided to branch out on its own with a goal that would help several homeless households at one time.
 
Each city is challenged with how to identify the homeless population, while establishing and maintaining service delivery systems and resources to aid homelessness. Local churches and organizations help donate basic needs, but Elk Grove wanted to start by providing a solid foundation for those trying to get back on their feet.   
 
In early 2011, Elk Grove Mayor Gary Davis organized a regular meeting of the Homeless Solutions Committee, an informal working group made up of nonprofits and Elk Grove faith-based organizations. The Elk Grove Food Bank and Sacramento Self Help Housing, along with local churches, reported an increase in the number of homeless people in Elk Grove with many living in their cars. Elk Grove People Assisting the Homeless (PATH) noted a need for more concentrated assistance, including finding employment, financial management, and life skills coaching. Elk Grove’s nonprofits provided some homeless services, but nothing that offered short-term or long-term housing options within Elk Grove. Traveling to Sacramento to get the services they needed was difficult because of safety concerns and there wasn’t any place to leave pets.
 
The Homeless Solutions Committee created a pilot program providing bus passes to the homeless so that they could access services. This was a start, but more comprehensive solutions were still needed. The committee decided to turn its focus to transitional housing. This type of housing would be more beneficial to the homeless, offering a temporary place to stay so that they could focus solely on finding employment, learning life skills and beginning their new journey.
 
The committee’s efforts moved the city in 2011 to allocate federal Community Development Block Grant funding to create Elk Grove’s first transitional house. The committee and Sacramento Self Help Housing worked together to outline target areas for locating the home. Key characteristics included establishing tenant qualifications and setting house rules, as well as considering rehabilitation standards that focused on accessibility, low utility and maintenance costs, and a pet-friendly space.
 
The city in July 2012 purchased a 2,200 square-foot, five-bedroom, and three-bathroom home in a neighborhood with easy access to transit, the Food Bank, shopping and services. Elk Grove became the new owner of a house that was in extremely poor condition, with numerous code deficiencies and much deferred maintenance. The property required major renovations.
 
The committee joined with numerous community groups, including Elk Grove’s two Rotary Clubs and the Lions Club, and many individual volunteers for a Day of Caring in October 2012. The group replaced fencing, did demolition work, removed floors, appliances, cabinetry, an unsafe treehouse, and an illegal sunroom at the rear of the house. During the following few months, a contractor replaced the heating/air conditioning system, remodeled all three bathrooms, installed a new kitchen, reroofed, painted, and laid new flooring.
 
Volunteers spent hundreds of hours on demolition, landscaping, fence replacement, and cleaning. Local businesses and residents donated a new garage door and all appliances, furniture, and household items. Impact Community Church donated the first year’s operational funding, and the Food Bank provides regular food deliveries and some toiletries.
 
Sacramento Self Help Housing, a nonprofit organization improving living conditions and increasing the self-sufficiency of individuals living at or below the poverty level, was selected to own and manage the transitional house, providing a full-time, live-in house manager. Impact Community Church donated the first year’s operational funding, provided by PATH in subsequent years.
 
Elk Grove held a ribbon cutting ceremony in March 2013 and a second volunteer day, where volunteers did final cleaning and moved furniture into the house. Shortly after the ribbon cutting, the Grace House was transferred from city ownership to Housing Solutions, Inc., a subsidiary of Sacramento Self Help Housing. The first tenants arrived in April 2013.
 
The Grace House provides housing for up to five homeless households at a time, with the house manager making sure the house is well-maintained and enforcing the rules. The house has been consistently fully occupied and has a waiting list of people hoping to become tenants.
 
The Food Bank and Sacramento Self Help Housing work together to select tenants for the home, specifically seeking out homeless people in Elk Grove who are likely to get their lives back on track and move into permanent housing within six months of their stay. While in the home, tenants benefit from services provided by the Elk Grove Food Bank, case management from Sacramento Self Help Housing, and mentoring and employment assistance provided by PATH.
 
Welcoming 10 homeless tenants since its opening, the Grace House has seen many successful stories as a result, with some of the tenants even volunteering at the Food Bank. One tenant progressed to EMT school in San Jose, while another obtained a medical billing certificate. One of the tenants pursued inpatient treatment for drug/alcohol problems, at least three tenants are now employed full- or part-time, and two tenants have moved into permanent housing. Only one of the tenants left due to inability to comply with the house rules.
 
With the purchasing price and rehabilitation costs approximately $255,000 and ongoing operations funded by outside organizations, this project provides a cost-effective way for Elk Grove to address the challenges of its homeless population.
 
Based on the success of the Grace House, the city has allocated funds for a second transitional housing facility. Partnerships will continue with the existing entities as well as the possibility of adding others. The Homeless Solutions Committee continually meets to discuss challenges and solutions. There will always be a sector of the population that falls into homelessness, but cities are developing and maintaining effective systems to get to a place where homeless episodes will subside.


 
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