100k Homes SB Kicks off
Fifty-some-odd people abandoned the dry cover of home and hearth Tuesday night, December 21st, to learn how they might help move hundreds of Santa Barbara County’s chronically homeless into homes of their own. And when the meeting was over, many of the 50 had committed to braving cold temperatures yet again to literally locate, count and interview every homeless person in the county eight weeks from now at an ungodly pre-dawn hour on three consecutive days.
That ambitious operation, dubbed Registry Week, would be the first step in a five-step process that concludes with people who’ve been sleeping on pavement, and beneath bushes for years, even decades, having actual, literal roofs over their heads and support to help them stay there.
The five -step process has unfolded countless times in cities across America as Common Ground’s 100k Homes Campaign has picked up momentum. But it began in 2003 with one maverick push to house the homeless in Times Square. That success, which has since been replicated in places like Washington D.C. and Los Angeles, plus the credibility of the organization that created it–Common Ground–persuaded the powers that be in this city and county, including the Santa Barbara City Housing Authority (HACSB) and the County Housing and Community Development Department (HCD), to help it come here too.
Tuesday night was the first official meeting of this county’s 100k Homes Campaign. Organized by Jeff Shaffer of The Uffizi Mission Project and Rob Fredericks of HACSB, the meeting laid out the outline of a process that could transform Santa Barbara by removing countless street persons from our benches, parking garages, and parks.
“The fact is, we have never in this county made this commitment before,” said Mike Foley, executive director of Casa Esperanza. “This is ground breaking.”
But it will also require political will to breakdown bureaucratic barriers to housing, find housing stock, and peel off funding for supportive services.
The first step, according to Shaffer, is piecing together a strong leadership team and a virtual army of volunteers. Fredericks said registry week countywide will require between 400 and 500 volunteers. “If you don’t find everyone, you may not find the most vulnerable,” he said. “If each of you can go out and get 10 friends, we can do this.”
The 100k Homes Campaign turns established public housing protocol on its head. Normally, homeless people would be deemed eligible for public housing if they were sober, or, if mentally ill, stabilized on a medication and therapy protocol. The 100k Homes takes a reverse triage approach. Those who are most likely to die, even if still addicted, using, and/or mentally unstable, are given priority over people who are less vulnerable.
For Santa Barbara, which has had an unusually high number of homeless deaths two years in a row, this approach would seem particularly called for.
A quick glance around the room revealed that a majority of those who work with the homeless in the South County were present: Ralph Barbosa of the County’s Public Health Department (PHD), Rolf Greyling, President of The Santa Barbara Rescue Mission, Mark Watson of Noah’s Anchorage, Mike Foley of Casa Esperanza and BOCH, Deborah Barnes of Worth Street Reach, Jennifer Ferraez of Doctors Without Walls-Santa Barbara Street Medicine, Father Jon Stephen Hedges of Staint Athanasius Orthodox Church in Isla Vista, and Jan Fadden, RN, the medical director of Casa Esperanza.
Many in the room posed questions of Fredericks and Alex Dragos of the County Housing and Community Development (HCD).
HCD’s is already playing a central role in getting the campaign underway. Because it is the lead agency in the federal Continuum of Care program—which distributes federal McKinney-Vento funds to agencies serving the homeless—it has a direct line to the federal Housing and Urban development department (HUD) which provides Section 8 Housing vouchers and other money for homeless services.
HCD carries out the Point-in-Time count of homeless people living here every other year. That count is a HUD requirement and determines how much Continuum-of-Care money the county ultimately gets. This year, HCD has agreed to combine the Point in Time county with the 100k Homes’ registry week, so that, instead of simply counting the homeless here, volunteers will ask a battery of questions known as the Vulnerability Index. Those questions will enable volunteers (with help from Common Ground’s data base) to determine who is at greatest risk of dying, and prioritize them for housing based on that.
“The important thing to look at is that HUD’s objectives are the same as what Common Ground is trying to achieve, and what county HCD is committed to,” said Dragos.
His department has petitioned HUD for a waiver to use the Vulnerability Index in the Point-in- Time count. HUD has already granted such waivers to other cities doing a 100k Homes Campaign but no official word on the request has been received.
“This is a team effort,” Fredericks said in opening the meeting. “And it’s really a moral issue [that] we need to face and solve together. A lot of us are doing really good work. The Housing Authority is doing good work. Mike [Foley] is doing really good work. But what’s nice about the Common Ground approach is it unites us together on a common path.”
By Isabelle T. Walker
Photo by Paul Wellman