“So what’s your solution?”
We hear that in CAN a lot, as if all we do is complain and not offer any solutions. We’ve pushed for transparency and accountability. Made suggestions that were ignored. Others offer simplistic “feel good” things that sound great but don’t address the underlying problems.
Fact is we won’t end homelessness and we won’t improve our community until some hard truths are acknowledged. As outlined here before.
1. Housing First as a policy does not work as implemented and practiced in Sonoma County.
2. High rents are not the primary cause of homelessness. Mental illness, drug abuse, and the societal trend of single adult households without sufficient resources are.
3. Red tape and bureaucracy limit the ability to build more affordable housing options for the marginally employed and sheltered homeless.

What can we be doing?
There’s so many innovative approaches we could be taking in this County. Please note that other communities are having verifiable success that can be duplicated if local leadership is willing to humble themselves and admit that they failed, reset our approach, and move in another direction.

1. Vouchers.
Section 8/Housing Choice.
Allow people to “pair up” and get a roommate with a voucher. To my knowledge, this is not allowed. That’s why Palms Inn is a Single Resident Occupancy program, because they each get one voucher for their room.
Edit: After poring over the HUD guidelines, it appears that shared housing arrangements are allowed under specific circumstances. https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/public_indian_housing/programs/hcv/guidebook
“The following may reside in a shared housing unit:  The assisted family with other residents of the unit.  Other persons who are assisted under the tenant-based program.  The owner of a shared housing unit, unless s/he is related to the participant by blood or marriage.”
“However, housing assistance may not be paid on behalf of an owner.”
“There will be a separate housing assistance payment contract and lease for each assisted family residing in a shared housing unit. “

Discretion is given to each respective housing authority in respect to housing availability and other factors. 

It still begs the question as to why there’s so much emphasis on SRO-Single Room Occupancy locally? Palms Inn, Gold Coin, possible Azure Hotel, and the hotel in Sebastopol. You could pair people as roommates and house twice the number of people with the same funding

2. Shared Housing.
Relates to above but also there should be some sort of pipeline program to match people up. Kind of like a “roommate finder” app or Craigslist post.

The majority of homeless people do not clinically require a single occupancy arrangement. They can be like the majority of human population in the world and share housing. 

3. “Fact finding mission”.
For the cost of one round trip economy ticket and some time on skype/zoom, a designated city/county employee could investigate other communities with a proven track record of reducing homeless numbers that are backed up with data and transparency. Seek out other Continuums of Care with similar population numbers but much higher permanent supportive housing placements, less homeless, and less recidivism and FIND OUT HOW THEY’RE DOING IT. 
Edit: Just had a conversation with a city council candidate that remarked they brought up a nationally recognized, innovative homeless program in another state to a sitting Supervisor who had never heard of it.

4. Forget bribing or punishing landlords. BECOME the landlord.
If a landlord is not breaking any laws or being discriminatory, the city/county should not be interfering with the transaction. Attempting to sway a landlord to rent to section 8 by offering incentives or punishing them with more rent control laws and restrictions will have the opposite intended effect.
The County should just buy the damn buildings and become the landlord. We already have a Housing Authority, make them the landlord.

This is already starting locally with the purchase of several hotels using Covid emergency homeless funding via Project HomeKey. It COULD work if the County doesn’t farm out daily operations*, invests in actual intense case management, is transparent about actions and outcomes, and doesn’t just warehouse people who because of housing first policies are not required to participate in any treatment or even attempt to earn income.
* A recently published article in the Press DemocratBarbie Robinson, the interim director of the CDC and director of Health Services was quoted, “During the Sebastopol council meeting, Robinson said she didn’t know who would provide the permanent supportive housing services for homeless residents at the Sebastopol Inn site.”

As an aside, I’m also not aware of any collaborative meetings where the County Housing Authority has had a meeting of the minds with the local landlord groups to try to come up with a game plan to get more landlords on board with a concrete plan to address tenant issues and the economic harm imposed on landlords to take a chance.  

