Total Time 43:50
1:26 – What do you do? What does your department do?
2:23 – What is your budget and staffing level?
3:38 – How do you work with Destination: Home?
5:14 – Do homeless people flock to places with nice weather and good homeless services?
6:25 – Is there a process for returning people home?
8:15 – When homelessness is concentrated in one area of the county, how do you get support countywide?
10:19 – Tell me about HMIS, the Homeless Management Information System.
11:25 – Tell me about the data for the cost study.
12:27 – Where is the money going to come from to build new housing?
15:22 – Who coordinates all these funding sources?
15:45 – Are all the cities on board with the plan to end homelessness?
16:38 – How has solving homelessness become a focus in Santa Clara County?
18:53 – Describe the county structure and key players.
22:17 – Tell me about the realtor position.
23:04 – What are various reasons that people support ending homelessness?
24:00 – How important are cities in solving homelessness?
25:52 – How have you dealt with homeless people becoming concentrated in one area?
30:11 – What is the process when a social worker talks with a homeless person?
31:26 – How do you get elected officials motivated on this issue?
34:30 – What can a city do if their county isn’t making solving homelessness a focus?
35:04 – Who championed homelessness within the County of Santa Clara?
36:35 – What level within the county can be an effective champion?
37:09 – What other qualities does a champion need?
38:15 – What is your experience with and advice for non-profits?
40:27 – What do you do when you have housing vouchers, but not enough housing?
Continuum of Care Quality Improvement Manager in the County of Santa Clara’s Office of Supportive Housing
Interviewed on September 15, 2016
How did you get your start?
My name is Hilary Barroga. I’m the Continuum of Care Quality Improvement Manager and I work in the County of Santa Clara’s Office of Supportive Housing. I have been with the Office of Supportive Housing since 2015 and before that I spent 15 years working for a local non-profit. I’ve done a variety of things. I’ve worked in direct service. I’ve worked in fundraising and communications. I’ve worked with grand compliance. I ended there as chief program officer overseeing all the direct service we provided to clients.
This position was created at the county when the changes with the HEARTH law (Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act of 2009 signed by Obama) required more administrative work from CoCs (Continuum of Care Councils – local board that coordinates homelessness issues and is required by HUD, the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, to provide funding). So the county took on the role of collaborative applicant for the CoC and we created two positions and mine was one of the positions that was created.
For me, having done this work for a long time, it was really an exciting opportunity to think about working at a system level. I got my start in homeless services in San Diego where I grew up. I volunteered in various organizations through my high school.
What is your role here?
My role in the county is to help administer and oversee the Continuum of Care. I, and my team, work on planning, implementation, oversight, evaluation of the homeless services system and also administer the CoC responsibilities for HUD. We are the collaborative applicant which means we are responsible for submitting the annual application for CoC program funding to HUD. We are the HMIS lead, so we oversee the communities homeless management information system, and we work with a couple of contractors to do these things. We also do community wide reports, so system level reports on how our supportive housing system is doing according to the HUD system performance measures and local community wide performance measures. The Office of Supportive Housing has about 40 staff. We are hiring a lot more. We are approved for 56-58 staff in our budget.
What is your budget?
Our operating budge is about $48 million dollars. That’s just under $8 million for the 58 FTE (full time equivalent employees) that we have. We also oversee contracts to non-profits to provide direct service work. We do some direct service work ourselves. We also oversee our system of care. In addition to the $48 million, we oversee about $125 million in capital development funding. About $10 million of budget is from HUD and the remaining $38 million is for the county. Our county has made a really large investment in the issue of homelessness and affordable housing. It’s one of the top 3 issue for our county board of supervisors right now.
How do you work with Destination: Home?
The Destination: Home leadership board and the CoC board are the comprised of the same individuals. They’re 2 distinct entities, but we work closely together. In their capacity as the Destination: Home leadership board, they do a lot of the strategic planning for the community. The CoC board handles the operational business. Destination: Home is really good at being an advocate and a convener. They are able to do more advocacy than we can from a government office with different kinds of stakeholders. They convene private foundations to work with city and county government to establish new initiatives and try to things out. For example, we have a campaign going right now to end veterans homelessness called All The Way Home. They are leading the campaign, but we’re working with them very closely on it. Most everything we do is in partnership with Destination: Home and various other community partners. We defiantly are not trying to be the county overlords. We know that it takes the whole community. We also know that we have a leadership responsibility to end homeless and we take that role pretty seriously.
