Mary Lou Goeke, Monica Martinez and Gary Merrill: There are solutions to homelessness

By Mary Lou Goeke, Monica Martinez and Gary Merrill

Special to the Sentinel

POSTED:   10/26/2013 01:18:34 PM PDT

 

We all want a Santa Cruz County without homelessness, and together we can get there. We do not need to reinvent the wheel to turn the corner on this communitywide problem. There are existing smart solutions to homelessness that have been proven to be successful here and in other communities and by implementing these solutions, our entire community can benefit from programs that are cost effective, evidence-based, and measurable.

Right now, Santa Cruz County finds itself in a highly opportune moment. New data has been released through the 2013 Homeless Census and Survey, new recommendations are being gathered, and much dialog is occurring about how to respond effectively to homelessness in our community.

We know from national data reported over the past two decades that homelessness is not just a local concern -- it is a broad societal issue with many systemic root causes. Instead of taking a Band-Aid approach to solving homelessness or shifting the location of the problem to different areas of the community, we must address these underlying root causes.

Some of these systemic root causes can be likened to faucets pouring a steady stream of people into homelessness, both locally and across the nation. For example, one faucet is the current foster-care system which is not adequately resourced to effectively prepare youth with the skills they need for self-sufficiency. As a result, data shows that 1 in 2 foster youth will experience homelessness. In addition, while the level of support for our returning veterans is improving we still know that 1 in 8 vets will become homeless and cuts to mental health care have caused many people to fall through the cracks. And lastly, we all recognize that a weak economy has led to unemployment that often results in loss of housing.

Fortunately, by implementing evidence-based, cost effective and measurable smart solutions, many cities have already decreased homelessness by more than 25 percent, and are making rapid progress toward curing this epidemic.

Some examples of smart solutions in action:

  • Permanent Supportive Housing: Provides permanent housing along with the supportive services necessary for the most chronically homeless individuals to stay off the street and out of our emergency response systems such as emergency rooms, hospitals, and jails. The 180/180 program is a local effort to implement PSH to the most medically vulnerable among this population and has already housed 102 people over the last year. This approach is been shown to reduce the cost of emergency services by up to 75 percent in other communities.
  • Homelessness Prevention: Provides temporary, financial assistance to individuals and families that are at immediate risk of losing their home, thereby preventing homelessness before it's very costly downward spiral begins. Minneapolis decreased its number of homeless families by 43 percent by implementing a homelessness-prevention program.
  • Foster Youth Support Programs: Help youth ages 15-24 to make a healthy transition into adulthood. Currently, 50 percent of all foster youth experience homelessness in the first 12-24 months after exiting the foster care system. With the support of transitional housing, 92 percent exit into stable housing. The cost is $25,000 a year versus $45,000 for incarceration, or $215,000 in a mental hospital.

Let's begin to picture a Santa Cruz County without homelessness by identifying and implementing Smart Solutions that address both immediate and long term needs. This is OUR community and together we can get there!

Mary Lou Goeke is executive director of United Way of Santa Cruz County, Monica Martinez is executive director of the Homeless Services Center, and Gary Merrill is a business consultant and member of the Smart Solutions to Homelessness Leadership Council.