Total Time 16:00
0:35 – How did the push to end homelessness start in Santa Clara County?
1:22 – How did you get support for this plan from the cities?
2:32 – How does collective impact work?
3:29 – Do homeless people flock to places that improve their housing and services?
4:44 – Do you bus people home?
5:13 – Tell me about the cost study?
6:45 – What is the Silicon Valley Triage Tool?
9:07 – Where is the money going to come from to build all these houses?
11:19 – How do you deal with opposition to new construction?
13:57 – Where should leadership come from on homelessness?
15:14 – Final thoughts?
Executive Director, Destination: Home
Interviewed on September 15, 2016
Tell me about your background and how you ended up in your current role?
I have been working in homelessness for 20 year. My uncle was a minister in Venice Beach. He had a church that opened its doors to anyone who needed it. It’s actually still there. So I learned early on that if people need help, then we have the means to help them and it’s the right thing to do. Then I got involved volunteering and started doing that after college.
I got a master’s degree in psychology, then I moved here and started working at the largest emergency shelter. I was with that organization for over 10 years and then joined Destination: Home about 6 years ago.
What is Destination: Home’s role and how did the county decided to structure it this way?
Destination: Home was formed out of a Blue Ribbon Commission that was chaired by the mayor of San Jose and president of the board of supervisors for Santa Clara County back in 2008. There was a big effort around shifting our community from managing homelessness to ending it. How do you do less of the immediate things and investment more in the solutions.
They create Destination: Home which is a public/private partnership convening organization for strategies to end homelessness.
How did the plan to end homeless by 2020 come about at this point in time?
There was a federal mandate in the early 2000s saying that every community had to have a 10 year plan to end homelessness. Our community’s plan was expiring in 2013 or 14. We needed a new 10 year plan, but city of San Jose had a plan to end homelessness, the county had a different plan, non-profits had different plans. So we said let’s all do it together and have one plan to end homelessness for the whole region that we all agree on. We led the facilitation of that which was endorsed by all the major jurisdictions and the county.
What decision making power does Destination: Home to influence policies at the various cities in the county?
I don’t know if it’s so much about power as it’s about collective impact. We’ve been really working hard with a lot of our elected officials in our partner cities to say “these are the things that work to end homelessness”. We did a proof of concept about 4 years ago. We said we’re going to house a thousand people to show you that it works. 86% of everyone that was houses is housed after 12 months and did a huge cost study that said how much we could save if we did more of this. So really a lot of talking around why this is beneficial for cities. Of course cities still run up again challenges. Neighbors are complaining about an encampment, enforcement has to happen. But generally I feel like we put a lot of energy investing in education around housing first and why housing is important. So we have been mostly lucky. Maybe it’s the area, maybe it’s understanding that there are solutions. We haven’t has any aggressive, counter-productive bills or legislation like that. But there’s certainly been a lot of community concern, especially in certain populations. So I think we’ve really tried to use data and information and also having people involved with Destination: Home who are well respected and influential and are able to say “hey, this is what we’re supporting, can you support this with us?”.
Homeless is concentrated in East Village in San Diego. How can we get support countywide to solve this when he problem is less apparent in other area?
We have the same problem here. San Jose has 70 or 65 or so percent of the entire homeless population is concentrated in one city. That city where the major concentration is needs to lead. We look at collective impact, which is large scale societal problems are not solved by any one entity. Homelessness is not anyone’s responsibility theoretically. HUD has some responsibility for housing at a federal level, but no one is satisfied with how they support communities. The state of Californian has not been a leader in housing or homelessness. So there’s no external national or state entity that is saying “here’s the guiding principles, we’re responsible for homelessness”. They’ve really clearly said that the responsibilities on you local communities. And so local communities have to be willing to accept that responsibility, and not just for people who are homeless, but for all of our community members who are complaining, suffering, traumatized by experiencing homelessness in their communities.
Collective impact says that we all work towards the same goal, but everyone makes the investments that are reasonable for those areas. For example, a new housing development that is creating new supportive housing is really important. Recently we had the City of San Jose put in 40 million dollars towards development and the County of Santa Clara guarantees the services that are really expensive and the Housing Authority guarantees the project based vouchers. Everybody is doing their part with the money they have, but the total package is a top shelf solution. That is one example of the kinds of things we are pushing. It’s really just the City of San Diego or the County of San Diego. It’s really a community response and collective impact is a model that is perfect for something like homelessness, so that’s what we do. Large scale problems require a broad community response, mutually reinforcing activities. These different types of applications of funding all in support of a shared, unified goal of ending homelessness. Generally with collective impact, there’s what is called a backbone organization that’s combination cheerleader, convener, cattle proper that’s making sure that this stuff is all happening, and that’s the role that Destination: Home has fulfilled. But by itself, Destination: Home can’t do much because by design it’s a small piece of the system change effort that’s happening.