In casual conversation about homelessness it always comes up that the general public believes that homeless people flock to areas that are friendly to homeless people and where the weather is nice.
I think there are certainly people who come from other places thinking that there is going to be some magic solution here. They hear that people are getting housed. They hear that our homeless numbers are going down. You can’t complain about the weather. … But our data shows that most of the people who are homeless here are people who last lived here in a permanent residence and became homeless while they were living here. I think that folks who come here as all homeless have a rude awakening when they come. One of the reasons that they come is that in the past decade or so we’ve had a lot of job opportunity here in Santa Clara County, both in the tech industry and the service sector who serves the tech industry, but our cost of living is really high and that’s when the rude awakening comes. There isn’t affordable or cheap housing even within a commutable distance from here. Off the top of my head, I want to say that roughly 80% of homeless people became homeless here.
During the intake process, if the social worker determined that the homeless person just came here a few months ago, is there a process for returning them home or denying them housing?
We wouldn’t exclude anyone. If somebody is here, they need the help. But we are definitely more restricted in what kinds of programs we can provide and where the funding comes from. Our local cities and jurisdiction do provide some funding for homeless services, but they want it to serve their residents, so we have to have some sort of connection to one of the local communities to use that type of funding. I think typically a social worker would ask them if there is anyway to connect them back to the place they came from. Do they have a support system there. And do they have any recourse or means. If they have a support system and if we can verify that there is somebody at the place they came from to receive them back home, a lot of times we can help get them transpiration back, but we have to have that verification from another person before. We don’t just put people on a bus and ship them somewhere else. Really the conversation with the social worker or case manager or intake specialist becomes, “It’s really hard to live here. If you already have resources lined up. We’re not sure we can house you or house you quickly. Even the people who are already here are struggling. Is there a way for us to help connect you back home?”
Our homeless people are mostly people who lived here, are in the service sector, people who have mental illness, people who lost their job or some sort of medical circumstance, who just can’t afford to live here anymore.
Have you ever heard of another city shipping their homeless on a bus to Santa Clara County?
I’ve read a couple of newspaper articles about places shipping their homeless on a bus to another town, but it was years ago. I haven’t heard of it recently.
I’ve heard that 70% of the homelessness in Santa Clara County is in the City of San Jose. How do you get the people in communities that are less affected by homelessness to allow their government representatives without voting them out of office?
We have homelessness in every part of the community. Our county supervisors don’t get pressure to not help or not provide the resources. In fact, the pressure that they get is to bring more of the resources to our community because so many of the resources get centered in San Jose which is geographically in the middle of our county. In our annual or bi-annual point in time count, our homeless census, we know geographically how many folks were counted in each city. Gilroy, which is the city in the south part of the county, for the past few surveys has had the highest per capital rate. There’s definitely advocacy in the south county to invest more resource. The same goes for cities in the north county. They know that their are people who are there. The advocacy becomes, there are unique circumstance to the people we serve, so in the north county, they see more vehicular homelessness. In particular, the city of mountain view has seen a lot of RVs popping up in the area. Gilroy has a lot more rural area, and so they’ll see more people in remote encampments than you would find in the center of Santa Clara County. In San Diego there might be physically more people in the City of San Diego and particularly in the center part of the city, but what are the per capital numbers?
In our HMIS (Health Management Information System), we not only ask the standard that HUD asks, but we also ask, “where is the last place you had a permanent residence? In which city do you live? In which city do you work? In which city do you or your children go to school?” That way we know if there’s a tie to each of the individual cities. Governments are driven by data, so the more data your homeless system can provide, the better. At a minimum, any CoC funded organization has to participate in HMIS unless they are a victim service provider. Communities are scored differently if they have more coverage in HMIS for all of their housing inventory, so here in Santa Clara County, almost all of our homeless service providers, housing providers participate in HMIS. And we made a concerted effort to have a lot of participation in our community. We have almost 40 participating organizations. We have 40,000 client records.
