City of Eureka and Humboldt County leaders met with representatives of the Humboldt Housing and Homeless Coalition (HHHC) on July 17 to hear about Eureka’s draft “Homelessness Policy Paper,” prepared as part of the city’s General Plan Update process.
The Policy Paper takes an in-depth look at where Eureka currently stands in terms of homelessness and offers concrete steps the city can take to more strategically reduce the number of homeless people in the community. The policy paper is being prepared by the Sacramento consulting firm Focus Strategies. A final draft of the Policy Paper will be presented to the Eureka City Council for review and incorporation into the city’s General Plan Update as a support document.
“Eureka’s leadership and community stakeholders are overwhelmingly committed to solving the problem of visible homelessness,” said Megan Kurteff Schatz, principal with Focus Strategies. “The homelessness policy paper commissioned by the city provides specific, immediate recommendations to move homeless people to housing and behavioral health services. The recommendations also provide strategies to identify and tailor resources to more quickly house people who become homeless. Community leadership is actively engaged and already moving forward with solutions.”
The draft Policy Paper contains several short-term recommendations for reducing homelessness, including that a Leadership Group, comprised of city and county representatives and one of three General Plan Update homelessness focus groups formed to provide input on the Homelessness Policy Paper, continue to work on issues related to homelessness. Leadership Group members currently include Humboldt County Supervisor Virginia Bass, Eureka City Councilmembers Mike Newman and Melinda Ciarabellini, Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Director Phillip Crandall, DHHS Assistant Director of Programs Barbara LaHaie, Eureka City Manager Greg Sparks, Assistant City Manager Mike Knight, Eureka Police Chief Andrew Mills, Humboldt Area Foundation Program Manager Amy Jester, Betty Chinn of the Betty Kwan Chinn Outreach program, Eureka Main Street Executive Director Charlotte McDonald and Eureka Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Don Smullin.
The draft policy paper further recommends that in the short-term, the city and county should work together to identify 10 to 15 people who are generating the largest number of police and other emergency calls and are the most frequent users of city and county resources. Once identified, these people should be prioritized for available permanent supportive housing.
Medium-term recommendations include the city, county and HHHC working together to formalize a Homeless Outreach Team with a “Housing First” focus, providing homeless people with housing quickly and then providing services as needed. It is also recommends that the city and county explore strategies to expand the use of Mental Health Services Act and other funds to provide housing for homeless people with mental illness who are high users of emergency services and not being adequately served by existing systems of care.
Recommendations for the long-term include the city, county and HHHC forming a working group to analyze the Homeless Management Information Systems — a database used to gather local information about homelessness — as well as program budget data, with a goal of understanding how funds are being invested, what outcomes are being accomplished and how outcomes could be improved by changing existing programs and investments. It further recommends that the city continue to build and strengthen its ongoing partnership with the HHHC and DHHS to ensure countywide resources are effectively targeted to serve homeless people with the greatest needs, many of whom live in Eureka.
“DHHS appreciates the collaborative efforts that went into this Policy Paper,” Crandall said. “The department supports its conclusions and looks forward to further discussions and, more importantly, implementation of its recommendations. The actual products will be complex and sustained funding will be an issue to transcend, but with the mutual support and investments of the city, the county and our partners in the HHHC, we are hopeful we will begin to implement well-thought-out strategic and long-lasting integrated approaches that will address many of the needs of severely mentally ill homeless people in the city of Eureka.”
Focus Strategies helps communities make data-driven decisions to develop system solutions that will work for them in their efforts to end homelessness. To develop its recommendations for Eureka, Focus Strategies staff reviewed local data related to homelessness, talked to community stakeholders, service providers and homeless individuals and researched best practices for comparably sized communities.