A "HOT program" was first proposed in a white paper submitted last month by InnVision Shelter Network, one of the agencies involved in a newly formed coalition charged with strengthening a support network for the city's homeless. The effort took on more urgency on Aug. 19, when the City Council approved a new policy that would shutter Cubberley Community Center at night, effectively closing what officials refer to as the city's "de facto homeless shelter."
The HOT program, which targets the most disruptive homeless individuals (as identified by police), is already in place in San Mateo, Redwood City and East Palo Alto. In Palo Alto, however, it doesn't look like the program will be making its debut any time soon. Mila Zelkha, a strategic relations fellow at InnVision Shelter Network, told the Weekly that the program is "off the table," at least for now. Rather than pushing for the new program, her nonprofit is now working with other groups in the newly formed Homeless Services Task Force to find ways to leverage existing programs to accommodate more homeless participants.
Zelkha said the idea of establishing a "HOT program" came up early in the discussions between the nonprofits and the City of Palo Alto. But as they followed the City Council's discussions on the topic, they came to a realization that it probably wouldn't be "the right tool right now," she said.
One significant reason has to do with funding. The council this week allocated $150,000 to programs to aid the homeless and charged the city to work with nonprofits to refine the proposed programs and return in October with specific proposals. This one-time contribution, however, falls short of what would be needed to sustain a HOT program, which Zelkha said requires more time and effort in order to achieve success. The program also has a limitation in that it focuses primarily on the most "difficult to serve" individuals, which may make it harder for homeless people who are not disruptive to get aid.
"All the other HOTs we had ever put in place have had a minimum of two years of funding. ... It's a great model, but I think given the realities of what kind of funding we have, the terms around the funding we're looking at, at least from the InnVision Shelter Network's point of view, we don't think that a HOT model is appropriate at this time," Zelkha said.
Instead, her nonprofit group and others in the task force are looking for ways to strengthen existing programs and promote more coordination between them. One idea would be to expand Hotel de Zink, which provides shelter to the homeless at religious facilities on a rotating basis. Zelkha said she is reaching out to the participating congregations, both in Palo Alto and in neighboring cities, to see if it would be possible to increase the number of beds from 15 to 20.
Zelkha said another idea on the table is providing more intensive case management to Hotel de Zink participants, whether they're looking for housing assistance, disability programs or job-development skills. While participants already get some assistance from case workers, the task force is considering ways to build on the existing programs and more effectively connect residents with the Opportunity Center, which offers food, housing, computer access and other programs for the homeless.
One possibility is having a van bring Hotel de Zink guests to the Opportunity Center in the morning so that they can participate in the day programming there, she said.
Another organization that could expand its services to soften the impacts of Cubberley's closure is WeHOPE, a nonprofit that runs a homeless shelter in East Palo Alto. The Rev. Paul Bains, its founder and president, told the council's Policy and Services Committee on Aug. 13 the shelter has already been accommodating some of the Cubberley dwellers. In recent weeks, the shelter had installed new showers, a particularly valuable amenity given that the Palo Alto officials plan to cut off the access of Cubberley residents to the center's showers on Aug. 31.
"If you don't mind coming across county lines and supporting us, we have part of your solution, I believe," Bains told the committee on Aug. 13.
The council's vote this week gives the nonprofit groups about a month to create a plan for homeless assistance. This plan would include recommendations for both short- and long-term actions for the city to take.
"There's a lot of great ideas out there that the service providers are bringing to the table," Zelkha told the Weekly. "I'm happy we're brainstorming together about how these components can fit together."