Could The 100,000 Homes Campaign Work In S.B.?
Will Common Ground, the nonprofit famous for sweeping surprising numbers of chronically homeless persons into housing in efficient bursts of community activism, be working its magic in Santa Barbara?
That’s the question South County homeless advocates and service providers have been asking each other since Friday, when Becky Kanis, director of Common Ground’s 100,000 Homes campaign, visited Santa Barbara. While she was here, she met with a contingent of government officials as well as Mike Foley, co-director of the Ten Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness, and Rob Pearson, director of the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara (HACSB). What exactly was said in the meeting is unknown at this point. However, as the city compiles its list of the 50 most vulnerable homeless people, as required in its legal settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), it also must consider how to offer these 50 housing, because that is part of the settlement too. If enough community-based homeless organizations put their enthusiasm behind bringing 100,000 Homes to Santa Barbara, it’s possible that the campaign will be a part of the city’s process of getting its 50 most vulnerable into homes.
How Common Ground’s presence here would unfold, if it does unfold, is still an indefinite dream on the part of some activists and service providers. But it is for sure that Kanis’ visit triggered creative thinking about finally getting Santa Barbara’s thousands of homeless off the streets. That would make both homeless activists and cranky business owners happy.
The 100,000 Homes campaign (www.100khomes.org) was launched in July by Common Ground. So far, 54 cities and towns across the country have adopted the process that Common Ground innovated back in 2005 and 5,847 homeless people have been housed. The momentum for such a crazy undertaking began building within the organization five years ago, when their own outreach workers, including Kanis, got 85% of Times Square’s hardcore homeless housed. That success got the attention of New York City officials, who quickly provided the group funds to branch out to other areas of the city. Before long, Common Ground was putting its “Street to Home” technique to use in Baltimore, Washington D.C., and Chicago. Then they came to Los Angeles and worked with Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s Project 50. This summer, that effort was featured in a four part series in the Los Angeles Times.
The Common Ground technique is not rocket science. It gathers together all the community organizations that want to be involved, including volunteers, trains them to administer a survey known as the Vulnerability Index. Then its staff provide guidance as they take the survey results—which are basically names, photographs and health information on street dwellers—-and rank them according to their risk of dying on the street. Moving these people into housing based on their place on the list is the next step, and involves locals Housing Authorities sometimes modifying their rules for how Section 8 housing vouchers are allocated. Of course, when it comes down to the details, it can get complicated and so it requires support and cooperation from local governments and Housing Authorities. This is where Common Ground’s experience comes in handy. Money also needs to be found for the supportive services that help chronically homeless people stay in their housing—which Kanis says is the hardest part of the effort. However, politicians and governments can get swept up in the energy that community homeless advocates create, Kanis said. Others get on board after reading research showing it’s cheaper to house a chronically homeless person than it is to let them stay outside, cycling in and out of emergency rooms and jails.
When she addressed some of Santa Barbara’s homeless activists on Friday, Kanis said the 54 communities that have used the Vulnerability Index technique are sharing tips and innovations with each other. For example, the Mayor of Washington DC, when faced with a shortage of housing stock, went on television and told landlords that if they were willing to accept government-subsidized Section 8 Housing vouchers, the city would send maintenance persons out to complete any necessary repairs on their property. The cost of Common Ground coming to Santa Barbara would be limited to the expense of bring Kanis or another Common Ground consultant out and putting him or her up for a few days.
“We’ll work with anybody as long as nobody gets left out,” said Kanis. Meaning that they’re not interested in local groups elbowing one another out of the process, which does happen at times.
By Isabelle T. Walker