For families who are homeless, getting a second chance at stability can be the difference between becoming permanently self-sufficient or remaining on the streets. Having a secure and safe environment allows families to concentrate on finding employment and address barriers that may have prevented them from having stability in the past. An innovative new program will give 300 to 400 homeless families in Sacramento County a second chance by helping them find housing, paying their deposits and first month’s rent and providing additional financial assistance for up to eight months after they move into a residence.
Approved in 2014 by the California Legislature, Senate Bill 855 allotted $20 million for housing support to homeless families throughout the state. Out of 42 counties that applied for the Housing Support Program, Sacramento County was one of only 20 accepted, receiving $1.3 million to help homeless or housing-insecure families who participate in the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs) program. CalWORKs is California’s version of the Federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).
The need for stable housing for these families is great. Frank Mecca, Executive Director of the County Welfare Directors Association of California (CWDA), says homelessness has become a crisis in the state.
“Since the start of the Great Recession, counties have been experiencing a significant increase of homeless families enrolled in CalWORKs,” Mecca says. “Three factors together have contributed: the economic slump, stagnant wages and skyrocketing rent costs. CalWORKs families want to work, but when you don't know where you or your kids are going to sleep at night, it's hard to concentrate on finding employment or your job training program.”
While shelters provide a temporary place for families to stay, there are often long waiting lists to get into them. Even then, families have a limited amount of time they can stay. The rapid re-housing model gives families a stable environment to work toward becoming self-sufficient, according to Ann Edwards, Director of the Sacramento County Department of Human Assistance.
“The Housing Support Program is a great addition to the array of services CalWORKs already has,” Edwards says. “Research shows that when someone is stably housed, they can shift their focus from survival to finding employment. We can help them with job readiness skills, vocational training, we offer subsidized employment — but the ultimate goal is for them to find employment so they don't need our assistance anymore. This program allows us to do that.”
Housing California, an organization that works directly with California decision-makers on housing and homeless policy, played a lead role in getting the Housing Support Program off the ground. For Policy Director John Bauters, the program offers a chance to reduce costs across all sectors of the state economy.
“Permanent housing is the only solution for homelessness,” Bauters says. “Some people need substance abuse help, others need education or mental health treatment, but all people need housing. All of those outcomes are limited to a lack of affordable homes. If we remove that barrier, we improve the social outcomes in our state.”
By Mike Blount