Nancy Baglietto: ‘Housing First’ — Taking a look the issues facing the homeless | TheUnion.com

Nancy Baglietto: ‘Housing First’ — Taking a look the issues facing the homeless

Nancy Baglietto
Columnist

I'm honored to be writing the first of our columns for The Union, in an ongoing series addressing homelessness in Nevada County. As the executive director of Hospitality House, a nonprofit community shelter serving our homeless Nevada County residents, I want to offer you some insights into a wide variety of issues affecting our homeless population, and the ways in which we as a caring, compassionate community can respond.

This week, our hearts are heavy for the 52,000 people in Butte County made homeless by the Camp Fire.

Fires can spark anywhere, and while it's not the most common reason someone finds themselves homeless, it's a reason nonetheless. So far, no one displaced by the fire has sought shelter at Hospitality House, but we happily supplied food and clothing to a Paradise family who came to our door.

We welcome other Butte County residents to visit our Grass Valley thrift store, Bread & Roses, where we're glad to offer them the clothing they need, free of charge.  

As the people in Butte County now know, responding to homelessness requires a community initiative that we can all undertake together.

For this first column, I'd like to discuss a concept called "Housing First," and our exciting opportunity to participate in a statewide funding initiative known as the No Place Like Home Program.

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It starts with shelter

The Housing First model began in the late-80s in Los Angeles. After 30 years, the model has wide acceptance in both urban and rural cities nationwide, because it offers an innovative, workable and proven approach to reduce the number of people on the streets.

In essence, Housing First starts with the idea that we all have a basic human right to shelter. It recognizes the fact that some homeless individuals have disabilities and/or mental illness, historically interfering with their ability to maintain stable housing on their own.

Many other homeless or near-homeless people are the working poor, who struggle with high rents, medical costs or car repairs. Often these folks are in and out of temporary shelters like Hospitality House, primarily due to competition for limited beds based on the tremendous need.

The primary goal of the Housing First approach: get folks into housing fast in order to reduce the chance of chronic homelessness and the societal costs associated with it.

Once people have truly permanent housing, then counties, local agencies and nonprofits such as Hospitality House can assist with "wrap around" services, including medical care, addiction counseling, child care and parenting education, financial planning, nutrition education, job training and placement assistance, college admissions help, and other services which are extremely difficult to provide reliably without long term stability.

It's tough to even fill out a job application without an address.

Considerable research shows significant benefits for communities using the Housing First approach. With appropriate support services in place, participation in the program significantly reduces expensive taxpayer-funded services, including policing, jail time, emergency room visits, detox facilities and hospitalization.

Public spaces such as parks, streets and forests, as well as private property, are cleaner, safer, more accessible, and less prone to unsafe campfires that can lead to wildfires.

Housing First programs consistently show reductions in management costs for chronic homelessness, an issue which annually costs our country approximately $5 billion in taxpayer-funded services.

The need for housing

Naturally, Housing First programs rely on … housing! Even in Nevada County, the lack of available housing has driven the costs of renting or owning a house out of the range of many fully employed residents, let alone those struggling with homelessness.

Thankfully, dedicated work from our staff and volunteers these last few months has prepared us to compete for significant financial support from California's No Place Like Home Program with the long-term goal of building permanent supportive housing.

We've developed a comprehensive plan, and submitted it to the county so that our community can receive its share of funding for housing.

Over the years, $2 billion of additional funding will be available across California. Just like other counties in the state, we want to build housing where Nevada County residents struggling with homelessness can live.

Now comes the call to action. It's easy: Simply fill out a survey with your thoughts about housing. It can be found at hhshelter.org.

Again, thank you for your generosity over the years. I look forward to hearing your views on this issue.

Nancy Baglietto serves as executive director for Hospitality House, after previous executive experience with agencies focusing on homeless people, homeless animals and the parks they use.

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