Participating organizations are the shelter providers, the permanent supportive and rapid rehousing providers, people who provide some sort of drop-in service. We have a coupe of programs that do job training.
In our cost study, we were able to combine data from HMIS, from our criminal justice database, and from our physical health database through the county, and our behavioral health database through the county. It only tracks the county health records, so if the homeless person went to a private hospital, it wouldn’t be tracked. The cost study didn’t include private hospital costs, so the costs could have been greater than the $60,000 / year that were calculated.
Where will the $500 million come from that is estimated as needed to house 6,000 homeless people?
It will come from a variety of sources. What we typically find in development is that about 35% of the funds for an affordable housing development come from the local community in some way, and the rest of the funds are from the federal or state governments, and a lot of it through tax credit incentives. That 35% is what we really need to be concerned about as a community. It will come from a variety of places. It could come from private philanthropy. More likely it comes from some government source, whether that’s a housing trust fund that we’ve put aside, or some other development source or funding through either tax revenues or other means.
One of the ways that our community has been working together is to identify potential other opportunities. One of those potential other opportunities is that, in June, our county board of supervisors approved to put on the November 2016 ballot a general obligation bond for affordable housing. It’s a $950 million bond, $750 million of that would go to extremely low income folks and potentially be dedicated to the homeless population and the people that we’re serving. So there is one potential opportunity should the voters choose to approve it.
What progress has been made since the 5 year plan was initiated?
Our community plan goal for the 6,000 housing opportunities is that we’ve identified those in the 5 year time frame of the plan. From the time we initiated the plan in January 2015 to now, we’ve identified over 1,600 new opportunities, so we’re a little over a quarter of the way there. Not bad for not having extra resources above and beyond what we’ve been able to generate through a lot of work on the part of all of our stake holders, Destination: Home, county staff and supervisors, and all our jurisdictional partners (cities, etc.).
Coming up with and coordinating all this money from different sources sounds like a lot of work. Who does that?
It’s a team of people led by the director of the Office of Supportive Housing, Ky Le. He works closely with the county’s executive leadership and board of supervisors. He reports to our county COO (chief operating officer).
Are all the cities in Santa Clara County on-board?
For the most part. I don’t think there is anyone who doesn’t want an end or reduction to homelessness. We want homelessness to be rare, brief, and non-recurring. No jurisdiction disagrees with that. Especially for cities, a lot of how they’re driven is based on what their residents want and advocate for. Some jurisdictions have been able to commit more financially and policy wise than others.
How did Santa Clara County get to this point where homelessness is one of its top priorities?
We haven’t always made this a focus. It took time to get to this place. It took the right people in the right leadership positions at the right time to get to where we are. I think that if we wouldn’t have had the right person in the Destination: Home executive role, so Jennifer Loving, if we hadn’t had her in this convener, advocate, public, private partnership role, if we didn’t have Ky Le as the director of the Office of Supportive Housing, if we hadn’t had some key leaders who made those roles happen, if we hadn’t had the county COO Gary Graves who we had at the time, and the right person as the director of the Department of Housing for the City of San Jose, and the Housing Authority of the County of Santa Clara, all of this would have been a lot harder and come a lot slower. For the county leadership in particular, without having Ky and Gary Graves in their positions willing to take a chance and then 5 supervisors who were really committed to this issue, these things wouldn’t have been possible. On a board of supervisors of 5, it takes 3 people to say yes to something to get something done. We’ve been so fortunate that all of our big financial decisions have been unanimous. They’ve all been able to say yes because Gary and Ky led us in a way that was driven by data, that was well thought through, and that addressed the needs that we were trying to meet. We have been able to present them with plans and ideas that are data driven and that we think will work and that the supervisors have been able to buy into because they’ve heard from their residents that it’s important.
Describe the different players in carrying this out and what they do.
The governing body for the county is the board of supervisors. It has 5 supervisors and they each geographically represent an area. They oversee the administration which is the county executive who has a team of folks who work with him. One of these is the Chief Operating Officer who oversees the Office of Supportive Housing. We have a director, Ky Le, our boss. We partner closely with Destination: Home, the city housing departments, in particular the city of San Jose, and with the Housing Authority of the County of Santa Clara (HACSC). In terms of HUD structure, the HACSC is the housing authority for both the County of Santa Clara and the City of San Jose. Their executive director has been a key player in all of this from the beginning. I think that having all of these people in the right leadership roles at the right time has helped move us along.
