Believe It, or Not: “Housing First” is the Law in California

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By: Tim Houchen
May 10, 2019 —

That’s right folks, mark your calendars because Monday July 1, 2019 will be a big day for persons experiencing homelessness and homeless advocates alike throughout California. On that day, the Housing First model for ending homelessness becomes the law of the land here in California.

SB 1380 was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2016 and requires that a state agency or department that funds, implements or administers a state program that provides housing or housing-related services to people experiencing homelessness to adopt guidelines and regulations to include Housing First policies.

The bill would also establish the Homeless Coordinating and Financing Council to oversee the implementation of the Housing First guidelines and regulations and, among other things, to identify resources, benefits, and services that can be accessed to prevent and end homelessness in California.

After Gov. Brown signed the bill in 2016, the CA Department of Housing & Community Development spent the next year putting a council together and in October of 2017, the freshly appointed members of the Homeless Coordinating and Financing Council met for the first time ever in Sacramento.

By July 1, 2019, agencies and departments administering state programs in existence prior to July 1, 2017, shall collaborate with the coordinating council to revise or adopt guidelines and regulations that incorporate the core components of Housing First, if the existing guidelines and regulations do not already incorporate the core components of Housing First.

See SB 1380 Homeless Coordinating
and Financial Council (2015-16)

After some researching on SB 1380, I found this bill to be strangely familiar with the federal strategy for ending homelessness, especially with the housing first philosophies thrown in and all. Myself and other homeless advocates are already quite familiar with the federal government version of housing first, but the first thing I want to do is compare them with each other. Are they one of the same or is their a different brand of housing first that we need to be aware of?

As it turns out, the state and federal definitions are the same and the reason why this idea was so strangely familiar to me is because it is the product of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH). If you want to advocate for homeless solutions, you had better know about USICH.

USICH is an independent federal agency within the U.S. executive branch that leads the implementation of the federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness. USICH is advised by a Council, which includes the heads of its 20 federal member agencies. USICH also partners with state and local governments, advocates, service providers, and people experiencing homelessness to achieve the goals outlined in the first federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness, Opening Doors (2015) and the updated strategy in, Home Together (2018).

The mission of USICH is to:

Coordinate the federal response to homelessness and to create a national partnership at every level of government and with the private sector to reduce and end homelessness in the nation while maximizing the effectiveness of the Federal Government in contributing to the end of homelessness

When President Obama signed Title 42 U.S. Code or otherwise known as the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing, (HEARTH) Act of 2009, USICH was charged with executing section 11320 which encouraged state involvement by establishing Interagency Councils on Homelessness in each state.

California’s first attempt to create a council failed when AB 1167 died in the State Senate in 2012. The Federal Government came back a year or so later and provided a little more encouragement and SB 1380 became California law in 2016.

SB 1380 established our State Interagency Council on Homelessness, but gave the council a different name. Today that council is called the
Homeless Coordinating and Financing Council. The council began meeting every three months beginning in late 2017. The law mandates that all housing and homeless services projects utilizing state funding must adopt to housing first policies by July 1, 2019.

So, our federal and state governments are bound together with a uniform strategy for ending homelessness, but the key to the overall success of the strategy is collaboration on all levels of government plus our communities, business leaders, advocates, service providers, and people experiencing homelessness. Yes, even homeless persons themselves need to participate in this strategy according to the federal government.

It is ever so important that advocates for solutions to homelessness add this new legislation to their advocacy toolkit. Our county and our cities need to be reminded that not only is there a uniform strategy, but there is also a law that governs how state funds are spent.


Looking for info regarding housing and homelessness?
Go to the Library!

More articles for you, from Tim Houchen —

No Change in Climate for San Clemente’s Homeless

San Clemente: Eager to Enforce Homeless Camping Ordinance, But Slow to Provide Shelter Plan

Orange County Homeless Solutions Will Require Shelters and Housing First

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