In the two years since San Luis Obispo County supervisors took a chance on a new program to provide housing for the county’s 50 most chronically homeless individuals, 70 people have been placed into housing.
Of those, 50 people are still living in housing provided by the 50Now program, an outcome that county supervisors praised Tuesday while acknowledging the many more individuals in the county who are still sleeping on the streets, in creekbeds and other hidden areas.
“It’s important for us to feel good about the things that are working, but we can’t overlook the bigger picture, which goes far beyond our resources,” Supervisor Adam Hill said while showing a photo of a man who he said was sleeping at noon on the steps of the county government center. “If we don’t have more housing ... we’re just going to see people continue to be sleeping on the very doorsteps of the people they need help from.”
The supervisors voted unanimously to ask county staff to look into extending its contract with Transitions-Mental Health Association, which launched the program in September 2014 in collaboration with the county and the Housing Authority of San Luis Obispo.
The contract approved in August 2014 with Transitions is currently in its third and final year, but it provides for three one-year renewals.
“It was a risk,” said Supervisor Debbie Arnold, who serves as chair of the county’s Homeless Services Oversight Council. “It’s new and it’s been a fabulous success and it’s doing more than it was designed to do.”
The program is founded on a concept being tested across the country, that housing the most vulnerable clients lessens their number of visits to the emergency room, county jail or the county psychiatric health facility. The goal is to house the individuals and then surround them with services such as drug, alcohol and mental health treatment.
“I think the case management part is the glue that holds everything together,” said Mark Lamore, team leader with Transitions’ Homeless Services Program.
Data from the county and Transitions shows an overall reduction in the number of days program participants spent in jail and the number of times they visited an emergency room. Of 54 people placed into housing six months or more prior to Oct. 12, 72 percent had remained in permanent housing (another 7 percent left for permanent housing with family).
In addition, 100 percent of the program participants improved their self-sufficiency, according to a staff report.
Of the 70 people placed into housing (including six family members), 48 have had a mental health diagnosis as part of a mental health assessment, Transitions executive director Jill Bolster-White said.
Of the 20 people who have left the program, four have died, four were reunited with family, three voluntarily left, one was referred to a skilled nursing facility, and eight were asked to leave the program because of ongoing, persistent violations of Housing First rules (such as not paying rent), Bolster-White said.
Supervisors said they would like to see the program expand, but the lack of affordable housing could prove to be a challenge. The Housing Authority provided a housing subsidy through a federal rental assistance program to help pay the majority of rent for each of the clients.
“Our biggest focus is really trying to keep these folks stable and housed,” Bolster-White said. “The conversation going forward is really how do we want to maintain something like this.”