It doesn’t have to be as complicated as we make it. Generally there’s arguing or tension between jurisdictions or governmental institutions for lot’s of different reasons, so it makes these partnerships touch. Destination: Home has leadership from different entities who are all together, so wether or not their disagreeing about other things like elections or traffic or whatever, we can come together on this unified idea that we’re responsible for homelessness. I don’t believe that until a community takes responsibility instead of pointing fingers at everybody else that you can really start to tackle it. Good people, which I believe most of us are, when they take responsibility for something have to do something about it.
There’s sometimes a focus by the public on homeless people coming to places where homeless services are good. Does Santa Clara County have a system for returning people to their city of origin instead of providing them housing? If so, what does this process look like?
I that is a myth. It’s something that people say out of concern or fear about creating more resources, “if you build it, they will come”. There’s nothing in the data anywhere that ever says that disproportionally there is a flocking of people to a community. If you, ask CoCs, and ours included, our majority of our homeless population is pretty stable. They’re from here. They’re born here. The ebb and flow of services hasn’t created this stampede coming to our community, but that is a concern that people have and I don’t want to dismiss it as not being important, but I think it’s important to separate fact from fiction. If you look at the HMIS in San Diego I’d bet that you’d see that the core of the homeless population are people who have been living there for a long time. And also, people have a right to move. I think that’s an unfortunate myth and I don’t think it’s the big problem. We have more people who move here for other reasons, especially in Silicone Valley. We’re a magnet for people from all over the world. We have a more stable homeless populations than non-homeless population.
You hear about cities paying for bus tickets to send people to other cities.
I know that here, if there’s a warm handoff, meaning, “hey I came out here. I thought I had a job. It didn’t work out. My mom lives in Orlando. I just can’t get back from her.” Called the mom and she’s says “yeah, totally, he can com back here, but I don’t have the money for a bus ticket”. Sure, do we help support that, yes. Is that a tiny fraction of the work, absolutely.
Tell me about the Silicone Valley Triage Tool.
You have to have a coordinated way of allocating resources until there are enough resources for everyone. We did a cost of homelessness study a couple of years ago called Home Not Found that showed us that we spend about half a billion dollars a year to services on homeless folks while they’re homeless, and of that number, about 10% of the homeless population is half of that money, so a couple thousand people are costing a quarter of a billion dollars. That’s crazy, right? We can do better than that. That’s tax dollars. How do you know that? We developed a mechanism to understand who folks are that are high cost. I equate high cost to high suffering. You’re not going to the ER 300 times if everything is alright. We coordinated resources to make sure the right resources are happening to the right people. Not everyone needs supportive housing in perpetuity. I think generally communities have had first come, first serve. That means that people who probably don’t need the help as much are getting it because they’re getting there and standing in line and getting there first and doing everything right. Also, supportive housing is really expensive. Do we want to pay somebody’s rent in perpetuity when we don’t need to. I don’t think that’s the right answer. You either prevent someone’s homelessness, you help them for a brief period of time, or they need a permanent subsidy because they’re permanently disabled. The cost study helped us understand that better.
The Silicone Valley Triage Tool is really an algorithm that uses predictive analysis that says “if you have these flags, you are right now a frequent high cost user, or you will be, if you don’t get help”, because of the pattern of system usage and it really doesn’t come down to a whole lot of different variables. That tool is opened-sourced and can be used by anybody who wants it, but you have to have a set of linked records. We had to at first go through a lot of work to link all the data inside the county of Santa Clara. That’s important because of healthcare, criminal justice, mental health, drug and alcohol, HMIS, all the systems that homeless folks use feed data to the system so that we can understand what the patterns are, what are the cost drivers, who’s suffering the most, and how do we house them. Prioritizing in that way makes sense if you’re looking at chronic homeless populations. It might not be how you want to prioritize for rapid rehousing. I don’t think there’s just one size fits all, but a coordinated assessment system which is more the job of the CoC, takes into account the triage tool, takes into account the VI-SPDAT or some sort of prioritization survey. “I only need a couple thousand bucks, pay my rent, pay for child care. I have a job. I’m going to be okay, so give me that. Don’t give me what I don’t need, which is housing for 50 years.” But the 65 year old who has diabetes and is in a wheel chair and is on fixed income isn’t going to be okay with a couple thousand dollars. They need help for a long time, so let’s give them that. By trying to reduce the system burden over time, that’s going to drive the total cost down. The Triage Tool identifies the people who are the most frequent system users.
