The County of San Luis Obispo took an innovative approach to helping homeless individuals get permanent housing in 2015. The County partnered with Transitions Mental Health Association to launch 50Now, a program that uses a housing-first approach to address chronic homelessness.
Housing-first programs provide permanent housing with intensive supportive services to stabilize individuals and families in need.
“I can’t imagine any downside for a homeowner. We were trying to do something good with our property, and it turns out to be easier on us.”
– Sandy Buckmoyer
50Now landlord partner
By the end of September 2015, just over one year into program implementation, a total of 44 chronically homeless individuals had been placed into housing, along with three family members.
Of those placed into housing, 38 people (86 percent) have remained in their housing, three have gone on to other permanent housing, and three have exited back to the streets.
Of the 27 people who were placed into housing for at least six months, 24 persons, or 89 percent, had remained in housing.
In addition to keeping formerly chronically homeless persons housed, one of the proposed outcomes of the 50Now program was to reduce the number of incarcerations among those participants with prior arrest histories. Initial results have been very promising. Of the 35 people that provided releases for the information, there was a 96 percent reduction in the number of arrests (from 48 to two) and a 98 percent reduction in the number of bed days (from 361 to six) in an incarceration setting in the first 12 months of being housed, compared to the previous 12 months.
In August 2014, the Board of Supervisors approved a three-year contract with Transitions Mental Health Association in the amount of $1.86 million to administer the 50Now program, which places 50 vulnerable, chronically homeless individuals into housing and provide supportive services for those individuals to help keep them off the streets.
For the 50Now program, rent is subsidized by a Federal Housing Choice Voucher (formerly known as the Section 8 program).
The Housing Authority of San Luis Obispo County made 50 Housing Choice Vouchers available to ensure that the housing remains affordable to the participants. Each 50Now participant placed into housing receives a voucher, which may be used to help pay for apartments, rooms in shared housing, or other housing where the rent is at or below 40 percent of the fair-market rent for the county and where the units meet minimum habitation standards.
Program participants enter permanent housing directly from the streets or emergency shelter with few barriers and are offered services (though participation is not required).
There is no time limit in the length of stay in the housing. However, participants in housing-first programs still must agree to meet regularly with their case manager, pay their rent on time, comply with the terms of their lease, and allow their neighbors the peaceful enjoyment of their own premises.
Program Participant Selection
50Now program participants are selected through the use of a standardized assessment tool, called the Vulnerability Index-Services Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool, which is nationally recognized as an approved tool for prioritizing participants for available, permanent supportive housing.
In August 2014, almost 300 homeless persons were surveyed using the assessment tool. The survey was conducted across the county at homeless service agencies, meal programs, the jail, selected street locations, French Hospital, and health care programs for homeless or low-income persons.
The assessment results were used to determine vulnerability and a list of the 53 people rated most vulnerable was provided to Transitions Mental Health Association. The three additional individuals were provided on the assumption that at least some of the initial 50 would not be available to participate in the program. Transitions Mental Health Association staff then attempted to reach out to all 53 people on the list.
Thirty seven of the most vulnerable people were housed from that initial list, along with three family members, and 16 from the original list were determined not to be available. Reasons people were determined not to be available included death, placement in housing through other programs, inability to qualify for Housing Choice Vouchers, or because the persons could not be found.
In May and June 2015, 231 persons were surveyed at the same or similar locations as the August 2014 survey around the county. New survey sites included Twin Cities Hospital, Arroyo Grande Hospital, and the County Mental Health office in Atascadero. In the May/June 2015 survey, persons were prioritized based on their VI-SPDAT score and a list of 24 additional names was provided to TMHA. TMHA staff has contacted 20 persons on the second list and had housed eight additional persons from that group as of Sept. 30.
The lack of affordable housing continues to be a challenge countywide, particularly units that are at or below 40 percent of the fair-market rent and where the landlords are willing to accept Housing Choice Vouchers. Affordable, accessible units and units that accept pets are particularly difficult to find.
However, the County and THMA continue to work with partner agencies, cities and landlords to identify ways to secure more permanent supportive housing.
“I go by my building at least once a week,” said Dirk Dole, a landlord in SLO County who partners with the program. “Things are looking really good. We’re happy to be part of this program.”
In 2015, the County partnered with the Family Care Network to purchase nine affordable units to house homeless families. It also has applied for bonus funding for 10 additional permanent supportive housing beds in the 2015 Continuum of Care funding competition administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“I can’t imagine any downside for a homeowner,” said Sandy Buckmoyer, another landlord in SLO County who partners with the program. “We were trying to do something good with our property, and it turns out to be easier on us.”
SLO County landlords interested in partnering with the program can contact Mark Lamore at TMHA via phone at (805) 540-6515 or email MLamore(at)t-mha.org.