André Chapman and Bob Nuñez: Homelessness can only be ended by preventive action

“Homelessness is an issue of social justice and fiscal responsibility.”
By André Chapman and Bob Nuñez
Special to the Mercury News

Posted:   06/26/2015 10:00:00 AM PDT

As advocates for underserved, disadvantaged youth and families in our community, we echo the eloquent statement in a recent op-ed by two Silicon Valley pioneers, John Sobrato and Michael Engh, that homelessness is an issue of social justice and fiscal responsibility.

Santa Clara County’s current strategy for fighting homelessness is through the lens of Behavioral Health and primarily focuses on the chronically homeless, as demonstrated in the Housing 1000 initiative. Those efforts are noble, but they pay little attention to moving upstream and serving children, youth and families with preventive strategies that reduce new entrance to homelessness.

Finally, the true effects of homelessness have been unmasked by the release of a six-year study (2007-2012) by Economic Roundtable, “Home Not Found: The Cost of Homelessness in Silicon Valley.” The findings paint a stark reality that we have spent over a billion dollars, $520 million per year, with little if any significant reduction in the homeless issue.

Imagine if the county had one department that could be visited by people facing eviction: the foster youth aging out of the system with no income; the disabled veteran who cannot keep up with his medical bills; or even the single mother of three whose husband was recently deported.

There is no need to invent this model program because it already exists.

Boulder County, Colorado, in 2008, while amid a severe financial crunch, merged its housing and human services departments, creating an opportunity for increased efficiency and better outcomes for the people served. A new initiative was underway called Any Door is the Right Door, which aims to serve each client who arrives at any office of the county or community, regardless of which department door an individual or family enters.

Frank Alexander, Boulder County’s Director of Housing and Human Services, was able to accomplish this through the support of the Title IV-E waiver that allows more flexible use of Federal funds. The Any Door is the Right Door model has been replicated across the country and studied by Casey Family Programs, a foundation dedicated to reducing foster care in the U.S. by researching supportive practices based on evidence of success.

In the Casey report, Declaration of Hope, is a list of several counties implementing their versions of Any Door is the Right Door, from Los Angeles and San Diego to Montgomery County, Maryland.

We need to provide a similar bridge without barriers, just as Boulder County merged departments into one Housing and Human Services Department. It was a radical change in the county’s culture, and leaders would not have gotten that far if they did not first shift their philosophy to recognize that waiting for a crisis to occur will never enable a county to catch up when you have a population struggling with chronic homelessness.

Rigorous efforts must be devoted toward developing preventive programs.

The leadership of Santa Clara County must act now to integrate county systems to permanently alleviate our homelessness crisis, and Any Door is the Right Door is the perfect solution.

André Chapman is chair and Bob Nuñez vice chair of the Santa Clara County Social Services Advisory Commission. They wrote this for this newspaper.

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