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Housing First is a homeless assistance approach or framework that champions permanent housing as a solution for those who are homeless. Access to programs is not contingent on sobriety, minimum income requirements, lack of a criminal record, completion of treatment, participation in services, or other unnecessary conditions. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) prioritizes Housing First proposals in its annual funding to local regions.
Deviating from past practice of “transitioning” those without homes through a temporary house or apartment in which individuals and families must prove or demonstrate their readiness to live in a permanent home, Housing First is built upon the belief that everyone needs a permanent place to live before successfully addressing mental health, illegal drug use, employment and other issues. The Housing First model has two components:
On September 29, 2016, Governor Brown signed Senate Bill 1380 into law making California a Housing First state that requires all state programs targeted to end homelessness to incorporate Housing First into its core principles. The Woodland City Council also adopted Housing First as its approach to homelessness.
Although the word “homeless” is used to describe those who are unhoused, research indicates that differences exist in characteristics and effective interventions among individuals who find themselves without shelter. If temporarily or situationally homeless due to a recession or other life events, the preferred intervention is rapid re-housing. Transitional housing is no longer seen as the preferred paradigm for most although it is still viewed as effective for those recovering from domestic violence. Those who are chronically homeless generally suffer from severe disabilities and respond best to permanent supportive housing.
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The most current Point-In-Time study of homeless in Yolo County took place on January 23, 2017. The number of homeless individuals in Woodland counted at that time was 131, the lowest number in the last eight years.
However, most believe that this count underestimates the number of sheltered and unsheltered people living in Woodland. Over the past ten months, the City of Woodland’s Homeless Outreach Street Team (HOST) of the Woodland Police completed 582 field interviews of homeless individuals. Some individuals were interviewed on more than one occasion. However, 285 of those interviews were found to be unique individuals.
The Homeless Point-in-Time (PIT) study takes place every two years on one given night in January. Required by the federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for those communities that receive federal funding, only those individuals meeting the federal definition of homelessness can be included in the count. The federal definition of homelessness includes individuals who are living in places not meant for human habitation; living in an emergency shelter; living in transitional housing; or staying in a motel paid for by a public or private agency.
Each count is comprised of two categories: those sheltered and those unsheltered. In 2017, the number of unsheltered individuals in Woodland was 51; the number of sheltered individuals was 80. Previous numbers of sheltered and unsheltered individuals are shown in Table 1 below.
Point in Time/Year
2009 – 145
2011 – 151
2013 – 186
2015 – 192
2017 – 131
The City of Woodland has developed a Homeless Action Plan to guide policies and allocation of resources to better manage the issues associated with homelessness, increasing the availability of housing for extremely low-income individuals and families, and expanding availability and capacity of services. Highlights of the Homeless Action Plan include:
I. Managing Issues
The growing number of homeless individuals in our community has resulted in a significant amount of City resources being diverted to addressing the impacts of homelessness in our parks, neighborhoods and business districts. While we work to find long-term strategies and solutions to the underlying causes of homelessness we are equally focused on managing the impacts of homelessness and, in so doing, maintain a high quality of life for our residents and a welcoming place for visitors. A significant portion of our citywide Homeless Action Plan is specifically focused on managing homeless issues by reducing impacts on the community. The following highlights several of the initiatives the City has undertaken, and continues to advance:
II. Increasing Permanent Housing: Woodland Micro-Neighborhood Proposal
With the goal of increasing affordable housing, the City conceived of Woodland Micro-Neighborhood, a mixed-income development of approximately 100 for-rent single and duplex micro-dwellings that will include individuals who are homeless. It will emerge in three phases over three years. The first phase, comprised of 60 micro-houses, will provide shelter for the most vulnerable—those who are homeless or unstably housed. Phases two and three will yield an additional 40 micro-houses for those with moderate incomes. Manufactured homes will range in size from 320 square feet studios to two bedrooms.
Progress regarding Phase One for those who are homeless includes the following:
III. Expanding Service Availability and Capacity
Over the past months, the City has expanded service availability and capacity to those who are homeless.
First and foremost, it is important to recognize that being homeless is not a crime. Officers typically will evaluate each incident involving homeless individuals and determine the best option for getting the behavior to stop. This could include counseling, referral to services, warnings, or arrest.
The Woodland Police Department has arrested homeless individuals for a multitude of crimes to include illegal camping, trespass, defecating or urinating in public, public intoxication, drug crimes, and many other violations of the California Penal and Vehicle Codes. Thus far in 2018, officers have arrested 997 homeless for various crimes which amounts to 43% of total adult arrests.
