Among the proposals under discussion in Sacramento is the bipartisan “No Place Like Home” Initiative championed by Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León and former pro Tem Darrell Steinberg. While the full details of the proposal have yet to be released, the framework includes $2 billion in bonds to construct permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless persons with mental illness and $200 million, over four years, to provide supportive housing in shorter-term rent subsidies.
De León said that some told him to let cities and counties alone deal with the crisis, but that he ultimately decided that homelessness could not be confronted by federal or state or local government alone.
“This is everybody’s issue,” de León said.
Steinberg, discussing No Place Like Home, said that “housing first is not housing alone.” Rather, he said, it’s “housing as the literal foundation to provide services to people.”
The League of California Cities®
has announced its support, in concept
, for No Place Like Home
, which would re-purpose bond money from Prop. 63, the Mental Health Services Act, to create supportive housing.
League Legislative Representative Jason Rhine on Thursday told the Senate’s Committee on Budget and Fiscal Review that homelessness has reached crisis levels.
“It’s uplifting to see that the state is going to step in and provide significant resources,” Rhine told the committee during public comment. “(During the two hearings this week), we haven’t heard people say, ‘We need new programs.’ Local governments need funding, and we need flexibility.”
Local Officials Describe Challenges and Efforts
At Thursday’s hearing, Senate Budget Committee members also heard from several local government officials describe the responses taken to homeless in their communities.
Emily Halcon, the city of Sacramento’s homeless services coordinator, shared with senators the perspective of “local governments who are grappling to both provide meaningful assistance for some of our most vulnerable citizens while also ensuring the public health and safety of the larger community.”
“While national data as well as the data we have locally objectively tells us that the number of people experiencing homelessness overall is decreasing or at least staying consistent, in Sacramento, like many communities throughout the state, it certainly doesn’t feel that way,” Halcon said.
“We are hearing about homeless encampments in residential communities far from the central city who two years ago would have never seen a homeless camp in their parks; we are daily getting calls from concerned business owners feeling the impacts of the unsheltered homeless population on their bottom line; and perhaps most importantly, the people we encounter on our streets seem to be more sick, we find them more disconnected from services and needing significant help and support as they look to change the situation they find themselves in.”
A city of Sacramento analysis of its spending on homelessness found that it in FY 2014-15, it spent more than $13.6 million on homelessness in city funding alone, almost all of that from its general fund.
Halcon said that Sacramento remains committed to housing as the only real solution for homelessness and, in turn, the only one that will reduce the impacts homelessness on the city at large.
“(The analysis) also underscores the need for collaborative, regional approaches that recognize both the transitory nature of homelessness but also the myriad of services and interventions needed for real, impactful change,” she said.
Assembly members heard much the same message from Miguel Santana, chief administrative officer for the city of Los Angeles and Phil Ansell, director of Los Angeles County’s homeless initiative.
Los Angeles County stands as the “epicenter” of the crisis, in de León’s words, with a homeless population of more than 41,000 men, women and children.
The cost to solve homelessness there is estimated at $429 million over five years, not counting construction costs, according to the county. It and the city recently released plans developed in concert, which will result in a coordinated approach to homelessness for the first time.
The city plan calls for spending $1.87 billion over 10 years, while the county has committed $100 million, including $42 million over the first 12 months.
Among the many facets are preventive care, subsidized housing, plans to increase the minimum wage, case management, coordinated entry system and collaboration with community partners.
“These numbers are too big to solve by ourselves, but small enough that we can solve this problem if we work together,” Ansell said.
“Housing First” is a Key Strategy
At the Senate Hearing, and at another hearing held in the Assembly earlier in the week, on Monday, much of the discussion centered on the strategy of “housing first.” Housing first has become central tenant of federal programs and to the approach taken by many states, counties and cities. The idea is to first get individuals off the streets into shelter, then work on addressing various issues that contributed to them being on the streets. This approach has experienced considerable success in Utah, which has seen a 90 percent reduction in homelessness over the past decade, and cities like Long Beach, to end or significantly reduce the number of homeless veterans on their streets.
Sen. Holly Mitchell, who recently took part in a fact-finding mission to Utah, said that state’s success is rooted in a bipartisan effort with county, city and state officials “all singing the same song.”
“Housing first is the best, most human, most appropriate use of public dollars,” Mitchell said during the Senate hearing.
This philosophy was also conveyed in the hearing held earlier in the week in the Assembly, by Sharon Rapport, associate director of the Corporation for Public Housing, who conveyed to Assembly members that research has shown that quickly placing homeless individuals in housing also reduces emergency room and in-patient hospital stays and recidivism.
Under that broader philosophy, Rapport said that permanent supportive housing is an appropriate intervention for about 30 percent of the homeless population defined as chronically homeless, defined by HUD as experiencing at least four episodes of homelessness during the past three years or suffering from a disabling condition.
For others, rapid rehousing paired with services represents the better option.
Both have better than a 90 percent success rate, Rapport said. That is, if providers can get homeless men, women and children into housing, which requires both available housing and often intensive outreach to coax homeless people into housing.
Addressing chronic homelessness is included in the League’s strategic priorities for 2016
and federal priorities and as part of this year’s work plan for two of its policy committees.
The League announced its support for the plan after the policy committees unanimously recommended — and the board later approved — a series of guiding principles drafted after a series of teleconferences with an informal working group of city staff and elected officials from 19 cities.
The principles include supporting additional funding for a number of pressing needs, including affordable housing and mental health and drug treatment, as well as first responder training and technical support. Other principles include advocating for programmatic flexibility, incentivizing regional cooperation and making housing placement as a priority for programs discharging people from medical care or incarceration.
Among other steps, the League has begun developing a homelessness solutions webpage
for its members and, on March 16, will host a webinar
during which state and federal officials will cover basic programs and best practices.
When recently announcing the League board’s support for Sen. de León’s proposal, League President and Rancho Cucamonga Mayor L. Dennis Michael said
: “We really like the concepts Sen. de León has put forward, so we want to indicate our support for his efforts,” said Michael. “California cities are at ground zero of the state’s homelessness crisis and need concrete solutions and financial support from the state such as the No Place Like Home Initiative. It proposes to combine significant state funding with local innovation to help the homeless with emergency and permanent supportive housing. This issue can only be solved when cities have the flexibility to work collaboratively with their regional local government partners, nonprofits and faith-based institutions. This proposal is a giant step in the right direction.”