‘Housing first’ shift for winter shelter program

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – The “housing first” approach to reducing homelessness has reshaped Humboldt County’s winter shelter program, which is now focusing on permanent housing.

At its April 18 meeting, the county’s Board of Supervisors was updated on the winter shelter program. Health and Human Services Director Connie Beck told supervisors that the program is becoming aligned with the “housing first” model, which prioritizes permanent housing over short-term housing.

A larger shift toward housing first is reflected by federal housing requirements. Beck said she asked her staff to re-examine the shelter program and “try to make it more consistent with the housing first model.”

In the past, the winter shelter program’s short-term housing approach saw what Beck described as “repeat customers” – homeless families who were in need of emergency housing for more than one winter.

In the current fiscal year, the program only offered motel vouchers to families who were ineligible for CalWorks, which includes housing programs. Also new this year, families were offered funding from the program to cover move-in costs and avoid eviction.

The program has emerged from the winter months with $72,468 remaining in its budget. There were 126 applicants to the program; 57 of them were eligible for CalWorks.

Twenty applicants were helped with rental deposits or eviction prevention and five were eligible for motel shelter. The rest of the applicants were ineligible due to being single or not meeting low-income thresholds.

The program’s total $124,500 budget is allocated from the county’s General Fund. Due to the savings this year, supervisors will consider how to use unspent funds.

One proposed idea was to put the money in a Housing Trust Fund, but Supervisor Estelle Fennell said the emergency shelter efforts of volunteer groups are worth supporting.

“If there are savings, there might be a way to help people who are stepping up and providing winter shelter in extreme weather conditions,” she said. “I’d like to at least look at that in terms of how you might be able to help those efforts – because those are all volunteer efforts and I think we rely on the people who step up to do that.”

Beck said branches of her department are assisting community shelter programs.

“We do work with the (Eureka) Mission and other volunteer shelter folks,” she said, adding that the department has provided food and other support to volunteer shelter efforts in Southern Humboldt.

Use of the unspent winter shelter funds will be considered in future budget discussions. Beck concluded by telling supervisors, “I just wanted to let you know that we weren’t doing business as usual and we weren’t putting folks up in motels year after year.”




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