While many of the illegal activities sometimes associated with homeless individuals are currently classified as misdemeanors (and amount to little more than a citation), the Woodland Police Department and Yolo County’s District Attorney’s Office are working to ensure that individuals who are repeatedly cited for offenses, have outstanding warrants and/or have accumulated excessive “failure to appear” violations are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
The majority of the homeless who frequent Freeman Park are clients of the Fourth and Hope homeless shelter. The shelter provides overnight beds for up to 73 individuals as well as three meals a day. The shelter is currently open from seven days a week from 4:00 pm to 7:00 am, and clients are not allowed to stay on premises during daytime hours (except for noontime meals and for four hours one-day-a-week for showers and laundry).
With the pending closure of Freeman Park to accommodate the construction of the Downtown Hotel Project, the City is working to provide several options for homeless who currently frequent the park. The goal is to minimize the displacement of homeless individuals to other neighborhood parks during the hotel construction project, and beyond.
Although research has provided best practices and guidance on effective interventions, there is no “silver bullet” to ending homelessness. The issue is multi-faceted; individuals and families who are homeless range from those experiencing short-term money issues to others with lifelong incapacities from poverty, mental illness, drug and alcohol use, deinstitutionalization (the right of those with disabilities to live in the least restrictive environment), incarceration and unemployment. To date, recommendations include a combination of interventions including prevention, rapid re-housing, and permanent supportive housing.
Not everyone living on the streets wants to move indoors, but the overwhelming majority do. Woodland police officers on the Homeless Outreach Services Team (HOST) and their social service partners have found that more than half of those living on the streets have asked for help with housing. Others make different choices after establishing trusting relationships with police officers and outreach workers, resulting in their eventual request for housing and accompanying services. The smallest group, approximately 10 percent, remain steadfast in their desire to continue to live unhoused. These individuals can benefit from ongoing outreach services and check-ins as to their health and well-being.
What we do know is that no single person or no one community organization can solve homelessness. The most effective strategy to making headway on this complex social issue is to strategically and collaboratively work together. Government, faith-based organizations, businesses, schools, and residents are all needed to work toward housing for all. This is accomplished by taking steps incrementally over time to increase housing and service options for those chronically homeless and preventing homelessness whenever possible for those already housed.
Policy and housing experts concur that prevention is a critical part to eradicating homelessness. Strategies that keep people housed or return them to housing quickly, such as rapid re-housing programs, are an essential component to turning the curve on homelessness. While difficult at times to dedicate limited funds to keeping people housed when people currently unhoused require immediate attention, prevention efforts avoid the high costs of returning individuals and families to housing once homeless.
In 2015, Santa Clara County published the largest and most comprehensive body of information that was assembled in the United States to date analyzing the public costs of homelessness. Authored by the Economic Roundtable, the report can be found at www.destinationhomesv.org. Among other results, this study concluded that the Santa Clara community had a significant opportunity to use public funds more efficiently.
The results indicate that the top 5% of the homeless population accounts for 47% of all public costs. By prioritizing those who are chronically homeless for housing, it is possible to obtain savings that greatly exceed the cost of housing.
In addition, the study found that the top 10% of high cost utilizers had an average public cost of $62,473; the average cost after being housed was $19,767, an annual cost reduction of $42,706 for those who remained housed.
Data from the study suggests that communities adopt the following three strategies in their efforts to reduce homelessness:
PIT, the acronym for Point-In Time, is an unduplicated count on a single night of the people in a community who are experiencing homelessness. The count includes both sheltered and unsheltered populations. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires this count be conducted for communities that receive federal funding. This count is conducted the last week of January. Point-In Time counts are important because they establish the dimensions of the problem of homelessness and help local jurisdictions identify needs. Additionally, this count can inform the public and determine community patterns to better serve the target population. The most recent data collection for Yolo County was conducted on January 23, 2019. Each City used unique methodology according to specific geography and population variations. In Woodland, the count was conducted with the help of twenty one volunteers and employees from government and community agencies. The 2019 count was executed in a strategic manner to gather and report accurate data. The acquired information has been submitted to Yolo County Health and Human Service Agency for analysis. The County's final report, which will include each City's numbers, is available online by clicking the following link: https://www.cityofwoodland.org/DocumentCenter/View/4568/Yolo-County-Homeless-Count-2019
City of Davis: https://cityofdavis.org/residents/social-services/homelessness-resources-and-information
City of West Sacramento: https://www.cityofwestsacramento.org/Home/Components/News/News/1347/67
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