Homelessness summit promotes brainstorming and action
Los Angeles attorney Jerry Neuman, the keynote speaker at the “Creating Smart Solutions to Homelessness” summit held on Saturday, Dec. 1 at Cabrillo College, presented a flow chart to illustrate the current system for helping homeless people as a maze—a confusing jumble of arrows leading every which way to access services.
The summit, organized by a variety of local groups, hosted about 230 people and aimed to start a dialogue within the community about smarter ways to solve the problem, review methods employed by other communities and develop a more logical, results-driven system.
“This is about getting together to think about practical, evidence-based solutions for ending homelessness in Santa Cruz County,” says Monica Martinez, executive director of the Santa Cruz Homeless Services Center. “It's an opportunity for everyone to be in a room and hear about what's working, share their ideas and to engage [in] moving forward.”
Speakers and organizers, including Santa Cruz Mayor Don Lane, Executive Director of United Way of Santa Cruz County Mary Lou Goeke, Director of the Homeless Persons Health Project Christine Sippl, and Phil Kramer, of the 180/180 campaign, shared statistics about the homeless population and promoted the “housing first” model, which works by moving the most vulnerable in the homeless population—the “chronically homeless”—into affordable housing and provides ongoing support services so that they can transition into healthy lifestyles.
After displaying his map of jumbled arrows, Neuman presented a re-imagined system that was illustrated in the form of a circle, with permanent supportive housing services at its hub and spokes radiating outward to on-going support and outreach services.
The system is structured around housing placement, a centralized database, and a more systematic connection with service providers and resources like health clinics, emergency rooms and the criminal justice system.
It would feature a more proactive and coordinated outreach as well as entry into the system, he says.
According to data provided at the conference, San Francisco service providers were able to reduce their chronically homeless population by 28 percent using a supportive “housing first” model.
The Santa Cruz County conference was held the same week that a group of about 40 community members walked from the Santa Cruz Westside to the Nov. 27 city council meeting downtown, stopping along the way to collect trash around homeless campsites. At the meeting they voiced their concerns that more must be done to address the homeless problem, says former city council candidate and participant in the walk Jake Fusari.
Demonstrations like this, which show growing community dissatisfaction with the state of homelessness in Santa Cruz, add a sense of urgency to the need for more effective approaches to solving the problem.
Throughout the course of the conference, break-out groups discussed their hopes, concerns and ideas for ending homelessness.
Attendee Andy Rovegno, who says he has worked for 30 years in the county to get homeless people into transitional housing, says the best thing that could come out of the conference is a central committee that begins implementation immediately.
“This thing will rapidly disintegrate if we don't come up with a couple of leaders and a core group,” he says.
Santa Cruz Police Lieutenant Dan Flippo attended the conference and says he is eager to see what comes of it.
He says that if service groups can manage to house the chronically homeless, who constitute about 25 percent of the approximate 2,770 homeless people in the county, their policing task will be made much easier.
He says that 25 percent ties up a lot of the department's resources.
“If you can figure out how to fix that, think about how much money, time and manpower we're going to save,” he says.
During the summer, Flippo and several other officers led a campaign to eradicate illegal campsites around the city, but he says the campsites are still an issue.
Though he believes it is necessary for community safety, Flippo refers to campsite eradication as a good example of what Martinez calls dealing with the symptoms of homelessness rather than the causes.
“It's our job [to disband the campsites], but it's not solving the problem,” he says. “We can go in there, but then it just creates a problem area somewhere else.”
Sippl, of HPHP, says that their research on supportive housing shows a direct correlation with reduced recidivism rates. On average, a homeless person's number of arrests declines 40 percent after moving into supportive housing, she says.
Upon hearing those statistics, Flippo says, “You house the chronically homeless people who we are constantly contacting for Drunk in Public, or taking to the ER—that's really going to help us do our job.”
But Flippo also sounds a note of caution.
“We have all these groups getting together, and it's great, but what needs to happen now is have these ideas go into action,” he says.
The next big step is the formation of a new coalition that will continue to address the issues and lobby for change, says Kramer, one of the event’s organizers.
“We didn't want today to be just a great conference,” he says. “The conference is only a means to an end. It's really the starting point for greater community engagement.”
He adds that getting the community directly involved on a volunteer basis is vital to the process of ending homelessness.
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