A Shift from Housing to Homelessness (Or a Confluence of the Two)

March Great Story by Reid Miller, 2018-19 Central Inland Opportunity Access Fellow

Thus far in my time here at Placer County, my work has been focused mostly on clearing the way for development of affordable housing (although in most instances, it feels like clearing the way for development in general, which is fine in some ways, but in Placer I think the “affordable” aspect of the housing sometimes falls by the wayside), and as a result of this, my knowledge or impressions of the situation faced by homeless populations in the area was somewhat limited. This month, however, I began to look into the process of starting a home share program, as the County is required by our housing element to encourage the development of such a program, but not necessarily take on the project ad run it ourselves. In the process of doing this, I spoke with many home share organizers who had started their programs fairly recently, and I came to realize that some had started out as a sort of transitional housing for those who were in the process of exiting a homeless shelter and looking for a safe and affordable place to stay and get back on their feet.

Having learned this, and realizing that homelessness is a topic intimately related with the building of housing while still being considered its own area of expertise, I began to look more in-depth into the state of homelessness in Placer County. I did this in part to find a match for our home share program, but also out of my own desire to better understand what services were available for the homeless population in Placer County, and conversely what services were not being made available, or were not possible based on current funding sources to be made available. I am still in the process of finding a home share match, but going to the Placer County Consortium on Homelessness was encouraging, as it is clearly an issue that some in the county take very seriously, although their numbers are relatively few. The services that they offer are impressive, however, but it is difficult both to ensure that all that need them actually know about them and have access to them, and to find the funding and manpower to provide the services adequately to the population in need. Placer is a large, mostly rural county, so getting an even spread of services throughout the county can be difficult, especially when the attitude among the general population towards homelessness is indifference, if not hostility.

Especially after our most recent monthly sector call, I felt that I had been in a bit of an ivory tower with the work I was doing on my project. That is to say, I was working on issues that theoretically related to the procurement of affordable housing for the local community, but I didn’t really know enough about the most disadvantaged populations in the County, outside of what I’d read about at the beginning of the year when doing my vulnerability assessment. It was nice to find that there was a decent amount of flexibility in my project, and that I will be able to learn about the side of housing policy implementation that focuses on homelessness, and alternative methods of creating affordable housing besides just building more.