Within the county, we have a Health and Hospital System (physical & mental), a Social Services Agency (public benefits, welfare), and our Criminal Justice system. Those three system are really key players in the work to end homelessness and the types of county department that we work with really closely. There also an Office of Re-entry Services for people getting out of jail. These departments work really closely with us and with each other. Within the criminal justice system, we have a department called custody health which is employees of our Health and Hospital System providing health care to people in our jail. We try to work really closely with our Custody Health folks to identify the highest need people who are homeless when they enter jain and who will be homeless when they are discharged so that they are discharged to a housing solution instead of back to the streets. A lot of those people who are in those circumstances are usually incarcerated because of things that happened due to their health problems, like their mental health. The office of reentry services brings together people from different departments all focused on helping people who are coming out of incarceration.
We also work closely with departments within the county that you wouldn’t necessarily expect us to work with. We have a facilities and fleet department. They work closely with us to identify county owned property where we might be able to build housing. Our budget includes funding for a position in their department. It’s a realtor position to help us vet properties when we see them come up for sale. They also look for properties that can be suitable for housing. We’re trying to identify every possible piece of land and every possible building that’s appropriate to be acquired, houses that don’t make sense for many other things.
The board of supervisors defiantly has to be on board. They’re the ones who make the money come, they’re the ones who have the authority. They’re driven by what their constituents want so their constituents want to be on board too. There are people who want it to end because of human suffering. There are people who want it to end because it’s in their backyard. There are people who want it to end because it’s impacting their quality of life, and there are financial reasons.
One of the things that has been strong about our system of care is that it doesn’t matter to us what the driving factor is for why somebody wants an end to homelessness. Everyone can participate as long as we’re working towards the same goal.
Is the City of San Jose a big player in this? It seems like it’s really driven by the County.
The county is certainly a big leader in this, but it would really be difficult to do this without the City of San Jose and the other cities. The City of San Jose is a major funder of services. They provide something like $1.2 million to the county to distribute to non-profits to provide service for permanent support housing, they help fund our HMIS (Health Management Information System). Those are huge. Another reason is that the city gets entitlement funding for homelessness through their emergency solutions grant. The county doesn’t get that because we’re not an entitlement jurisdiction. The City of San Jose is the only jurisdiction within the county that is an entitlement grantee for funds from HUD focused on homeless services. Most of our jurisdictions are entitlement jurisdictions for community development block grants from HUD that can be used both for services funding and capital funding. So cities are key partners because they can bring some federal money.
Also, they control land use. If it’s not land in an unincorporated area, then the city’s ordinances and codes drive how a parcel of land can be used. That has been instrumental for us as we look at available parcel’s of land that are county owned or for the county to purchase. If we can’t do the type of housing, or if the city isn’t on board helping to flow these things through their planning commissions and planning departments and the different levels of approval, permitting, and zoning, then we’re out of luck.
One of the things we’ve done in this budget is to hire a client engagement team to do outreach countywide. If a service provider or a citizen in a far reaching part of the county identifies a homeless person in that part of the county who needs services, we can sent that team to assess and triage and figure out how to help them.
Being willing to invest resources where you’ve identify other people to be homeless. Figuring out how to make services more accessible to the homeless populations is central. We have what we call the emergency assistance network. There are 8 locations where community service agencies have additional services for the homeless. They have for examples deposit assistance and homeless prevention assistance. People can go to a location in their region and get help there. You have to go to the place in your zip code to get help there to get some of the services such as a deposit for housing or help paying their rent if they get a 3-day notice to pay or quit and they need help paying their rent.
We also have two organizations that do mobile medical healthcare services for the homeless. Both of them have stationary clinics, but both of them also have mobile medical units, but busses that go to various shelters or places with high populations of homeless people.
If there is a medical clinic that folks can go to with medical, then making sure that there is some sort of housing support there.
One of the things our emergency assistance networks can do is help people apply for and screen eligibility for food stamps so you don’t have to go the central social services office to get your food stamps.
