Feb 7, 2013

FromSanta Barbara Independent

Counting the Least of Us

Common Ground Santa Barbara conducts its second homeless survey

By Isabelle T. Walker

Ask any outreach worker what it takes to move an unhoused person from a shelter or street existence into a home, and they will answer that it takes not only perseverance and patience but luck ​— ​the bureaucratic stars have to align. Housing voucher applications require valid birth certificates and other documents, like military discharge papers. Disability and social security applications also require specific signoffs and hoops to be hurdled through. There are credit checks and background checks, which for most homeless persons, will hardly be endorsing. No wonder so many give up.

With all the credibility of the Housing Authority behind her, and a reputation for getting things done, Villarreal Redit got a uniquely positive response. Dubbed the Housing Placement Working Group, the more people of stature began to attend, people like David Lennon and Housing Authority Deputy Executive Director Rob Fredericks, the more others wanted to. Today, as many as 30 people show up for the meetings, either in person or via conference call. Staff from the county Housing Authority participate, as do staff from the county departments of Social Services; Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services; and Public Health; as well as Veterans Affairs reps; folks from Peoples’ Self-Help Housing; Community Housing Corporation; Casa Esperanza; the Rescue Mission; and more.

The group has been so effective at coordinating the elements of placement that the 100,000 Homes Campaign ​— ​which innovated the “Street to Home” system in Times Square in 2005 ​— ​took note. Last year, the campaign decided to study six cities that were using the Vulnerability Index as a tool to house their chronically homeless. Santa Barbara was one of the six. “There were several things we saw in Santa Barbara,” said Paul Howard, the 100,000 Homes’ data guru. “One of them is this [Housing Placement Working Group] that gets together twice a month to systematically remove barriers to getting these people into housing … It could be happening in other places, but we haven’t seen it.”

Most public housing authorities are brought kicking and screaming to the table if they come to the table at all, Howard said. But both Santa Barbara’s city and county housing authorities have amended their Section 8 administrative plans ​— ​which govern how federal housing vouchers are distributed ​— ​so that a percentage will be set aside for the chronically homeless.

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