BTW Finland was touted having “ended homelessness”. They didn’t (there’s a blog post about that) but they did succeed in getting many OFF the streets because Helsinki OWNS 60,000 units of housing. 

5. Forget “navigation centers” and emergency shelter expansion.
HUD doesn’t fund it anyway. Just go directly to permanent supportive housing and congregate housing.
With all the money wasted we could have hired licensed/degreed social workers at a good salary.

6. Interim step.
If you ARE going to have tent cities and tiny hut villages, the County/City runs them, NOT activists with no expertise. Furthermore, there is a hard timeline to exit.
We tried a safe parking program before. It failed because there was no exit plan.
These types of arrangements were never supposed to be permanent by federal standards.

7. Clearer understanding of HUD’s low barrier mandates.
From what I’ve read, I don’t think the County knows exactly what is and isn’t allowed or what discretion they have in utilizing funding.

8. Locals preference.
Determine who is a resident, ie. pay stub, old utility bill.
Prioritize veterans, single parent families, transitional age youth, and elderly.
Taken at face value, the PIT count shows 13% of the roughly 3000 homeless are not residents. Furthermore the most recent report presented to the County shows hundreds of “high utilizers” are not from here.
Tax dollars should not go to funding anything for them.

Out of state tuition rates for colleges are there because people not from here have not paid taxes into our system to take advantage of a subsidized education. Homeless services should be no different.
Humanely and carefully evaluate people and refer them to their County’s system of care. Provide transportation if need be.

9. Work program/exchange.
Single able-bodied individuals can stay at the sanctioned tent or hut village for free, provided with mandated services and monitored compliance. In exchange, they can do public works, beautification, or supervised work experience.
Again case management and a timeline with an exit plan that is stuck to.
They don’t like it or think it’s too restrictive? Well, they can find work or move to a lower cost area. 99.4% of Sonoma County’s population are not homeless. If you don’t like being told what to do then don’t live on the taxpayer’s dime.

10. Revamp CES-Coordinate Entry System.
We desperately need better tracking throughout the system.
Right now there’s no humanly way possible that a social worker and/or a police officer has any way of knowing what specific beds are available in the entire system, only the “official” contracted providers. I have on good authority our tracking system is not adequately updated or checked for errors anywhere near often enough.

11. Build more affordable housing.
Duh I know. Everybody says it but virtually no one actually does it.
I won’t belabor the reasons why, especially in California, but it CAN be done.
There’s a builder in Portland that builds affordable units at a fraction of the cost by building in less desirable areas and using non-union labor. Last I checked up on him he was closing in on almost 500 units.
Modular student housing went up in 4 days in Berkeley.
Red tape and regulatory hurdles are nearly always why we never have enough or it costs a fortune.

There’s many different types of housing we could be looking into.

We’ve got to figure out a way to negotiate with labor unions to back off on some affordable housing projects by waiving the % union labor requirements. In exchange, we throw them a bone by giving them a higher % on other projects.

12. HUD Moving to Work.
Get our local congressman and senators on this.
This program provides more flexibility with federal funding than we currently have.
Provides exemptions from many of the Public Housing Authority and Housing Choice voucher programs.

13. Church properties.
Let’s get local churches in on this by helping them convert their properties to affordable and homeless housing.

“Religious institutions own thousands of acres of land in the U.S., and amid falling membership and participation, calls to convert surplus faith property and places of worship themselves into housing have gained traction.”
“Property owned by religious institutions usually isn’t taxed, meaning those parcels tend to be revenue drainers for cities in addition to being underused sites for housing. In California, a state with one of the country’s largest homeless populations, about 38,800 acres of land are owned by religious institutions and have development potential, according to a study published in May by University of California, Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation. Building affordable housing on some of that land could go far in addressing the state’s housing shortage; religious institutions own more than 9,000 acres of land in San Diego and Los Angeles counties alone, according to the Berkeley study.”