We have a program with our transportation authority where they sell us quarterly bus passes. Each of our homeless services providers can request bus passes from us to distribute their clients. They just have to provide case management to their folks, and they just have to be homeless or at risk with certain criteria. I think that the transit pass has allowed people to get to central services, but then also go back to the community that they’re comfortable staying in. Without transportation what happens is that people go to where the services are and they stay there because they don’t know who they’re going to get back at a future time, or even how to get back to where they came from. Increasing people’s mobility sounds like it might have the counter effect, but it really just helps people get from point A to point B, and not having to stay in point A.
If I saw someone on the street, what would I tell them about the system for getting housing?
We have a coordinated assessment system for housing interventions, permanent supportive housing or rapid rehousing. They could go to any one of our HMIS (Health Management Information System) partner agencies, so any shelter provider or homeless services provider. When they do their intake for services at that agency, we also do their VI-SPDAT (Vulnerability Index – Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool). That puts them on the community queue for housing resources. We priorities according to need and the time homeless. Depending on the housing we have available and the need, someone could be housed immediately or they could never be referred for services. When we do this triage for folks, we really encourage them to keep looking and keep working out side of this. What we’re doing with this coordinated assessment system is prioritizing the resources that we have for the people who are the most vulnerable who need them the most.
I’m out of questions. Do you have thoughts about what might be interesting to talk about?
What it comes down to is leadership. A core group of folks in the right positions have to decide that this is an important issue to address and have to champion it. Finding 1 or 2 or 3 or 4 elected officials, depending on the scope of it, to really take this on as a cause is important. The way to get them involved is to understand what motivates them both personally and politically. One of our county supervisors who early on was a big supporter, we know is very driven by the numbers and the cost. We’re a pretty liberal community and he’s on the more conservative end of folks here, so he was very fiscally driven. Show me that this is better financially. He has a really great heart so it’s not that he doesn’t care about the people, but he also has a responsibility to our citizens to make sure that the public resources that he oversees are well cared for. It was really through his leadership and knowing that folks like him want to know what the financial benefit is also, that helped us drive toward our cost study and helped us demonstrate that it really does cost less to house people than to provide them with all of the emergency services that they’re using because they are unhoused.
The mayor of San Jose right now has been involved in this issue for a long time. He volunteered at the organization I used to work for before he had a political career. He was a tutor for homeless children, so this has been an important issue for him even before that. But understanding that this is amount many important issues for him, knowing how to involve him and get him working on it was very important. A lot of how we’ve gotten folks on board is by brining them closer to the issue. You end up in this elected position and you drive by the homeless, but you don’t necessarily have conversations with folks like this. Having some of your homeless service provider leaders inviting your county and city staff out with their outreach teams in small groups to meet people on the street and see what the conditions are. Bringing people closer to the issue is really what motivates the change.
We’re humans, so we have some of that doubting Thomas about us when we hear about it, but we believe it once we touch it. Most people don’t say “no, I won’t go visit your shelter, I won’t go visit your encampment”. Even if nothing else, it’s a great political win for them to say that they were out among the people. Most of the people who get elected have really good hearts and it’s really about how do you start to talk to their heart strings and then how do you work them through the logical arguments of why change is better.
Maybe in 2004, the mayor of San Jose at the time and the president of the board of supervisors at the time realized that more system level change was needed. At the same time, the federal government was calling for communities to develop 10 year plans to end homelessness, so they formed a blue ribbon commission on homelessness and led the community in a planning process for initiatives that needed change. After the blue ribbon commission was over, we realized that their needed to be an implementing organization and that’s when Destination: Home was created.
What can a city do on their own if the county isn’t focusing on homelessness as much as you are here?
