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Bridging the Gap to End Homelessness

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Bridging the Gap to End Homelessness

By Jenny Abramson & Michael Gause

Ending homelessness requires building the affordable homes needed. This simple statement will be one of the hardest tasks associated to ending homelessness. Along with cities throughout the county, the County of Sonoma is facing this effort as well as ensuring those in harm’s way now are helped. Both efforts and needed, and both require policy and financial commitment.

The first effort, creating sustainable permanent homes, will be achieved by building community partnerships through collaboration, securing new funding, and removing unnecessary policy barriers.  While this is underway, our safety net for those on our streets now must be maintained and where feasible, strengthened. These various safety net programs are interim and are only intended as stop-gap measures. 

The goal of any interim measure must be the immediate reduction of human suffering and the health risk of people becoming ill or dying outside due to exposure to the elements. As we would with a natural disaster which displaces a community, we should face the reality that we in fact have a displaced community of the homeless, due to various societal and individual circumstances. Those who are homeless have met their own individual “disasters” from loss of work, medical trauma, substance abuse and mental health issues. As we would for survivors of a flood, we must act swiftly to stabilize people and provide them the opportunity to lift themselves up out of calamity.

We have options. 

Emergency shelters such as Sam Jones Hall and others in Santa Rosa, the Mary Isaak Center in Petaluma, small shelters such as The Haven in Sonoma and Wallace House in Cloverdale, the Safe Parking program hosted by Sonoma County on its county campus in Santa Rosa, nomadic shelters with the Redwood Gospel Mission, and various “Code Blue” expansions in partnership with faith communities, all provide emergency respite from the elements. These temporary facilities are needed and effectively in use, but we should also explore alternatives.

The creation of temporary structures can provide immediate relief and support for people who are waiting for shelter beds or permanent housing.  This can help stabilize people and provide a gateway to receiving the services needed to permanently escape living on the streets. Tents, yurts, campers, portable tiny homes and re-purposed recreational vehicles are all measure we should consider. Sanctioned, well-managed encampments can create a safety zone and improve personal behavior by people who have been forced to the margins of society. These have been shown to create a stabilizing effect across the country.

Homeless tent in the woods

Addressing the impact on our communities.

We must also address the community effects of “activities of necessity” that create detrimental impacts on private and public property. Beyond the poor community relations this creates, there are sanitation and hygiene concerns that could be alleviated with alternative measures such as sanctioned encampments, temporary shelter structures and hygiene amenities. Accessible, publicly available restrooms, laundry services, and garbage disposal combined with strong public safety enforcement of private property trespass laws will both assist those in need and improve the condition of local communities. This requires continued and enhanced investment.

The plan.

On January 12, 2016, the Board of Supervisors approved the Building HOMES: A Policy Maker’s Toolbox for Ending Homelessness Implementation Work Plan. This approval denotes the launch of the county-wide collaborative we need to create the needed2,200 affordable homes for people exiting homelessness over the next decade. Working together, the quality of life of people who are homeless and their local communities will be enhanced. While the ultimate answer to ending homelessness is to build sufficient permanent housing, existing emergency programs must remain. To review the various existing efforts to get people into permanent housing, please visit the Sonoma County Community Development website at: www.sonoma-county.org/cdc/cdhomeless.htm

At this site you can also review the 10-year Plan to end all homelessness in Sonoma County.

By joining with caring and innovative people in all communities, we can share new ideas and national best practices on how we can, in the interim, help people take at least one step back from the precipice of poverty.

Jenny Abramson is the Homeless and Community Services Manager for the Sonoma County Community Development Commission. Michael Gause is a Community Development Associate also with the SCCDC.