Why we endorse Housing First to address the homelessness crisis.

by Alice Clark

FCCB’s 2019 vision statement speaks of ending homelessness in the East Bay. How can it be ended? A few months ago, pursuant to our stated vision, our church council voted to endorse the multi-phased plan of EveryoneHome (www.everyonehome.org), which aims to end homelessness in Alameda County.  This plan establishes several different sources of homelessness.  And it follows the “Housing First” approach: to offer permanent, affordable housing as soon as possible for people experiencing homelessness, providing supportive services for those who need it to help them maintain their housing.

In 2010 Congress passed the first comprehensive Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.  It adopted Housing First as the best practice for ending chronic homelessness. The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) promotes “10-Year Plans to End Chronic Homelessness” across the country.  EveryoneHome is the local 10-year plan for Alameda County.

Other programs operate from a model of “housing readiness.” Housing First contrasts with programs that require homeless people to quit substance-abuse and seek treatment in exchange for housing.  People are much better able improve their lives if they are housed first!  This holds true too for those who don’t have substance issues; people are homeless based on varying causes. None should have to go through a punitive elimination process to get to housing; they should be housed as soon as possible!  Housing First offers housing as the basis for life improvement. Individuals sign a lease, access supportive services if needed, learn new skills, and move forward with their lives.

Supported by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Housing First programs provide housing and wraparound case management services to newly housed tenants.  Case management promotes people’s self-sufficiency. It has positive impacts on health outcomes, mental health status and substance use.  Previously homeless people need fewer hospital visits, their enrollment in public assistance benefits increases, their involvement in the child welfare system decreases, and very few return to homelessness.

We at FCCB support Housing First principles through partnering with stellar organizations like the Berkeley Food and Housing Project, for whom we led the “Welcome Home” Baskets drive.  BFHP walks the walk, meeting people where they are outdoors, guiding them gently all the way, one by one. Youth Spirit Artworks, Covenant House, the YEAH! Shelter, that we support; all are programs that seek to hold people and see them and love them into home again and help them stay there.

But, “The crisis in the Bay Area is caused by a lack of housing; how is Housing First possible?”  Housing is being developed in our East Bay communities so more low-income housing will become available in the future; but what of right now? What about the lack of enough developers willing or able to provide enough housing at the right levels for the numbers out there?

I’ve visited meetings of interfaith organizations around the East Bay committed to ameliorating this cruel scourge. There are dozens of such groups. Yet homelessness continues, due to a vast injustice!  Leaders like Nichola Torbett of Oakland Congo encourage faith communities to organize protests.  There are four vacant units for every unhoused person; protests are needed against banks and entities that finance speculators who buy and hold properties, and don’t allow them to be made available. 

We must help house everyone that we can now, through deep involvement with our nonprofit partners.  And we must take up the fight against the powers that stop there being enough housing for all.