Aug 31, 2017
by Angela Conte
I have been volunteering in the local community care system for the past 17 months trying to understand the homeless crisis problem in Sonoma County. What I have learned so far is that the community care system is flush with money, professional paid labor, and public and private programs to help people get back on their feet, but it’s not working for thousands of residents still living on the street.
Some like to blame the homeless, but it’s not their fault. The fault lies with a lack of a complete Vision from the top down with a well-organized system of collaboration, coordination, communication, benchmarked goals, accountable responsibility when there is a lack of results within the system.
However, there are hundreds of organizations working on the issue of homelessness and poverty in Sonoma County, and new ones forming each year. Even the county and city governments are constantly creating new committees, task forces and boards to work on issues, and still homelessness continues to grow.
Because just talking about it is not enough, nor is throwing money at it like thousands of tiny buckets of water on a forest fire.
If the local “community of care” wants to truly end homelessness, they need to work together from one complete and balanced system of care that believes in everyone’s right to thrive, and they need to include everyone in the process including all city administrations working together with the county, the educational system, public and private medical providers and local businesses.
I know that some coordination is happening, like the new county’s Coordinated Entry Program to organize the information for those who need help, but this is only happening because it’s a federal HUD mandated requirement for continued funding. It’s not an idea the local system came up with, and many local organizations who must participate are dragging their feet about it. The cities and local organizations can’t seem to work together, but are fine with how the current system works where chronically homeless people gather in empty lots in their cars or in tent cities and try to support each other while trying to figure out the confusing system of care, and where they are visited by different outreach programs trying to guide them to one of the many temporary shelter beds,(but not housing because there isn’t enough housing to go around).
Of the 50 residents forced out of the Farmers Lane Encampment last month, only two were given permanent housing and twenty-eight went into temporary shelters. Unfortunately, shelters are unpleasant places to live, so many will return to the street where neighbors and businesses will again get tired of seeing them, and the system will scatter them into the wind again to find other places to gather creating another problem somewhere else. Brilliant!
Yes, there are a lot of local free resources for anyone who needs them, such as: Food handouts, clothing, temporary or emergency shelters, phones, internet services, pet care, legal aid, job training, bilingual language courses, child and family guidance and more; and there are some government subsidized resources for the lucky few who qualify for them such as housing and food vouchers, disability support, medical care, small income stipends and more. Lots of buckets of small resources but no complete plan to help each individual or family get all their basic needs met when they need them so they can create stability for themselves.
Whether homeless or not, what every person needs to thrive today is: Healthy Air, Water, Food; Shelter; Utilities; Transportation; Communication such as Phone or Internet Services; Medical Services including dental, prescriptions, and mental health support; an Education, Child care and/or pet care; Legal Aid when necessary; Employment, small business or other independent income generation support; Social Connection and Purpose; and Ideally some furniture, home gear, and clothing, even if slightly used. These things are all being provided in some way in the community but they are not getting to the people who need them efficiently.It’s a confusing unorganized system and that’s why it’s not working.
People need to know the ONE PLACE to go to for everything they need IN THEIR AREA, and can sit down and find out what they qualify for, and not be put on a waiting list, or told to try somewhere else. If there isn’t enough housing it needs to be built, and with the same efficiency and economy as a new system of care. To make this happen, someone, who understands the complete picture and how to organize a complex system of care, needs to have the power to meet the needs of all stakeholders in this mess, especially the ones currently falling through the community care cracks.