What they can do is start to get the county’s buy-in. Sometimes there’s tension between cities and the county. The county crosses everyone’s jurisdiction. There’s always money issues between the two of them, not necessarily bad, but like how money’s are distributed. Counties have different access to different kinds of money than cities do. We have properties taxes and there are different opportunities. We have really created a lot of those opportunities here in Santa Clara County. We increased sales tax by half a cent three or four years ago. The idea behind doing that was to make up for some of the loss of revenue from when the economy took a downturn in order to preserve essential services. We’ve been able to invest a lot of that money into permanent supportive housing and services for the homeless. It’s finding the people in the county who care about this. It’s finding the county departments that are the most financially impacted by the issue of homelessness or who already have a responsibility. Our department didn’t start out directly under the county executive. We started out in the Health and Hospital System. People were having trouble recovering from mental health and from substance abuse issues because they didn’t have housing. The person who is retired now, but who really was a catalyst for this, was the former director of our mental health department who took on some HUD grants early on because they were a benefit to the population she was serving. She also hired Ky to help oversee some mental health services state funding. Ky was able to identify how those resources could be used, then Jen advocated that we needed to create this position of Director of Homeless Systems. She selected Ky for this position. It was really about finding the champion at the government and who can get onboard with this issue and make it make sense and it has to be a person at a high enough level, like a director level of a department or a sub-department. Before Ky’s position was created, we had a manager level position over our department, but they didn’t have enough authority or influence to really make this work. The person also has to be willing to not stick within the boundaries of the status quo. Someone who doesn’t think the system has to exist the way it’s always existed. Nancy who is the now-retired director saw that things needed to change and that she could be part of that and that she needed to lead that. Ky also knows that things need to change and he’s not a typical bureaucrat. It has to be someone who’s willing to challenge the process, but in a collaborative way. No one wants to be told that they’re doing things wrong. It’s about understanding what each sides barriers or blocks or concerns are and working collaboratively towards a common goal.
When we made change early on, some of the biggest skeptics were the homeless service providers. With any sort of change effort, you have to build buy-in. The more engaged you can be with the people, and the more involvement they have in how the system changes, the more buy-in they will have. It’s not possible to do everything by consensus, but giving people the opportunity to provide feedback and be part of the process was really instrumental in the beginning. Making relationships with the key leaders in the homeless services system has been really important. We took some of the homeless services providers off of the board of our CoC also and that created a lot of fear. But it came down to showing them that their power exists in other ways. That they don’t necessarily have to be on the decision making board to have an influence. I’ve only worked in government for 2 years, so a lot of my leanings are much more non-profit based. What I would say to the non-profit providers is “be willing to change and be willing to think about how to modify what you’re doing both to be a participant in the solution and to contribute to the solution”. We don’t do all of this alone. It isn’t like the office of supportive housing is superman coming to take over the world. We issue millions of dollars in contracts. Over the years, our contracts to non-profits have changed so that they’re more efficient and more effective in the solution. We’ve increased the requirements, but we’ve also been willing to look at want the full cost is of doing this business. It’s making sure that the government funders understand the full cost of business and that the non-profits are being really transparent about that. For the government side, it’s important to consider how you don’t be a burden with your funding. You fund fully if possible, including their indirect overhead costs. We’ve been pretty good about that, but it’s taken us having a lot of general fund dollars to be able to have that flexibility.
Our housing opportunities is both vouchers or subsidies and units. We’ve funded units that are still to be built. We have a few projects that are just about to open, a couple that have already opened. What we know is that we have to build more because the existing housing stock isn’t enough.
One thing that’s been really successful in our veterans campaign is we have a landlord incentive program. If that landlord is willing to rent to a vet and they’ll enter into a year lease, then we’ll do a landlord incentive payment, I think it’s like $1,500 funded by the county for every lease that they do. People go into the landlord business to make money, so they’re driven by money. It’s having someone to manage the landlord incentive program, having folks who are dedicated to looking for housing (contracted out to non-profits), and it’s being willing to house people where the housing is available, but it’s also according to their choice. This is a way to involve the other cities in the county. Are their opportunities in other cities with more vacancy. We have one non-profit that handles our landlord incentive program. Another non-profit is our rental assistance program administrator. Any time we have more money for subsidies, it goes into the pot and this agency writes the checks and they do the housing inspections, and they have housing specialist who’s job it is to make and maintain landlord relationships. Once you find a group of landlords, because there aren’t that many of them, you have to build the relationship. It’s like fund development. You also need to have staff who stick with the clients and can respond to their concerns as they have them, like people not knowing how to be good tenants, maybe having too many guests over, maybe doing some property damage. We have funds to help cover damages. It’s not often that it happens, but it’s often enough. It’s making sure that the service staff are connected enough to the landlords, that they’re out at the property, that they’re visiting the tenants. The landlord tenant relationship still needs to be maintained though.