Palo Alto Weekly

News - October 4, 2013

Palo Alto weighs subsidizing housing for city's homeless

After banning vehicle dwelling, City Council to consider $250,000 in aid for homeless

by Gennady Sheyner

With Cubberley Community Center now off-limits to Palo Alto's vehicle dwellers, city staff is proposing a program that would offer long-term shelter and case management to at least 20 homeless individuals.

The proposal, which the City Council will consider Monday, is a response to the council's decision on Aug. 19 to close Cubberley at night and a separate decision earlier that month to ban people from living in their cars in Palo Alto. In approving the Cubberley restrictions, the council also committed $250,000 for programs to support the city's homeless population, which a recent Santa Clara County Homeless Census pegs at 157.

The program would target the most at-risk homeless individuals, those who have had contact with the criminal-justice system and have a high chance of recidivism. The county offers grants to provide "permanent supportive housing" to these individuals, which includes ongoing rental subsidies and a case manager who will steer their clients toward permanent, non-subsidized housing.

The city's contributions, $125,000 a year for two years, would pay the case manager's salary, supplies and travel expenses and create a "flex fund" used for such things as bus passes, application fees, cell phones to enable connection between the manager and client, interim housing options, security deposits and move-in assistance, according to a report from the Community Services Department.

The staff recommendation was based on discussion with the recently formed Palo Alto Homeless Services Task Force, a coalition of nonprofits including InnVision Shelter Network and the Community Working Group. It uses a "housing first" approach, which prioritizes stable shelter for the person, after which a case manager would coordinate or provide "mental health, social work, educational, health care, vocational, housing, transportation, advocacy, respite care and recreational services, as needed."

Each case manager would be charged with locating and assessing a client, arranging for a housing voucher and preparing a client for housing, according to the staff report. The case manager would then find a landlord willing to rent to the client despite the possible extenuating circumstances and then either help to "stabilize" a client in housing so that he or she can hold on to the housing despite the various obstacles or help transition the client to a non-subsidized housing. These obstacles, according to the report, include substance abuse, mental-health issues, disabilities, hygiene, past evictions, criminal history and lack of additional income.

The council meeting will begin at 6 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 7, at City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave.

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