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The organization LA Alliance for Human Rights sued the city and county of Los Angeles in March 2020 seeking local government-provided care for homeless people and swift construction of shelter and housing options for the unhoused. The group says the county fails to fund construction of a sufficient amount of housing for the poor and homeless and does not provide the appropriate level of health care needed for the growing unhoused population.
A month after the suit was filed, U.S. District Judge David O. Carter ordered city and county officials to house everyone living in the Skid Row community — a 50-square block, open-air encampment — by October.
The Central District of California judge also ordered county officials to audit funds allocated for fighting homelessness and for the city to place $1 billion in local funds in an impound account.
Attorneys for the county argued Carter’s ruling would unnecessarily push more people into crowded shelters or direct public funds to develop more temporary shelters instead of permanent housing.
The county also argued Skid Row is located in the city and authority to clear sidewalks there lies with city, not county, officials.
In a virtual hearing Monday on the county’s motion, Skip Miller, the county’s outside counsel, told Carter the court is in no position to dictate the county’s spending decisions in the fight against homelessness.
But in an 11-page ruling Tuesday, Carter rejected the county’s arguments and denied the motion to dismiss, writing that the court is well within its power to act if the government fails to address a crisis on the scale of what is present in LA County. Read more
The Status QuoTypically, unsheltered counts involve gatherings and in-person contacts discouraged by the CDC and various state and local officials: volunteers are trained in large groups, and go out into the community to have one-on-one conversations with people living unsheltered. Unfortunately, these types of activities raised fears of the virus spreading among volunteers and people experiencing homelessness. It is likely that communities felt that they had no other choice but to either cancel or significantly change their PIT counts. In fact, within a recent Alliance survey, nearly a third of Continuums of Care (CoCs) said they canceled their 2021 unsheltered PiT Counts. Of those who moved forward, 85 percent indicated that they changed their methodology in some way, opting for abbreviated questionnaires or visual counts. Modified methods are likely less reliable and produce less information (for example, visual counts cannot account for race or ethnicity). Thus, this year’s count will be like no other in the history of such data collection.
A Helpful Known FactorWhile the pandemic interrupted the PIT count, in some CoCs, the pandemic actually reduced the number of unsheltered people. In response to the crisis, many communities procured motel and hotel rooms for people experiencing homelessness, allowing them to shelter in place and maintain social distance from others. When people who previously outdoors came inside, they were included in the sheltered portion of the PiT Count. It became much more manageable for systems to survey them, learning more about who they are and what they need.
Persistent Unknown FactorsDespite the benefits of some segment of the homeless population being easier to count, some factors muddle understandings of how unsheltered homelessness has accelerated in 2021. Greater than typical numbers of people may be flowing into unsheltered homelessness. COVID-19 is associated with an economic recession. Businesses temporarily and permanently shuttered. Unemployment numbers remain elevated. As of the end of last month, 15 percent of renters were behind on their rent, amounting to about 7 million adults. And, despite the CDC’s eviction moratorium, many individuals and families are still being evicted in communities across the country. Many of those affected are finding new housing, securing new units or moving in with family and friends. But some are becoming homeless. The nation and many individual communities do not have counts of how many. As a once in a lifetime event, the pandemic may shift the demographics of the unsheltered population in unknown ways. For instance, there may be more people with limited barriers to exiting homelessness. With little knowledge about their numbers and who they are, it is harder to help them. Finally, the federal CARES Act of 2020 and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 invested significant new resources in multiple areas that could prevent and reduce unsheltered homelessness. However, given the limited data on the population, it isn’t easy to understand the impacts of these investments.
Alternate Sources of DataEven without a full 2021 PiT Count, communities have other avenues for understanding a potentially evolving unsheltered homeless population. Many CoCs already had valuable tools in place before the COVID-19 crisis began – and they can (and are) implementing new solutions. A recent Alliance survey of CoCs revealed the following examples:
- HMIS. Existing databases (the Homeless Management Information System) can be used for year-round tracking of unsheltered people.
- By-Name Lists. Similar to the HMIS options, some communities keep “by-name lists”, which are comprehensive and regularly updated lists of people experiencing homelessness.
