The County of San Mateo’s vigorous push to end local homelessness by 2020 using a combination of collaborative resources earned it a prestigious 2017 Merit Award from the California State Association of Counties (CSAC) which annually recognizes county programs statewide that illustrate innovation, efficiency and measurable results.
The County received a Merit Award from CSAC’s Challenge Awards program for the Human Services Agency’s entry “Ending Homelessness in San Mateo County” which outlined the collaborative effort to reach “functional zero” — in essence, homelessness is a rare, brief and one-time occurrence.
“We thank CSAC for this honor in recognizing our County’s roadmap to end homelessness, which demonstrates our County’s strength in working together to achieve results,” said Board of Supervisors President Don Horsley who co-chairs the County’s Housing Our People Effectively (HOPE) Interagency Council.
The Board of Supervisors and County Manager John Maltbie in 2015 made a collective commitment to find tangible solutions to local homelessness. Two years earlier, the 2013 Homeless One Day County revealed a 10-year peak of 2,002 individuals observed in one night. As a result, the County worked with key partners to evaluate the data and develop both a Strategic Plan to End Homelessness and a Housing Crisis Resolution System (HCRS) which lets providers assess clients through a standardized entry system. HCRS uses housing as the foundation to address other needs, such as health or employment, and devises a path to self-sufficiency. On a parallel track, a “housing locator” secures rental units for those with subsidies and the chronically homeless.
The County’s innovative approach built upon its regional network of emergency safety net providers by also partnering with law enforcement and medical providers to build trust with and engage those experiencing chronic homelessness. This approach allows rapid response and provision of services like shelter referrals and health exams – “street medicine” — in the field. The result not only benefits clients but also law enforcement by cutting down on the number of citations, bookings and citizen complains. Although the goal of ending homelessness is not tied to a financial goal by the County, newly housed individuals do provide cost savings by reducing the use of high-cost public services. Additionally, rapid re-housing has shown to yield a 75 percent cost savings over traditional methods like transitional housing.
“I am very proud of the commitment from all our County departments, cities, local law enforcement and service providers to collectively address a complex problem that no one group can solve alone,” Maltbie said.
Two years after the initial commitment, the 2017 Homeless One Day Count tallied 637 unsheltered and 616 sheltered homeless individuals, a decrease of 16 percent and a new 10-year low of a total 1,253. Between October 2015 and September 2016, 54 percent of all individuals existing emergency shelter, transitional housing or rapid rehousing programs went into permanent housing — an 11 percent increase from the previous year. During the same period, the number of those returning to homelessness from permanent housing dropped by 4 percent.
“The challenge of ending homelessness is complex, and while we celebrate our recent gains in decreasing our homeless population, we are aware that many households experience unstable housing every day,” said HSA Director Iliana Rodriguez.
This year, CSAC received a record-breaking 288 entries for the awards highlight best practices in county government. The entries were judged by an independent panel of county government experts.
Last year, the County received a similar award for its agile workforce initiative and the previous year an honor for its STEP foster youth mentorship program.