SONOMA COUNTY TASK FORCE FOR THE HOMELESS
PROGRAM UPDATE

January 29th, 2016

Emergency Food and Shelter Needs: Homeless numbers counted in January 2015 may have declined by up to 28% since 2013 to 3097*. An improved economy and rapid re-housing efforts are credited with the decline. Yet 2/3 – over 2200 – remain unsheltered due to lack of shelter & housing. A new Count is underway as of January 29th with results by June. Yet our homelessness rate remains three times the national average. County rents are among the fastest rising in the US. Increasingly, homeless people state eviction as the cause. Local jurisdictions are exploring solutions to stabilize rents and create more affordable homes. The Board of Supervisors has taken a new direction that hold long-term promise for effectively ending homelessness by creating homeless-dedicated housing. “Building Homes: A Policy Maker’s Toolbox for Ending Homelessness” offers tools to create 2200 new homes intended to end homelessness within 10 years. While the $110 Million of government funds needed over that time seems high, that’s $11 million/year – certainly attainable with the cooperation of local cities. Meanwhile there is a desperate need for “Interim Measures” to help those still outside. These include Safe Parking and indoor shelter expansions, and sanctioned areas where people can camp and access sanitation and services. The County’s Cold Weather Plan includes a hotline, winter shelter expansions, and warming centers, but is weather-driven and difficult to run. Sonoma County has established the Homeless Outreach Services Teams (HOST) to reach and support people where they are and house the most vulnerable as possible. The SAY Dream Center now also provides a vital new alternative for youth.

*Count may be low since encampments may be more hidden due to increased enforcement actions.

Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP) Funding: The Task Force chairs the EFSP Local Board and administers these federal funds that originate with FEMA and go to local agencies. Funds are shrinking and are now arriving well over a year late, but every penny is vital to shelter and feed our residents who’ve lost their homes and continue to do so due to skyrocketing rents.

Health Care for the Homeless: The Task Force convenes the Health Care for the Homeless Collaborative (HCHC), our hospitals, clinics, ambulance, substance abuse, mental health and homeless services ensuring access to integrated care. We’ve helped grow the Brookwood Health Center; launched Catholic Charities Nightingale Respite Program (13 beds) and supported COTS’ Respite Program (5 beds) for recuperative care. We initiated the Care Transitions Program to help people with complex medical and social issues. We hold monthly Interdisciplinary Client Support Conferences to bring the wisdom of multiple disciplines to bear on resolving difficult client situations. We’re now developing a Serial Inebriate Program to stabilize chronically intoxicated people. An HCHC cost study showed that this group costs our community over $9 Million/year without receiving needed treatment. We’re working with hospitals, law enforcement, drug treatment services, the Courts, the Department of Health, emergency medical transport, insurers, and more to launch a new interdisciplinary system to move heavy substance abusers into treatment.

Collaborative Program Development: With the Courts, local agencies, and housed and homeless advocates, we’re ready to launch a new Homeless Court in 2016 to help people with traffic or “homeless” infractions like illegal camping, trespassing, or public drinking or urination. The Homeless Court will offer community service in lieu of fines people can’t pay. We also revived the Voicemail Program last year, and informed and supported Seen and Heard the Central Library’s Expressive Arts Program for homeless people.

Homeless Resource Guides: We publish English and Spanish print and online editions of this popular pocket Guide, intended primarily for unsheltered homeless people. The most recent update at www.sonomacountyhomeless.org includes live service agency web links and maps.

Winter Warmth: In 2014-15 we distributed 8,211 coats, jackets, blankets, sleeping bags rain gear, tents backpacks, hygiene supplies, and new socks and underwear that were generously donated by our community. We’ve distributed 4,456 items so far this season and will exceed last year’s numbers. We distribute every 2 weeks October through June through 30-35 service programs countywide. People especially need sleeping bags, tarps, tents, rain gear and new socks and underwear. Donations of survival items (especially multiple items from drives) are needed. Over 2,200 of our homeless residents remain unsheltered this El Nino winter!! Many thanks to the County Department of Health for our storage and distribution space, and to our generous Volunteers & Donors of these desperately needed items!

Advocacy: The Task Force backs implementation of “Building Homes: A Policy Makers Toolbox . . . that explores innovative housing solutions like tiny or manufactured homes, renovated RVs, or small apartments. We support more bathroom and shower availability, more indoor shelter, and are excited that the County is now open to ways for people who must still sleep outside to be safe, stable, and to access services. We support relevant local, state and federal policies and legislation. In 2013 we convened concerned residents to form “Homeless Action!”, an effective independent grassroots advocacy group.

Housing: Sonoma County is facing an extreme housing crisis, especially difficult for people with low incomes. We work to create opportunities to expand availability of affordable homes and Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) with services for homeless people with disabilities.

Public General Meetings: The Task Force convenes regular public General meetings offering a pathway to personal and organizational involvement in ending local homelessness and a forum for collaboration on common issues. We meet on the first Monday of each month (2nd Monday in September) from 9:30 – 11:00 am at the First United Methodist Church, 1551 Montgomery, Santa Rosa. All are invited.

Website: www.sonomacountyhomeless.org is content-rich, comprehensive, navigable and secure. The Resource Guide is online, as are our newsletters, information and links on homelessness, and much more.

Reporter Newsletter –We publish twice a year, along with e-mail bulletins to keep you informed. Issues are archived at www.sonomacountyhomeless.org

The Task Force Depends on YOU. Our community has sustained us since 1981 via donations, memberships, events and bequests. The Task Force has two staff, our Executive Officer at .66 time, and our .5 time Operations Manager. We have a collegial, active Board, dedicated volunteers, and YOUR VITAL SUPPORT! THANK YOU!!

THE TASK FORCE MISSION Is To Act As A Convener And Leadership Resource, Bringing The Community Together To End Homelessness And Assist People Who Have Lost Their Homes.

THE TASK FORCE IS SEEKING BOARD MEMBERS DEDICATED TO OUR MISSION AND TO A COLLABORATIVE APPROACH TO CHANGE! TO GET INVOLVED, CONTACT:

Georgia Berland, Executive Officer, 431-7559 or gberland@aol.com for Housing, Health Care for the Homeless, Emergency Food and Shelter, Advocacy, Newsletter, Website (content & design), Planned Giving, General Meetings, Collaborative Program Development, Housing, and Board membership.

OR

Fawn Moran, Operations Manager, at 575-4494 or sctfhmls@pacbell.net for Resource Guide, Winter Warmth, October in Paradise and other Events, Website (technical oversight & donations), Operations, and to Volunteer or Donate.