- Street Outreach Apps or Records. Street Outreach workers often track the people they serve via phone apps or other record-keeping systems.
- Coordinated Entry Lists. CoCs can and are keeping records on people they assess for services, including those who are unsheltered.
- Drop-In Center Data. Some localities can and are collecting data on people utilizing drop-in centers where people living outdoors connect to case management, social services, and other necessities like food, showers, or showers.
- Encampment Mapping. Communities can and are identifying the locations of encampments and count or estimate how many people live in them.
- “Mini PiT Counts”. Homeless services systems can (and are) conducting smaller scale PiT Counts that are not a part of the nation-wide effort that occurs in January of each year.
- Vehicle Counts. Some communities are finding it helpful to count how many people live in cars, RVs, and other vehicles.
Implications for the FutureThe pandemic has forced CoCs to enhance supplementary ways of counting unsheltered people, and create new ones. Such approaches will be helpful once normal processes for the annual Point-in-Time Count resume. The PiT will remain a valuable source of information, but other data collection methods help fill in a picture of unsheltered homelessness that should guide the delivery of services and solutions. As we prepare for a post-pandemic world, this is an important time to take inventory of all the innovations of the past 15 months, and embrace the opportunity to incorporate them into our work moving forward. The post Disruptions to the 2021 PiT Count: Working to Fill Data Gaps appeared first on National Alliance to End Homelessness. Continue Reading
Where Does the Money in California’s Budget Typically Go?It is with some relief alongside some extreme caution, that California leaders have a better-than-anticipated budget picture for 2021. A surplus this year is welcomed, but a multi-year deficit, possibly reaching $17 billion, is not too far behind. Education, health and human services, transportation and corrections/rehabilitation are some of the broad categories that the state allocates most of its general fund dollars to maintain current programs.
Immediate ActionPerhaps the most eye-catching part of Newsom’s proposed budget is the $14 billion dollar investments he would like to make into California’s equitable recovery from COVID-19, with immediate action being requested from the legislature in the following areas:
Housing and Homelessness in the BudgetWhile the most timely priorities are jumpstarting an economic recovery and safely reinstating in-person education here are a few highlights from the Governor’s budget summary that aim to support those households experiencing homelessness and very low-income Californians: Project Homekey: Last year, the state used a mix of federal, philanthropic, and state dollars to stand up an aggressive motel/hotel acquisition program that is projected to create 6000 new units of permanent and interim housing for COVID-vulnerable homeless Californians. The Governor is proposing $750 million additional dollars to continue the unprecedented success of Project Homekey this year. Housing for Very Vulnerable Populations: The budget proposal includes a one-time allocation of $1 billion for the acquisition and building of housing specifically for people who need behavioral health treatment settings and for low income vulnerable seniors. These could be short-term crisis care settings and long-term care environments often referred to as board and cares or adult residential facilities. The disappearance of housing specifically for people with complex medical and mental health needs who can no longer live independently has been viewed as a growing crisis statewide. Protecting tenants at risk of eviction: To keep renters who were impacted by the COVID-19 crisis safely housed, the state passed AB 3088, which had provisions that prevented certain types of evictions until January 31, 2021. Due to the ongoing severity of the pandemic, both the governor and key state legislators are immediately calling for an extension of AB 3088. The state and its larger local governments are set to receive a total $2.6 billion of the $25 billion rental relief program administered by the Treasury Department, which could further stabilize at-risk renters. Affordable Housing Programs: Governor Newsom proposes new investments of $500 million in the state’s Infill Infrastructure Grant Program and an additional third round of $500 million in low-income housing tax credits to spur the development of affordable housing and reduce the massive gap in units available for qualifying low-income households. State leaders are also proposing streamlining measures that would make the application and environmental review process faster for these projects.
