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Homelessness Workshop Opens a Larger Dialogue

homeless man

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) 2014 Annual Homeless Assessment Report, in 2014 578,424 people were homeless in our country. Almost 136,000 of those were children under 18.

Some cities have taken on homelessness and are being successful. Over the past five years, Fresno has reduced homelessness by 50 percent. Over the past 10 years, Salt Lake City has seen homelessness drop significantly. It recently announced it had successfully ended chronic veteran homelessness as well. 

Redding Councilwoman Kristen Schreder is passionate about finding real solutions to homelessness.

kristen-schreder

Kristen Schreder

On Thur., July 16, about 60 participants attended a workshop Schreder hosted to brainstorm ideas that could provide answers and a clear path towards reducing our homeless population.

Attendees included direct service providers, non-profits, faith community, government, business and community members.

Schreder’s impetus for this was the Blueprint for Public Safety the City Council passed in January. Realizing the Blueprint barely touched on homelessness and believing more was needed, she hired two consulting firms: Home Base, a non-profit public interest law firm based in San Francisco, and Symetric Solutions Inc., a consulting firm that specializes in large-scale Human Service Agency project implementations The consultants have been conducting research, facilitated last week’s workshop and will prepare a final report with recommendations based on the data collected.

Schreder fundraised the $31,500 budget to pay the consultants fees and United Way’s fee for financial accounting and disbursement of funds to the consultants. To date, the contributions came from many organizations, including Shasta Regional Medical Center, Redding Rancheria, Bethel Church, Mercy Hospital and numerous individual donors.

The plan, says Schreder, is to pull together the information garnered from the workshop by late August/early September and produce an addendum to the Blueprint. These will be presented to the Redding City Council in the fall.

Facilitator Nikka Rapkin said preliminary information showed Redding has an existing dialogue on homelessness and a solid interest in finding solutions. She noted the existence of the Continum of Care office, a funding vehicle started in 1995 under HUD, whose purpose is to coordinate, facilitate and support management of the homeless.

Rapkin said people are already invested in homelessness programs and existing housing opportunities.

But Redding’s homeless face challenges: few community resources, no full-time staff, insufficient housing, gaps in services, few employment opportunities, public perception and that Redding is an urban center in the midst of a rural area.

Co-facilitator Ashley Hart McIntyre outlined possible funding resources, including Medi-Cal, Emergency Solutions grants, private foundation support and leveraging services such as CalWORKS.

She detailed Redding’s homeless numbers from the 2013 Point in Time Count (taken every two years). There were 850 homeless (500 in shelters, 350 not), a high number of homeless veterans, 34 permanent beds for the disabled, 192 beds in emergency shelters and approximately 400 in transitional housing.

“We need permanent effective housing solutions for stability,” she said.

The workshop featured five break-out segments: Leadership, Information / Data Gathering, Public Perception, Housing and Service Gaps and Building Resources. Participants engaged with three of these five topics, brainstorming and sharing ideas.

Among key misconceptions identified in the Public Perception break-out were:

• There are too many services, which attract the homeless to our area

•  We need a few more cops on the street

• Confusion as to what services are really available

The two largest elements identified that could help change these perceptions were public involvement and education.

A neighborhood watch group near the Good News Rescue Mission had a recent meeting with Jonathan Anderson, the Mission’s Executive Director, and Police Chief Paoletti, to discuss what could be done about the accumulating neighborhood trash. The meeting resulted in a weekly neighborhood clean-up by guests at the Mission and a better relationship between them.

There’s a need to put a face to the homeless. Participants suggested a positive public relations campaign, noting the impact of photographer Nigel Skeet’s Homeless Rock Stars.

At a Leadership breakout, participants agreed the City Council and Board of Supervisors need to get involved to drive an initiative to address homelessness problems and coordinate the agencies involved.

Lack of funding, vision and government buy-in were seen as big challenges to having effective leadership.

The Housing and Service Gaps leader outlined some sobering facts:

• 40-50 percent of homeless youth end up in jail.

• An inability to locate people meant many often don’t receive services they need.

All the breakouts identified education as vital: educating the homeless, the community and the media.

Community involvement, collaboration, partnership and relationships were essential.

“This program is important to our community,” said Schreder. “(We) needed to figure out how to best collect data, how to put in best practices for collaboration and to look outside our community to see what other people are doing,” she said.

“We don’t have a strategic plan for addressing homelessness in Redding,” she said. This workshop won’t be that plan, she said, but it is part of what will get us there.

Donations to the Redding Area Homelessness Coalition Project can be made with a check payable to The United Way of Northern California, Subject line: The Redding Area Homelessness Coalition Project. Mail checks to 2280 Benton Drive, Building B, Box 14, Redding, CA  96003.

For more information, telephone: 530-241-7521.

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Debra Atlas

A former long-term resident of Redding who loves its natural wonders, journalist and blogger Debra Atlas is reachable www.Eco-hub.com or debraatlas@gmail.com

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