A Conversation to End Homelessness Summary, Part 1

UPDATE: See the update on the county statistics at the end.

Since not everyone was able to be at our first meeting, and we want to be able to reference what we went over, here is my summary of our first Conversation to End Homelessness.

First, the ground rules that we agreed to:

-Do not quote someone in media, including social media, without their permission. Homelessness can get really complex, and we all are going to say things that, upon further inspection, we will discover are foolish. It’s important that we give ourselves the freedom to revise how we think about these things without having to deal with a public backlash to our words.

-We are not making a perfect plan. Homelessness is a complex issue, and every person who is homeless has their own unique struggle. My goal is to create a plan that we all believe has a reasonable chance of success. Let’s not get bogged down in trying to create the perfect plan.

-Let’s not play the blame game. It really does not matter who is at fault for how things are, what matters is what we are going to do about the reality on the ground. We will not be entertaining conspiracy theories or blame about why this issue is as bad as it is.

-This conversation will probably get emotional. It’s good to own up to being upset, when we are upset. I’m going to be doing that as the facilitator, just so I can be successful facilitating.

-Civility. We must all practice civility. My guess is that people have been reluctant to engage in this conversation because there has historically been a lack of civility around this issue in this region. Only by being civil with each other are we actually going to be able to move forward to find solutions on this issue.

Everyone who was present when we went over these rules expressed that they agreed to them.

The Data

We went over notable data that is available in this county about homelessness. Here it is:

-The Point in Time Count for Santa Cruz County counted 2,167 people who are homeless in our county. 78% of those folks are estimated to be unsheltered. 53% of the homeless families in the county are estimated to be unsheltered. An estimated 74% of the people in our county who are homeless lived here when they became homeless. 23% spent time in foster care, 28% have spent one or more night in jail, prison or juvenile hall in the past year – these are estimates as well. The whole report can be seen here.

-Smart Path assessments are done for every person who is homeless that would like to get into a housing program in Santa Cruz County. In the fiscal year 2018-2019 (July 1 2018 – June 30 2019), 1,110 people were assessed. 276 of those people were referred to a program. That means that just about 25% of people who took the first step to get assistance getting off the street actually received some sort of assistance. It speaks to the extreme lack of capacity in our homeless services throughout the county. 47 of those referrals resulted in people moving into transitional housing. 51 of those referrals resulted in people moving into permanent housing. I noted that the communication from housing programs back to the county is not terribly reliable, so those last two numbers of placement into housing are probably low.

-Smart Path was implemented on January first, 2018. There have been 1,973 total assessment since that date. Of those folks, 1,750 are still in the queue to be referred to a housing program. Why that discrepancy is less than the 276 people referred in the previous paragraph, I’m not sure. It may be because that previous number counted every person in each family.

The numbers in the two paragraphs above came directly from the county.

-The Santa Cruz County Office of Education estimates that 3,493 kids in their school system experienced homelessness during the 2017-2018 school year (the most recent for which we have data). The Office of Ed defines homelessness slightly differently, however, including people doubling up in housing and couch surfing. This report is available here.

-We received an estimate from one participant that the current waitlist for Section 8 vouchers in Santa Cruz County is about 9,000 people long. Documentation of this number is still pending.

After going over the data, we engaged in a conversation about why it is important that we end homelessness in our county and why each of us personally was engaging in this conversation. It seemed that there was universal agreement around the point that it truly is our moral duty to end homelessness here.

Our next meeting will be September 26th from 6-8pm. Everyone is invited. We left with two pieces of homework; to invite people in the community to come to the next event, and to come with ideas about possible solutions.

We do have the Santa Cruz Library booked for the next meeting, however we may move to a larger space to better accommodate everyone who is coming and to have a safe place for people who are homeless to keep their things during the meeting.

This is written from memory. Since I was facilitating the event, I may not have gotten every detail exactly correct.

UPDATE from Monica Lippi at the county: “I’m writing because I just want to clear up a couple of things re: the data.  276 referrals were made last year, but this number includes duplicates of people/families who were referred to multiple programs, so it’s not entirely accurate to say 25% of those assessed were referred.  It’s actually less. This information was included as an asterix in the email that I sent you, so I’m sorry if you didn’t see it.  Also, you made a comment that there was a discrepancy between the difference of those assessed and on the queue and the number of referrals made.  This is partly because that number of referrals includes duplicates, but also because people are removed from the queue for other reasons besides just when referred, such as when they move out of county, die, self-resolve, etc.  It’s also because many participants complete more than one assessment, so the number of assessments completed isn’t the same as number of people assessed.  Lastly, I believe CTA removes inactive people after a certain time frame (I want to say 2-3 years), but I’m not entirely certain about this so you may want to check with them to confirm.”

5 thoughts on “A Conversation to End Homelessness Summary, Part 1”

  1. Evan, thank you and everyone who attended for their love and work! Consider looking for best practices in this area. There are several sources. There was a Santa Clara county task force created a while back. The work they did could be beneficial.

    I may be able to facilitate an introduction to some key people in Santa Clara County who are tasked with addressing this complex issue.

    From what I see, you will have access to my email.

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  2. Thank you for doing this. Wonderful work. Great dedication. Much appreciated. One cautionary comment, and it’s not a criticism, it’s just my own judgement based on bad experience, so take it with a grain of salt. If the facilitation work begins to head into more than a conversation, meaning making cultural and rule changes, it’s important for a facilitator to not be a stakeholder or committed to any one viewpoint or outcome. This is especially critical if the goal is to change regulations and rules that impact others. The reason is trust. Maintaining all three types of trust is critical when leading discovery conversations in order to enter into change making with stakeholders and involved parties. When a facilitated process to effect cultural change is lead by a critical stakeholder, it can be harder to gain trust and traction with folks that want impartiality and/or compromise. Not impossible, of course, but harder. A good example are the facilitated guided conversations that are all the rage with government agencies. How can all the people trust a government facilitator when there might be political and financial reasons for pushing folks toward a preconceived answer or choice? Forgive me if this is all buzz, buzz for you. Keep up the good work. Mike

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