By Iliana Magana
DAVIS — At the April 19 Social Services Commission meeting, the commission watched a detailed presentation from Sarah Danley about HEART, an acronym for a Davis program that stands for Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rehousing Team (previously known as IRWS). She provided an update on the status of the programs and future plans regarding homelessness in Davis.
Danley stated that HEART began in October 2020 and received funding from its partners: the City of Davis, the community health centers, Yolo Food Bank and Davis Opportunity Villages. Danley stated, “Without their generosity we wouldn’t have been able to do this program.”
She mentioned that this program is for people who are experiencing homelessness, giving priority to the elderly, people with underlying health conditions and those who are at higher risk for becoming infected with COVID-19.
Danley also said that the program is based on “housing first” principles, meaning that “you take them as they are. You don’t require sobriety, you don’t require mental health treatment, you don’t require anything…Evidence shows that ‘housing first’ is most effective in getting people housed.”
Danley said that “housing first” works because it makes it easier to meet people’s needs when trying to find homeless folk permanent housing. HEART of Davis provides homeless people with assistance using several resources, including CALFresh, MediCal and others that try to connect people to housing resources.
Yolo County gave unsheltered individuals housing vouchers which cover $1,100 for one-bedroom apartments and $1,476 for two-bedroom apartments in Yolo County. After giving people in need of housing vouchers, HEART of Davis found that it was difficult to find places in Davis that accepted the vouchers.
Another problem presented was behavioral health that is centered around the trauma that unsheltered individuals have suffered. Danley stated they are currently hiring a behavioral health clinician, in order to have someone individuals can form a relationship with, to build trust and give them the help they need.
HEART runs until July 31, 2021, after which they will be switching over to the BRIDGE Program, which as Danley stated, “We are switching from an emergency shelter model to a rapid rehousing model” since most individuals in emergency housing shelters have access to CALFresh, have a source of income or are applying for jobs, and all they are waiting for is a permanent housing opportunity to become available.
Danley mentioned the BRIDGE program consists of two levels. “Level 2 is people without income…they won’t be paying for utilities, they won’t be paying rent, but as they get stabilized and they get access to those things, they will move up to Level 1, where they’ll be paying 30 percent of their income, they’ll be paying utilities, and they’ll provide their own food.”
She said the program will prepare them for when they find permanent housing, and they will continue to receive assistance in trying to find affordable housing. She stated, “It allows us to serve more people over the course of the year.”
In addition, if there is no additional funding for Project Roomkey, the program will end on June 30, 2021, leaving 40 people unsheltered. Project Roomkey is a state program that was established in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. It provides non-congregate shelter options to people experiencing homelessness, especially if they are recovering from COVID- 19 and need safe options for quarantine isolation.
Danley said, “City and county resources are getting together to figure out how to make that transition for those individuals and for homeless service providers in the area a little smoother, but that is going to put a big strain on current homeless service providers in Davis.”
She also said that right now there is not “any emergency shelter in Davis, except for a few spots at 1111 H Street.” HEART of Davis is apprehensive of how this will affect unsheltered individuals in the winter.
Finding affordable housing in Davis has proven to be challenging since housing vouchers do not cover the price of housing in Davis generally. In response to this, Danley said “Davis Homelessness Alliance Emergency Shelter Subcommittee and HEART of Davis is hoping to open an emergency shelter by Nov. 15, 2021.”
Danley said that although controversial, “Pacifico is almost designed perfectly to be a non-congregate emergency shelter. It has 26 rooms. It has kitchens. It has bathrooms. It has offices for staff.” Another option would be to lease or buy an unoccupied sorority house, or an older apartment building.
Danley said this program “would run like the Davis Emergency Shelter has been running, we would provide intensive case management, even at an emergency shelter.” She also added that the City has been looking to pursue sanctioned camping and safe parking.
Danley said that a common question was how to get landlords to accept housing vouchers. Some of the ways their research has found to get landlords more engaged in accepting the vouchers include tenant readiness education programs in which they learn how to make deposits and interact with landlords and maintenance staff, damage insurance, and also for water and sewer fees to be waived.
Public commenter Martha Teeter expressed her excitement, saying, “There were many people volunteering and there was a lot of optimism in the volunteer community about how much better this model is than the emergency shelter model.”
Furthermore, City Staff Liaison Dagoberto Fierros presented an update about the Davis Community Meals and Housing programs. He stated, “the Pathways to Employment program is funded through the Homeless Emergency and Aid Program (HEAP). In 2019, the city was awarded $129,000. Those funds are to be used by June 30 of this year. The goal of the program is to provide individuals, who are homeless, the opportunity to increase their job skills and self-esteem, in general, resulting in a job to maximize their personal potential.”
Potential jobs have included landscaping, beautifying Downtown Davis and trash removal. He also stated, “A key component of this program is building a community among participants and celebrating their success.”
Fierros also talked about the Supportive Housing Program (SHIP). SHIP annually receives “$66,000 of funding through HUD. This program consists of temporary transitional shelter beds, in which single men and women can stay while they find permanent housing, enhance their permanent income, increase employment skills, and create a plan. They also receive case management, life skill classes, counseling, and referrals to other social services programs.”
Fierros mentioned that the Getting to Zero program was funded by Community Services Block Grant. This year it received about $55,000 in funding, and is “currently under contract with Yolo County Housing to provide temporary rental assistance for individuals who are homeless or at risk of being homeless.” He mentioned that they provide subsidized housing, since this program provides monthly rental subsidies to landowners.
Commission member Donald Kalman emphasized the need to build housing for unsheltered members of the community by passionately stating, “tonight’s presentation illustrates the need to always build housing.” He wanted to let the commission know that they should “try to always put that as your first priority because I don’t think it is. And clearly it should be.”
Iliana Magana is a third-year transfer student at UC Davis, double majoring in Communications and Political Science. She is from Huntington Park, California.