Homeless Advocates Need To Make Sure That Shelters Connect To Housing, Here’s Why

This is part 1 in a series of posts with information, articles and webinars regarding
Emergency Homeless Shelters



By: Tim Houchen
October 4, 2018 —

In July, I attended the National Conference on Homelessness in Washington D.C. Of the many workshops that were available for me to attend, I chose those workshops that were related to either Homeless Employment or Homeless Shelters. 

I had determined that these two subjects would be important in the near future, so I went to as many workshops as possible on both subjects. Unfortunately, there were more workshops on employment and shelters that I couldn’t go to them all.

The nice thing about the conference is that for that same reason, they post the information shared at the workshops in an app and a website. It took two months for them to post, but I now am adding the notes I had already with the new information so that I can share with you the latest best practices in employment and shelters.

There is a lot of information for me to process and for you to digest, so stay tuned for more shelter articles coming up and then eventually I will get into more really great information about what is being done elsewhere in terms of employment for persons experiencing homelessness. It is also incredible.

Ending homelessness here in Orange County has come to a complete standstill. From the looks of things, there might be homeless shelters going up in Anaheim and Santa Ana. There still doesn’t seem to be any plan in South County yet.

At any rate, the sense of urgency to create space to shelter homeless persons is null despite the orders of Federal Judge David Carter that the County and the Cities collaborate and work together to devise solutions to care for the more than  2,500 unsheltered homeless persons in Orange County.

It looks like for now, there will be approximately 800 – 1,000 shelter beds available by Spring. But, as the waiting game continues, it’s difficult to say for sure when they will actually come on line.

My experience tells me that politically speaking, most of the people in office that are up for re-election would rather wait until after the election to move forward with the shelters rather than risk retaliation from constituents at the polls.

Regardless of when or where these facilities will exist, it looks to me like we are stuck with shelters as the only response to the homeless crisis from our local governments. For the moment anyway.

From what I understand, the planned 2,700 units of permanent supportive housing that was introduced by ACC-OC earlier this year is still moving forward. I’m having a hard time seeing that happen if left up to the same people who are in charge of that now.

Let’s not forget also, the housing trust fund was signed by Governor Brown and there is a ballot measure in November that potentially would provide $2 Billion for housing the homeless in California. So, there are opportunities to increase housing for the homeless, but only if we remain vigilant and make sure that these things are implemented properly to our advantage.

As advocates for the homeless and affordable housing, it will have to be our responsibility to make sure that homeless shelters will connect with housing because anyone that knows anything about homelessness knows that homelessness does not end until homeless persons become housed persons.

I just do not have enough faith that our leaders today have the political will necessary to ensure the future development of the housing first model as a sure means of ending homelessness.

My main concerns are that the County and Cities will work together enough to satisfy Judge Carter and once he is off of their backs they will put housing on a back burner.

Next, the homeless shelters will become full and the operators of the shelters will limit the amount of time that people can stay at the shelter because there are other people waiting to get in. When their time is up, they will be cycled back into the streets.

Since few homeless people are getting into housing, the numbers of visibly homeless people on the streets will continue to increase. If the shelters that are opened are not connected to housing, this is 100% for sure what will happen. It doesn’t take a genius to do the math.

Imagine this scenario. After spending millions of dollars on the shelters and the numbers of visibly homeless people increase on the streets, and they will increase if there is not sufficient housing, who will politicians and the general public blame? Of course, homeless people will be falsely blamed.

Emergency homeless shelters play a critical, often life-saving role in providing a safe place for people during a housing crisis. But, a bed in a shelter alone is only a temporary fix. It is our responsibility as homeless advocates to make sure that our communities remain focused on solutions that are consistent with the Housing First approach to ending homelessness.

These shelters that are being proposed need to be designed from day one to connect with housing. Every shelter needs to have an entrance and an exit into housing or they are destined for failure. Today’s homeless shelters are entirely different than those in the past. Do not rely on the people in charge to know the difference between the two.

If the only response is more shelter, each new shelter will quickly fill up, and unsheltered homelessness will continue to grow. But each person who moves from shelter to housing creates another open bed for a person who is currently on the streets.

The math is simple. If 100 people each month are becoming homeless in a community, then 100 people each month must exit into housing. Otherwise, shelters will fill up and stay full, and the number of unsheltered people will keep rising.

While many communities have a need for more shelter, this is not the only answer.

Using tenant-based approaches to rehousing people is a way to have a quick impact, often far quicker than opening new shelters.  100-day challenges have helped communities pull off what was thought of as impossible. Communities have housed 100, 200, or even 300 homeless people in a concerted 100 day push.

In communities where there is resistance to opening new shelters, a strong effort to house more people can show immediate results, and help establish a culture that refuses to tolerate long stays either in shelters or on the streets.

Pay close attention to the following Housing First formula that can work as a tool for measuring the performance of the shelter and as a tool for allocating resources and determining a budget for how many units of housing are needed.

The national goal set by the HEARTH Act is that no one should stay homeless for more than 30 days. This is a doable target, based on what leading communities have accomplished.

There are 30 days in a month, and 12 months in a year. So, each new shelter bed should come with an annual budget to provide rapid re-housing or permanent supportive housing to 12 people per bed.

If you multiply 12 people per year for each bed and the number of beds in the shelter, you can come up with the number of people that the shelter can graduate into housing in a year’s time.

For instance, a shelter with 100 beds could move 1200 people off of the streets in one year’s time. In this case the goal set by the HEARTH Act of 30 days stay per person at the shelter would be met with 100% performance rate. If only 900 people were housed out of the possible 1200 according to HEARTH, the rating would be 75%, about a C+ by high school exam standards.

If the number of people that can pass through the shelter into housing can be measured then the number of units needed can be assessed and the costs for housing can be budgeted in advance.

That way, each community has the resources to move someone out of that bed and into a new home once a month all year long.

For communities dealing with large increases in unsheltered homelessness, HousingFirst is still the key to a solution.

See other articles from a series on Homeless Shelters below

Part 2 Webinar: The Critical Role of Emergency Shelters In A Crisis Response System

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About the Author

Tim Houchen
Tim Houchen was homeless and living at the Santa Ana Civic Center between 2011 and 2015. He began advocating for the homeless community there while he was still homeless as a founding member of the infamous Civic Center Roundtable. The “grass roots” organization was composed of homeless individuals living at the civic center and Houchen was elected to serve as the groups first official spokesman in 2014. Tim is now in permanent supportive housing and lives in the City of Anaheim where he serves as a Commissioner of Housing and Community Development. Tim is also a member of the Orange County Continuum of Care and serves as Co-Chairman of the Homeless Providers Forum. He founded the nonprofit, Hope 4 Restoration, in 2017 and serves as Executive Director of the organization. Houchen created this site as a vehicle to share his knowledge, information and most of all, his experience which allows him to view the current homeless crisis in Orange County from a different and very unique perspective, a “Homeless Perspective.”

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