50Now, a program to house the 50 most vulnerable and chronically homeless individuals in San Luis Obispo County, is ahead of schedule and showing success in reducing the number of arrests, days spent in jail and emergency room visits among its participants.
The lack of affordable housing countywide, however, continues to be a challenge for the program, which first provides housing and then surrounds clients with services such as drug, alcohol and mental health treatment.
The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors, which approved a $1.9 million three-year contract with Transitions-Mental Health Association in August 2014 to start the program, lauded 50Now’s success during an update Tuesday.
They also briefly debated, but took no action on, how to make more housing available to the hundreds of homeless people in the county who sleep outside.
We’re seeing that housing-first works. The next thing to focus on is acquiring and building more housing.
County Supervisor Adam Hill
“It did strike me that the biggest constraint is actually finding roofs to put people (under),” Supervisor Bruce Gibson said. “I would think that once we get to 50 folks, we haven’t addressed all the vulnerable folks in our community. We have another 50 or 150 or 500 folks that we need to be working on.”
Gibson specifically pointed to Section 8 housing vouchers as one tool for housing more residents who are homeless. The Housing Choice Vouchers Program, often referred to as Section 8, is a federal program that provides subsidies to help very-low-income individuals and families rent apartments or homes at market rates.
Gibson wanted to have county staff bring back to the board a discussion of how to make Section 8 housing vouchers more widely accepted by landlords. A motion to do so failed, however, with Supervisors Lynn Compton, Debbie Arnold and Frank Mecham voting against it; Supervisor Adam Hill joined Gibson in voting in favor.
Compton pointed out that the board last year had twice debated whether to advocate for statewide legislation that would require landlords to accept Section 8. The idea was voted down both times, with Compton, Arnold and Mecham opposed.
As of Sept. 30, 44 people had been placed into housing, and 38 were still in the program. To date, 49 people have been placed and 40 remain in housing.
“A lot of landlords are willing to cooperate with their own community,” Arnold said. “Once you start handing them 12-page contracts with the federal government, that is a complete turnoff to them.”
She said the discussion would be more appropriate when the board discusses its federal legislative platform.
But there was general support for exploring ways to increase the county’s supply of affordable housing.
“We’re seeing that housing first works,” Hill said. “The next thing to focus on is acquiring and building more housing. We’re not going to get there with the housing we have now.”
Mecham suggested, and Compton agreed, that the county could look at how it could provide incentives to builders to provide housing “that would be acceptable to this type of program.”
We need to look at how we make more housing available by providing more incentives to builders.
County Supervisor Lynn Compton
“But we want to know from builders, what type of obstacles do you have in front of you that would preclude them from doing so,” Mecham said, “If it’s fees, the cost to build, we need to know that. Maybe we can help from the fee standpoint.”
For its part, Transitions-Mental Health reported that it’s been difficult to find homes that are affordable, accept pets, or that are accessible to people with disabilities. Still, 49 people identified as the most chronically vulnerable in the county have been placed into housing to date, and of those, 40 are still housed, program manager Mark Lamore said.
50Now is a collaboration between Transitions-Mental Health, the Housing Authority of San Luis Obispo, Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo Inc., and other partners.