We launched the first pay for success project for chronic homelessness last year. There’s a screening that happens, an identification that happens, they say, okay, you’ve been in the ER 300 time last year, you’ve been in in-patient psych, you’ve been arrested, you’re one of the higher service utilizers on the county. You get referred to this pay for success program, which is really a housing first program. As people are housed, all the service utilization is really dropping off.
What are the various sources of housing?
No affordable housing ever comes just from private developers. They develop it, but they use public money to do it. The housing authority has money, they want to develop project, so they partner with a private sector or affordable housing developers to develop the units. Historically funding has been a mix or tax credits, state money, HUD money, and some local match. That’s part of what takes so long, compile all the financing, deal with land use, get the projects developed. We have on our ballot, measure A, which is a 950 million dollar bond for affordable housing, with a heavy allocation for the type of housing that solves homelessness, extremely low income (ELI) housing, because we don’t have hardly any of it in our community. Most communities don’t. So how do we create more ELI housing? How do we create more supportive housing? That’s by giving the local jurisdiction a larger pot of money to use as leverage match to get projects going.
In the cost study, it showed that on average is cost about $60,000 per year on services to a homeless person, but only about $40,000 to put a roof over their head. What entities save that $20,000 per year?
The savings are going to come from the systems that people are over-consuming. Costs for health-care, corrections, criminal justice, mental health, and drug and alcohol programs, are generally born by the county. There are 800 people who use the emergency room at 6 o’clock on a Friday. Now there are 500 people. How do you reduce the tax burden that is allocated to people who don’t need to be over-consuming? It helps not only helps with savings of dollars, but also with service deliver and capacity. Our local tax dollars are what are funding the majority of these resources. Yes, there’s Medical, yes there’s federal money. But this is why we pay taxes to our local communities. This is how we fund these safety net services. When money is being provided to develop housing, again, if the government is funding it, it’s still tax dollars. We should want a more efficient use of our tax dollars no matter what the challenge or problem is. This is a vehicle to do it that way.
We’re not anywhere close to a position where there’s so many more resources than there are people who need it. There are safety nets for a reason. There are shelters for a reason. If you have 10 or 50 fewer people, is the non-profit making money? No, because they’re still a non-for profit. Can they provide more services for those who are there, yes. Can more people get that help, yes. A whole lot of people use our mental health systems. Only about 10 or 20 percent are homeless. That’s still a whole lot of other people who need those services.
Shelters are get people off the street for the night. They are great as an interim option on the path to permanent housing.
Affordable housing versus special housing for the homeless?
Affordable housing and housing for the homeless is the same. What is different are the services combined with that housing that makes housing successful for chronically homeless populations. I don’t think everyone who is homeless needs a bunch of services. But there is a percentage of people who have severe mental health issues, severe physical health, substance abuse. So you build an affordable housing complex and you allocate a percentage of those units to homelessness, which basically means lower rents. Affordable is tricky. I need affordable housing, you might need affordable housing. What I need is different than what someone else might need. So there’s not just one kind of affordable. There’s this spectrum of this much percentage of rents. Affordable might be $1,200, $600, or $300 per month. If you have nothing, you’ll be in this extremely low income bucket. Housing should look the same, but there are services that go with the housing to keep these people housed. We’ve been doing this very intentionally for about 5 years and 86% of everyone who has gotten into housing is still housed. SROs (single room occupancy) could be smaller, there could be more services, it might not be where you would want to live with a family of 4 because the units are too small. I’m not saying that all housing is created equal, but the idea that shelters are the magic sauce is not true unless it’s combined with a path to permanency. People don’t get into a shelter and nothing else changes, and then get into housing. The reason that some people are homeless is because there’s not enough housing that they can afford. And some people have even more challenges that have made it harder for them to find housing.
There’s the goal of housing 6,000 people. Where is all this housing going to come from?
Everyone thinks that housing is a good idea, but no one wants to disrupt their environment to make it happen. This is where the elected leadership is so, so important. If you don’t have people elected to your city councils or your board of supervisors who are willing to champion housing in their districts, it’s not going to happen. The general resistance, wether it’s for seniors or kids or whoever, is “no”. That NYMBYism is understandable because we live in such a fear based culture, but also not helpful in terms of solving the problem. You can’t just say get them out of the park without somewhere for them to go. Housing is the answer. Creating housing is the job of our city councils, our board of supervisors, our housing authorities, our water districts, these are the jurisdictions that can make housing happen. Here, that’s the biggest lift that we have. Having all the jurisdictions agree to affordable and then how they want to design the for their communities. Mixed use. A mix of teacher housing, and service worker housing, and housing that’s for homeless folks. It’s all in the same complex.
