By RICHARD HALSTEAD | firstname.lastname@example.org | Marin Independent Journal
PUBLISHED: April 14, 2019 at 6:33 pm | UPDATED: April 15, 2019 at 6:20 am
As a percentage of the overall population, Marin County has the seventh highest homeless concentration of any county or metropolitan area in the United States, according to a new Bay Area Council Economic Institute report.
“By virtually every measure, the Bay Area’s homeless crisis ranks among the worst in the United States,” the report states.
It notes that the Bay Area has the third largest population of people experiencing homelessness – 28,200 – in the U.S., behind only New York City, 76,500 and Los Angeles, 55,200, according to federally-mandated point-in-time counts. Counts take place every two years. Marin last counted the homeless in January. In 2017, counters found 1,117 homeless people in Marin. In 2015, there were 1,309.
The report presents a series of recommendations for addressing the crisis focusing on the need for fostering more regional collaboration among cities, counties and the state.
“The Bay Area’s homeless crisis is a regional humanitarian crisis that does not abide traditional local boundaries,” Micah Weinberg, president of the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, said in a statement. “One city, one county alone cannot solve homelessness, but that’s largely how we’ve been approaching it.”
Key recommendations in the report include: creation of a California Homeless Services Agency to consolidate existing state programs; require regional homeless management plans that must be updated every two years; provide a state tax credit program to finance construction of housing for extremely low-income households; significantly increase the supply of permanent supportive housing, emergency and longer-term shelters across the region; explore ways to simplify the approval process for new affordable housing; and improve prevention and diversion programs to keep people experiencing housing insecurity in their homes.
According to the report, 64 percent of Marin’s 10,500 extremely low-income households spend more than 50 percent of their income on rent. The report also states that from 1999 to 2014 Marin jurisdictions fell 2,000 units short of meeting a state target for issuing permits for very low-income affordable housing units.
Ashley Hart McIntyre, the county’s homeless policy analyst, said she’d love to see the creation of a California homeless services agency.
“That would be amazing,” McIntyre said. “Right now we’re managing funds from multiple state agencies that don’t always know what the others are doing.”
McIntyre said as the report mentions the San Francisco nonprofit HomeBase has already begun facilitating meetings between representatives from the Bay Area’s nine counties and 11 largest cities.
“We’ve been meeting quarterly to talk about ways in which regional support can benefit all of us,” McIntyre said. “The primary piece of work we’re starting with is data sharing across county lines.”
McIntyre also said the report’s emphasis on the importance of diversion programs to keep people from falling into homelessness was well-founded. She said Marin County and St. Vincent de Paul Society of Marin have recently received state funding for a new local diversion effort.
Andrew Hening, San Rafael’s homeless planning and outreach director, said, “There is a hunger among the providers and the policy makers for more regional and state collaboration; hopefully this report will spark that.”
Hening also liked the report’s emphasis on homelessness prevention. “In San Rafael, we’re looking at things like mandatory mediation and a just cause ordinance,” Hening said. “ It seems those are emerging best practices for prevention.”
Caroline Peattie, executive director for Fair Housing Advocates Northern California, agreed with the report’s finding that an effective measure to keep tenants facing eviction in their homes is to provide them with legal counsel. “If they reach one of our staff members who can help them negotiate a little bit of additional time, that can make all the difference,” Peattie said. “As soon as you’re out and homeless it is way harder to gain some sort of stability.”
Mark Shotwell, Ritter Center’s executive director, said the report correctly points out that more money is needed to adequately fund programs placing the chronically homeless in permanent supportive housing. “The government funding for those approaches is far less than what we need to be able to meet the great need,” Shotwell said.
The report calls for the creation of a funding task force “to illuminate the complete flow of homelessness funds and build an accurate cost-to-serve model” that includes health care, the criminal justice system and housing costs.”
Shotwell said the public needs to know that placing the chronically homeless in housing can actually result in an overall cost savings when such costs as emergency room visits and incarceration are factored in.