By Jennifer Loving
For decades, homelessness throughout our nation has been overseen by a mix of federal and local partners committed to helping people in need. This diffuse leadership has resulted in the strength and resiliency of many incredible community partners.
However, we also needed political and institutional leadership to end homelessness. That means implementing a county-wide system with consistent funding and outcomes. Over the past several years we have been creating that system with our many partners, including the County of Santa Clara, the Housing Authority and City of San Jose.
We’ve assumed local responsibility for ending homelessness with county government leading the way, because of both its geographic reach and commitment to serving individuals and families in our safety net.
In the last five years we have expanded our coalition of agencies agreeing to take collective responsibility for systematically ending homelessness. Our work has taken many forms, including implementing a Permanent Supportive Housing system, where residents get the treatment or other services they need to remain stable; measuring our success based on quickly housing folks and ensuring their ability to stay in their homes and designing a plan to end youth homelessness.
Just last week, a new $3 million grant combining public and private funds was announced to prevent homelessness among families.
Our community’s recent accomplishments are tremendous. We’ve seen more than 1,457 formerly homeless individuals, families and youth, including more than 500 veterans, move into permanent housing in the first 10 months of 2016 alone. And 87 percent of chronically homeless individuals and families we have housed are still living in their homes after 12 months. We have 700 new units of supportive housing in development.
The County’s system for ending chronic homelessness is showing that supportive housing decreases unnecessary use of safety-net services, including costly emergency room visits. And the recently passed Measure A, with such heartening support, will finally provide the funding we need to dramatically increase the supply of permanent housing for our most vulnerable residents.
We are developing a dynamic system with every organization contributing toward the goal of making homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring. Our community has chosen to demystify ending homelessness and has committed to doing whatever it takes. We connect vulnerable people living in our streets to a stable place to live and to the services they need to thrive.
This simple and straightforward strategy works because everyone involved, our elected officials and community leaders, our system partners and community organizations have all agreed to a common set of outcomes with goals we can all measure. We are on the right road and still growing, as systemic changes don’t happen overnight.
For many in our community, it may not yet feel like homelessness has decreased. But remember, our crisis is one of the largest in the nation. We are slowly and steadily reducing the total number of people experiencing homelessness while other communities in California are still on the rise.
We are building a strong foundation, but we still face an exorbitant rental market with scarce vacancies. So this next step belongs to all of us, as we implement Measure A and create more affordable housing.
A healthy community is an inclusive one. Together we can create neighborhoods that are livable for all people, including disabled veterans, kids leaving foster care, working families, and seniors with chronic health conditions.
We’ve demonstrated that ending homelessness is possible. Now it’s time to bring these efforts to scale.