By Laura Christman
The hopelessness of homelessness is a tangle of complexities. People sleep on sidewalks, camp under bridges, live in canyons and show up at shelters because they are addicted to alcohol, dependent on drugs, traumatized, impoverished, struggling with an ailing mind or under the weight of other troubles.
Instead of trying to fix the problems, what if the first step were to give the chronically homeless homes? Would it make a difference? Could it work in Redding?
Housing First is an approach – a mind-set, really – that provides homes to the homeless without making them promise to get better or be better. They don’t have to go into rehab, sign up for counseling, see a doctor, take meds or get work. The deal is simple: Here’s a place to live.
It’s built on the premise that giving people a home gives them a sense of belonging. That stability is crucial for wanting to work on sobriety and getting help for other serious problems.
Housing First advocate Lloyd Pendleton will speak in Redding at noon Feb. 11, sharing the story of how Utah dramatically decreased chronic homelessness. The free forum at McLaughlin Auditorium on the Sequoia Middle School campus is presented by The Women’s Fund of the Shasta Regional Community Foundation in partnership with the Record Searchlight and Shasta Community Health Center.
Pendleton held management positions at Ford Motor Company and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Welfare Department, and was director of Utah’s Homeless Task Force. An article in the March/April 2015 issue of Mother Jones magazine offers a detailed account of the Housing First push in Utah and the key role Pendleton played.
It’s a great read. Pendleton came from modest beginnings – growing up on a ranch in rural Utah – and is described in the article as a problem-solver, more interested in getting things done than holding meetings.
Utah’s effort at Housing First began with a small pilot program with the most challenging cases. And it worked. “So we became believers,” Pendleton says in a video on Redding.com.
Homelessness is a complex problem, of course, and Housing First isn’t without challenges and costs.
Record Searchlight Editor Silas Lyons says the newspaper is part of the partnership behind the forum because homelessness is an important issue in the community.
“We’re not trying to endorse a particular strategy, but we do want to be part of bringing interesting and potentially helpful voices into the community conversation,” Lyons says.
The forum drops an idea into the mix, and then gives people a chance to examine it, he says. That fits with the newspaper’s Shaping Our Future franchise of solution-oriented journalism. He encourages members of the community, beyond those already involved in the issue of homelessness, to attend.
“It’s a great opportunity to get good information,” he says.
And, he adds, it can be a way to connect with others working toward answers. Women’s Fund Chairwoman Denise Yergenson says the forum is part of the group’s education efforts on critical topics.
“The Housing First initiative is another example of what could work for Redding. In my mind, it is the next step, after you establish a mental health/triage type center, to determine what is really needed for the individual, other than taking them to jail,” Yergenson says.
Dean Germano, Shasta Community Health Center CEO, hopes Pendleton’s talk shows there are effective ways to help the homeless and, at the same time, the overall community.
“I hope he can articulate the economic costs of doing nothing vs. what can be done with some investments and effective coordination,” Germano says.
There is much frustration centered on homelessness. It is important the public has an understanding of strategies, particularly Housing First, he says. Community leaders will be faced with choices and need know what the community supports. If the public doesn’t understand and weigh in, “it will be very hard to move the ball on policy and resource commitment,” he says.
And to not act would mean to continue the frustration everyone feels – including the homeless, Germano says.
Housing First – something to learn about, think about, talk about. So, remember: noon to 1:30 p.m. Feb. 11 at McLaughlin Auditorium. RSVP here or call 244-1219.
Editor’s Note: Registration for the forum closed at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday after reaching seating capacity at 525 people. But no worries, you can follow a live chat that will be taking place at noon via this link as Record Searchlight editors and reporters report live and moderate a chat. Ask your questions and comment on what’s being said virtually.