First, a word of caution: San Luis Obispo County’s three-year “Housing First” program — aimed at moving 50 of the county’s most vulnerable homeless residents into permanent housing — is still in its early stage.
So far, though, the news is encouraging. Nine months into the program, all benchmarks have been met or exceeded.
In a county that’s struggled to find solutions to homelessness, that’s significant, and it echoes the success that other jurisdictions have encountered when they’ve offered permanent housing and case management services to chronically homeless people, rather than housing them in emergency shelters or short-term rentals.
Under the county’s threeyear contract with Transitions, the agency was to have permanently housed 17 individuals within the first nine months.
As of April 15, it had found housing for 27 clients. Most of them — 93 percent — are still in their new homes; two individuals left to live with family members.
The program has met other benchmarks:
Reduction in incarcerations. For clients with a history of incarcerations, the contract calls for a 50 percent reduction in “bed days” in jail. Of the 13 clients known to have a history of incarceration, none has been in jail since moving into permanent housing.
Reduction in citations and arrests. Again, the goal was a 50 percent reduction for those clients with a history of arrests. Of the 13 clients with a known criminal history, none has been arrested since moving into permanent housing.
Reduction in the number of “bed days” at the San Luis Obispo psychiatric health facility. The goal of a 50 percent reduction was met; among clients placed in housing, there have been two admissions averaging one day each.
Those are impressive statistics, but continued success of the program depends on the ability to find affordable housing. That’s proving diffi cult — which means longer waiting time for clients.
In the program’s first quarter, clients approved for housing had to wait an average of 12 days for a placement; by the second quarter, that had climbed to 55.6 days.
That’s not surprising, given the county’s multifamily vacancy rate is just 1.7 percent. On top of that, landlords must be willing to accept Section 8 rental assistance vouchers.
That’s a big hurdle; in California, landlords are not required to accept the federal vouchers, though some jurisdictions are starting to rethink that.
San Luis Obispo County is among those taking a closer look at Section 8 vouchers — an issue that arose when the Board of Supervisors debated whether to advocate for statewide legislation that would require landlords to accept the vouchers. Rather than make an immediate decision, in February the board referred the issue to the Homeless Services Oversight Council and other housing-related organizations.
The county is looking at other ways to increase housing for low-income renters. For example, it may partner with Family Care Network to buy nine units of affordable housing for homeless families.
That’s good, but it’s not enough.
The early success of 50 Now shows what can be accomplished, but without more housing units, the program will not be able to grow.
We strongly urge the Board of Supervisors to refocus on increasing the supply of affordable rentals. Tackling the Section 8 issue is one place to start.