The TakeawayIt is no easy task to balance the competing budget priorities of 2021 in a state faced with many urgent issues. The state of California has a lot to juggle, and while housing and homelessness funds are not topping the list of “immediate action” priorities, Governor Newsom has asked the legislature to take early action on Project Homekey. This urgency, combined with the above investments, shows promising steps for the future. One thing is certain – the cure for our housing and homelessness crisis needs to be viewed as a long game: creating reliable, ongoing funding streams, and long-term plans that can be nimble, but still lay out a solution blueprint for the future. Governor Newsom’s 2021 budget proposal embraces the importance of building out physical homes for people to live that can become long-term features of homeless re-housing systems across California. It also confronts the long-neglected issues of licensed care settings that serve highly vulnerable groups who may have been homeless or could easily fall back onto the streets without these intensive interventions. However, the proposed budget continues to default to one-time grants instead of sustained funding that is more comprehensive. It also includes households loosely defined as “at-risk of homelessness” without targeting the response to people most at risk: those who are already homeless. The Alliance is hopeful that a bridge can be built between the current short-term plans to movements like the Bring California Home Campaign and Roadmap HOME 2030, which together, lay out a bold longer-term plan that would transform the state’s response to housing and homelessness. The time is now. If not now, when? The post How the Proposed 2021 California Budget Can Help People Experiencing Homelessness appeared first on National Alliance to End Homelessness. Continue Reading
SACRAMENTO – Governor Gavin Newsom today submitted his 2021-22 State Budget proposal to the Legislature – a $227.2 billion fiscal blueprint that provides funding for immediate COVID-19 response and relief efforts where Californians need it most while making investments for an equitable, inclusive and broad-based economic recovery.
With the end of the COVID-19 pandemic in sight, the Governor’s Budget prioritizes key actions that will urgently help the California families and businesses impacted most.
- What Will We Learn from the COVID-19 Pandemic? COVID-19 forced communities to confront new limitations and innovate through them to keep people safe. Those innovations were all driven by an obvious truth that housing is the basis for health. The question moving forward is whether federal and local leaders will translate that connection into resources and policies to end homelessness. Moreover, as we consider the enormous challenges to shelter systems during the pandemic, it is unclear whether elected officials and systems leaders will re-think their historic reliance on congregate shelter, which was proven to be unsafe and unscalable during the pandemic.
- Will the Federal Government Prioritize Homelessness? The Biden Administration and Congress will have immediate opportunities to prioritize homelessness and housing in 2021. This includes appointing key Cabinet officials who are dedicated to evidence-based and equity-based approaches to ending homelessness, including Housing First. It includes advancing a FY 2021 Federal budget that dramatically scales up investments in the McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program. This will be crucial as states and localities deal with lost revenue and diminished budgets following the pandemic. And it includes the Biden Administration’s campaign goal to expand the Housing Choice Voucher program (Section 8) so that more people can afford housing.
- How Will the Housing Market Respond? The pandemic has made it obvious that many Americans simply cannot afford the cost of rent. If the rental market continues to soften – especially in higher-cost communities – more people will have access to the units they need, and the flow of people falling into homelessness can more easily be reduced. This will also enhance homelessness system efforts to place people into housing. However, if rents revert to pre-COVID levels in the midst of widespread unemployment and recession, homelessness will not decline. Additionally, the future of commercial real estate represents a major area of uncertainty. If vacant offices, retail spaces, and hotels and motels, can be converted into affordable housing, communities will have a dramatically renewed capacity to end people’s homelessness.
- Will the Nation Address Inequity? Awareness of racial and economic inequity made it to the forefront of the American consciousness in 2020. It remains to be seen whether the nation will extend this awareness to housing and homelessness. This would require leaders to address historic injustices and reverse discriminatory housing policies. Meanwhile, systems leaders and providers must continue to identify and address inequitable policies and outcomes in their own work. Although racial disparities have been at the center of this discussion to date, it will be essential that these efforts extend to disparities among other populations at increased risk of homelessness. This includes gender minorities, people with disabilities, and returning citizens.
- Can We Target Emerging “Age Waves”? Demographic data shows that homelessness is on the rise among two distinct age groups: people who are very old, and people who are relatively young. Efforts to serve these groups will depend upon the ability to define and fund targeted strategies for each. Older individuals experiencing homelessness not only face dramatically higher health vulnerabilities, but also will amass especially high health care costs associated with their homelessness. Meanwhile, younger people experiencing homelessness must be connected to housing and employment now, despite the economic recession. Without these connections, their likelihood of prolonged detachment from the workforce will directly impact their risk of homelessness over the long term.