This week begins a media blitz in the Bay Area on homelessness — specifically how to end the social plague that afflicts the individuals and families on the streets as well as the communities that wish they could help, or at least wish the problem would go away.
Go away it can. Contrary to popular (though illogical) belief, most homeless people would greatly prefer a roof over their heads instead of wintering outdoors under a tarp. Based on experience in Santa Clara County, 84 percent of the individuals placed in “supportive housing,” which includes medical, mental health and other services, stay there.
And guess what — providing that housing is cheaper for county taxpayers than paying for emergency room visits and other high-cost services no longer needed when regular care and prescribed medication are available.
You will find it hard to ignore homelessness on Wednesday, a media blitz day planned by more than 60 organizations around the Bay, from Buzzfeed to KQED, including The Mercury News. San Francisco Chronicle Editor Audrey Cooper spearheaded the idea for a solutions-focused blitz that became the SF Homeless Project.
South Bay counties are different from SF, of course, in their balance of urban-suburban neighborhoods and in the way the homeless affect them. In San Francisco, many are concentrated downtown and are hard to miss by visitors. In more suburban San Jose, many gravitate toward camps in creekbeds and the like.
But the fundamental principles of how to get people off the streets, keep them in housing and save taxpayers money — really — are the same.
Basically, it’s Housing First, getting people into homes rather than temporary shelters; supportive housing facilities run by nonprofits with the services people need readily available; and a preventive strategy to help individuals and families on the verge of homelessness, perhaps because of losing a job, to keep their apartments. This, too, is cheaper in the long run.
In a column below, Jennifer Loving, the tireless director of Destination: Home, explains the math and the research that led to these conclusions better than we can.
This week other writers will discuss different aspects of the challenge to help the more than 6,000 men, women and children who are homeless in Santa Clara County on any given night find real homes and achieve stable, healthier lives. We’ll learn how public-private partnerships are key — particularly the sophisticated data analytics platform designed for the county by Palo Alto-based Palantir.
Santa Clara County has something we’re told San Francisco lacks: a truly unified approach to homelessness, with service providers, cities and the county all working together. But to really make headway, residents have to understand it more fully. That’s how this week’s media blitz can help.