Homelessness has affected practically every city across the U.S. California, however, leads the pack.
At Thursday’s midday forum How Utah Implemented “Housing First and Reduced Homelessness” – sponsored by The Women’s Fund – speaker Lloyd Pendleton said that 25 percent of this country’s homeless are in California.
Los Angeles has the largest homeless population in the state.
City Councilwoman Kristen Schreder, who has spearheaded action to find solutions to local homelessness along with several workshops on this topic, said she was amazed at the public’s response.
“We went from around 150 RSVP’s a week ago,” she said, to the almost 600 who showed up at Sequoia Middle School’s McLaughlin Auditorium.
Pendleton was a big draw in this event. Through Housing First – and in no small part because of Pendleton – Utah has reduced its homeless population by 91 percent.
For the past 13 years Pendleton has crisscrossed the state of Utah to spread the message that homelessness can be reduced and the homeless homed.
Starting around 2003, Pendleton said it took about a year-and-a-half to come together, come up with a plan and get going. It took another two to four years to come together statewide.
While most Utah mayors got on board early, one mayor took nine years to buy into the vision. And then only after being taken to Denver to see what was accomplished using similar methods.
Pendleton said he’d read the reports by Home Base and found that according to 2015 figures, the Redding area homeless population ranks well above the national average.
But homelessness like Redding’s can be reduced, he said.
“You need to segment the market,” he said, not lump all the homeless into one category. “And we need to see the homeless as citizens, as people.”
To be effective in addressing homelessness, Pendleton said, “You need to pick one of your target populations and focus on that.” Utah, for example, focused on its veteran population.
“You can’t do everything all at once,” he said.
You need to get people’s attention, he said. And you need to educate and inspire them.
Pendleton sees Redding as being solution-oriented.
“If you’re solution oriented, you’ll find the solution,” he said.
Pendleton singled out the Good News Rescue Mission, which, he said has “an extraordinary leader who’s going to be part of the solution.”
“You have good assets here,” he said. One of them, Councilwoman Schreder, he called “a Champion.”
A key step in the Housing First process to address homelessness is to commit to housing the first five people, he said.
And committing to a specific date changes the discussion. “You start doing and learn as you go.” People get excited and they see opportunities.
Pendleton brought it home, surprising Redding’s Mayor Missy McArthur with the question: “What date do you want pick to have five people housed?” He asked the same question of Shasta County Board of Supervisors Chair Pam Giacomini.
After initially selecting one month out, McArther later amended it to July 15. Giacomini noted she would discuss it next week with the full Board of Supervisors but committed to housing five people as well.
Pendleton noted that “the homeless are citizens of our community in need of hope.”
Several formerly homeless people spoke during the forum.
A man named Thomas spoke of finding the Good News Rescue Mission two years ago. He now volunteers there for 13 hours a day and now owns his own home.
A woman in the audience came, she said, to “show another face” of the homeless. After living in her car for a year, she’s since gotten a college degree and gone to law school.
“There must be a paradigm shift to end homelessness,” said Pendleton.”
With Housing First, they developed the idea in June. By September, they had their first housed residents. And they took 17 of the toughest and most challenging cases to house, said Pendleton. At the end of 22 months, all 17 were still housed.
“That’s when we learned to believe,” he said.
“You’ll learn as you go,” Pendleton told McArthur. “Don’t wait for the strategic plan (to be ready).”
“Life on the street is tough,” he said. “They die young.”
The Forum was recorded by the Shasta Arts Council. It will be shown on Charter cable Channel 181 starting Friday, February 12 at 6 p.m. on Fridays, Mondays and Tuesdays, and on weekends at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. It will run through March 11. Or link to the YouTube video on WomensFundRedding.com.