During the August edition of the regular, city-county (2+2) meeting, Yolo County Supervisors Matt Rexroad and Duane Chamberlain, plus Woodland Mayor Tom Stallard, began engaging extraordinary (and, as it turns out, fiscally compelling) new policy of the federal government about homelessness issues, referred to as: “Housing First.”

The most recent (January, 2013), reliable estimate of the number of homeless persons in Yolo County is: 474.

Housing First is concisely described as: “[A]n approach that emphasizes stable, permanent housing as a primary strategy for ending homelessness,” at a related website,  http://endhomelessness.org, which further articulates these matters in detail :

“Housing First is an approach to ending homelessness that centers on providing people experiencing homelessness with housing as quickly as possible – and then providing services as needed. This approach has the benefit of being consistent with what most people experiencing homelessness want and seek help to achieve.

“Housing First programs share critical elements:

  • A focus on helping individuals and families access and sustain permanent rental housing as quickly as possible without time limits;
  • A variety of services delivered to promote housing stability and individual well-being on an as-needed basis; and
  • A standard lease agreement to housing – as opposed to mandated therapy or services compliance.

“While all Housing First programs share these critical elements, program models vary significantly depending upon the population served. For people who have experienced chronic homelessness, there is an expectation that intensive (and often specialized) services will be needed indefinitely.

“For most people experiencing homelessness, however, such intensive services are not necessary. The vast majority of homeless individuals and families fall into homelessness after a housing or personal crisis that led them to seek help from the homeless assistance system. For these families and individuals, the Housing First approach is ideal, as it provides them with assistance to find permanent housing quickly and without conditions. In turn, such clients of the homeless assistance networks need surprisingly little support or assistance to achieve independence, saving the system considerable costs.”

Yolo County Supervisors will begin to consider this new federal (Housing First) policy during their October 7 meeting.

___ A “Sea Change” In Yolo County Policy ___

Supervisor Rexroad expresses that: “The county is [now] figuring out how to implement the Housing First programs.  It is a sea change in many ways for the way we do business and the way our non-profits operate.”

Rexroad continues: “Right now, all we have is a general agreement that this is the way we want to go from Oscar [Villegas, supervisor from W. Sac.] and me.  We have not really discussed it with the full board.  This is still in flux right now.

“I can tell you that it was made very clear to me that the federal government is going down this road… and if locals are not on board, then funding is not available.  They seem absolutely convinced it works.   I am working to understand this but probably agree with their conclusion.”

Rexroad explains, when asked, “How much federal funding is (generally, in future) involved with these matters?” :

“Could be quite a bit.  Don’t know exact numbers but I can tell you that if we don’t go that route… our number will be zero.”

Asked about timing of such policy implementation, Rexroad adds that: “We will get some board guidance this year.  I don’t know if we will have any units in place this year.  We have to change the way we think about this issue.”

___ National Alliance To End Homelessness ___

The National Alliance to End Homelessness, a non-profit organization representing this new federal policy, conveys that:

“The Alliance has devised best practices for approaching homelessness for families, veterans, and youth, as well as for those experiencing chronic homelessness[,]” and that, “[t]he Alliance works toward ending homelessness by improving homelessness policy, building on-the-ground capacity, and educating opinion leaders.”

Villegas, Rexroad and five relevant county staff members attended the predicative, Washington, D.C., symposium for this remarkable new federal plan, The National Conference On Ending Homelessness, held on July 29 – 31.

Rexroad indicates that: “The group us that went to DC met a couple of weeks ago to outline the presentation to the board[,]” that will occur on October 7.

Yolo County recently (June, 2014) released the report, “Homelessness in Yolo County, Strengthening the Community-Wide Homeless System (please see:   http://www.yolocounty.org/home/showdocument?id=26136 ), which relates :

“In Yolo County, many jurisdictions, organizations, and residents are showing a renewed interest in addressing issue of homelessness. In response to this interest, this report identifies best practices in the homeless field, discusses the prevalence of homelessness in Yolo County, describes the community’s existing system of care, and makes recommendations for strengthening the system of care for the homeless in Yolo County at both the County and community-wide levels.

“National homeless organizations have recently begun advocating for a new approach to addressing homelessness, which couples strategic and efficient local response with use of the Housing First model. This approach was developed using a growing pool of national data on the issue, which indicates that it reduces the prevalence of homelessness, improves quality of lives and communities, and results in net savings for service providers and jurisdictions.

“Nationwide best practices suggest that the communities most successful at significantly reducing the number of people experiencing homelessness engage in several essential steps or behaviors as a part of the new approach.”

Such “essential steps” will apparently soon be the subject of key implementation decisions by the Yolo County Board of Supervisors.