Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Freezing Out the Least of These

As the Supervisors consider replacing the Cold Weather Armories with a "year-round" Emergency Shelter, our concern for the least of these is both academically predicted and borne out by our own history, now ignored.

At a July 2nd meeting to introduce the Santa Ana shelter that yesterday became a reality, I tried to obtain evidence to substantiate the assertion "migration was not an issue."  Because the County has no emergency shelters of its own, it has only opinions and moral suasion.  No one who actually runs an emergency shelter would so attest. We have had people call from New York because shelters that rescue both pets and their owners are very rare, and 211 reported tens of thousands of unmet requests for emergency shelter. 

I reminded Ms. Roper, Chairperson of the 10 Year Plan [to eliminate homelessness] Committee at that meeting of negotiations between OC Interfaith Shelter and the Long Beach Multi-Service Center.  Several years ago, over 60% of those Costa Mesa beds were occupied by LA County residents. Migration is very real, and given this shelter's focus on Rapid Rehousing, there is a possibility that poor families whose relatives now provide couches or motel costs will cease sharing when this shelter opens.  Ask any school's McKinney-Vento rep and you can see the size of the potential problem.  When the Mercy House Redirection Program last year used congregate housing in lieu of motel vouchers, demand fell to half the prior year's statistics. 

Please understand, migration is a fact, not my opinion.  

Now I'm also worried about NIMBY, but in reverse, the nearly homeless persons who can benefit from Rapid Rehousing, virtually all of them families, will provide the only successful outcomes for the operator.  Without these families (and veterans qualified for "Veteran Rapid ReHousing") the cost of transitioning clients to un-homelessness will be astronomical. The Civic Center homeless are there because they cannot get funds from any program, anywhere, to exit.  More case managers in a multi-service center will not change that - none of the Non-Profit stakeholders who currently offer Rapid ReHousing would let someone languish if there was a current funding source to help them.  As it is, virtually all homeless funding goes to such helping employees now.
Kevin Corinth of the University of Chicago has studied migration in the utilization of shelter beds:  

"I consider a simple model where the unsheltered homeless are not strategic - that is, those who cannot secure long term shelter migrate randomly - and show that as migration increases, communities inefficiently substitute from long term shelter to emergency shelter, and furthermore, decrease the total number of shelter beds."

Where migration is non-random it increases, that is when clients are taken to the County shelter by first responders and referred by hospital emergency rooms, and exited from sober living homes and other shelters, Rapid Rehousing, described by the United States Inter-Agency Council on the Homeless as "medium acuity" resolution will have in many cases been ruled out already.  Most Rapid ReHousing goes to families.

Corinth further says "Popular mechanisms reduce the number of homeless achieving permanent housing only modestly relative to optimal mechanisms, but have significant distributional consequences, particularly harming the lowest income users."  While this shelter is by definition, popular, the lack of permanent supportive housing and the paucity of inpatient psychiatric beds will mean that most adult clients will not have any "successful" exit possible. My question becomes "Year Round for Who?"  

Nothing in the evidence or proposals in any way address or suggest, how this shelter will serve the same population seeking safety from cold weather; or how hypothermia will be addressed.  As a shelter becomes more attractive, and this one will be very attractive, people will come, as they did in the past from other cities, Long Beach in particular.  Facilities will certainly send people from all over the county; not just Fullerton, a possibility specifically denied by Supervisor Nguyen's public statements.  The proposal before the Board of Supervisors has cost data for prospective services, but after 27 years, no data whatsoever on the Armory population.  At least, that could give the Board insight over the taxpayer outcry when the cost/successful outcome is publicized.  

I begged the Supervisors,  "Please make sure that your decision to purchase a piece of property, in itself a helpful and laudable event, does not carry with it an ill-considered and unstudied decision to eliminate cold weather shelter for the most vulnerable, even for those few nights when hypothermia is probable. 

Migration and our own experience in offering hospitality on an emergency basis in Santa Ana tell us that, without a separate and proven response to cold weather, people will perish."