Our local elected officials have a huge opportunity and also an obligation to be looking at the planning and needs for everybody who live in our communities. Just not liking something doesn’t make it go away. The solution is not going to be what everybody in your constituency wants. People don’t always want more development, but we have erred on the side of not developing affordable housing for so long, at the state level with no new redevelopment funds, at the federal level with no new dollars for this stuff, and locally for being timid on development for a really long time. Who approves the housing? It’s the people who are in our planning and the people in our housing departments, but ultimately, it’s our elected officials. Do our communities need understand the befits of housing and do we need to make sure that we’re talking a lot about why this is helpful? Of course, but then we also need courageous, committed, people serving in elected office that want to look not just at education and at roads, all these other things that make up your community, but how were looking at the housing allocation for people across the spectrum, or you have rampant homelessness. It’s too big of a problem to think that it’s that guy in the tents fault. We have so many people who are outside, so many people who are struggling, we have system failure on so many levels, and yet there’s a really reasonable answer in solving it.
We’re really excited about this 950 million dollar bond. I know it’s been tough for every jurisdiction in California since the end of state redevelopment funding. And even then prioritizing housing for the homeless was not at the top of everybody’s radar. More resources obviously gives us the opportunity to do more, wether it’s a sales tax, a general obligation bond, there are different mechanisms. LA is doing a housing bond. San Francisco is doing something. Alameda and San Mateo counties all have housing bonds on their ballot. We’ve recognized that we need more resources to mitigate our housing crisis. The next layer is how do allocate that to prioritize really solving homelessness. Just creating more affordable housing isn’t just the answer. You have to do the deepest levels of affordability.
You don’t want veterans, seniors, kids, families, kids aging out of foster care… for all of these, housing is medicine for everybody. It doesn’t have to be this wack-a-mole game of just moving people all over. It’s inhumane. It’s not solving anything. And it’s making everybody crazy, from people who have to mitigate camps to law enforcement. It’s a merry-go-round that doesn’t need to keep going.
This bond is hopefully 950 million more dollars, and that will be leveraged with state and federal dollars so that we can develop 4 or 5 thousand units of housing. HUD money, tax credits, state bonds, cap and trade, so it’s not like just the local government is paying for it. You’re talking about leverage and blending, which is what happens now, but generally there’s no local source here for this kind of housing, so create a local source that can be used to leverage the other sources.
Can philanthropy, when there’s so much private sector money, be used for capital and development? Of course. Is it the right role for philanthropy to pay for housing subsidies forever? That’s a better public sector role, when you’re looking at how you’re subsidizing somebody’s rent in perpetuity. For development, sure. For innovation, sure. For modeling around faster, more modern types of development, of course. The innovation isn’t going to come from the government. The innovation can come from the private sector. The private sector can fund new services, proof of concepts. The private sector funded our chronic homelessness work the first year because we wanted to show the government that if we house people, they’ll stay housed. We know that this is true. And they said, “okay, well, show us”. And we did. The roll for philanthropy is to invest in solution that are working to compliment public dollars. I don’t think it’s the right expectations that the private sector solve these problems on their own. That goes against the collective impact model.
Who is responsible for homelessness in the Silicone Valley? At the end of the day, is it Google? No. Does tech have a role in causing more homelessness? Okay, the housing supply. But whose responsibility is it really to solve it? Where’s the safety net? The safety net is here at the County of Santa Clara. Our county has done an incredible job of saying, “yes, we get it. These are our folks. Why don’t we serve them more efficiently, better outcomes, heal them, and ease the burden on the community.” It’s a total no-brainer.
Sounds like the county is more important in this than the cities?
The cities are really important too because they make the decisions around land use. They have money for development. They’re so important. I don’t think that one partner is more important, but it’s who has accepted the responsibility. I would say here, the county has accepted the nucleus of responsibility for ending homelessness with the cities being right at the front seat partners in this. But who provides the mental health care, the health care, the criminal justice, who provides these safety net services? That’s where you have to look. In some places it’s the city. In San Francisco, it’s the city and county together. I’m not saying it should be this way everywhere. The county’s job already generally is to be a helper. They treat the sick. If there’s a better way to treat the sick, if they are coming to you sick and un-housed, what’s our response? You’re treating the sick anyways, so let’s add this stuff in if they’re showing up (to the hospital) homeless. For a long time, it was just treating the symptom. Homeless people are homeless, and then they see me for psych or they seem me for medical, but not treating the underlying trauma which is the lack of a place to live. Housing is the best medicine that I have ever seen.