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By Chris Frost
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Oxnard-- The Community Services, Public Safety, Housing & Development Committee, Tuesday, July 13, had its first discussion about the Housing First program in the city.
City Manager Alex Nguyen has championed the Housing First program since his early days in city hall and, after a Covid-19 delay, has arrived at the committee level.
Homeless Assistance Program Coordinator Jessica Petrillo presented the item to the committee and said at the 2020 point in time count in Oxnard, there were 567 homeless people counted in the city, and 379 were unsheltered.
"A 2021 point-in-time count took place, but due to limitations from the Covid-19 pandemic, only a sheltered count took place," she said. "The causes of homelessness are complex, with overlying factors; poverty, lack of affordable housing, unemployment, fleeing violence, and discharge from institutions. Our local data show us, in Oxnard, nearly one-third of homeless individuals indicate they have chronic health conditions, and over one-quarter have experienced chronic homelessness."
She pointed out that point-in-time counts are a one-day snapshot and likely underestimate the amount of homeless people.
On September 18, 2018, the Oxnard City Council adopted a five-year homeless plan, which has five areas to reduce and prevent homelessness in the city.
The plan includes targeting vagrancy and negative behavior, establishing and developing a year-round 24-hour homeless shelter and navigation center, resources, and funding to coordinate a quality controlled entry and exit system out of homelessness, improve and expand street outreach and community partnerships, and develop and build housing programs serving the homeless.
"The scope of the mission of the city's homeless efforts have expanded greatly in the past few years," Petrillo said. "Some examples include the opening of a year-round 24-hour, 110-bed homeless shelter and navigation center in 2019, the introduction of a street outreach team, coordination with backpack medicine, and county homeless services.
The Oxnard Housing Authority administered housing set aside vouchers and other vouchers for homeless individuals. They mitigated encampment cleanups, added capacity by working with the county to convert a motel into a non-congregate shelter and supportive housing, and took steps to address the Covid-19 pandemic.
"Housing First is a low barrier approach to ending homelessness, and it centers on quickly moving people from homelessness into housing and then providing additional support and services as needed," she said. "Housing First does not mean housing only, but it recognizes that people are better able to move forward with their lives if they first have housing. We know that Housing First can rapidly end homelessness. Increasing housing stability is cost-effective by reducing costs of other publically funded systems."
She said the five key principles of Housing First include immediate access to housing with no readiness requirements, self-determination, a recovery orientation, individualized client support, and social and community integration.
"In order to reduce and eventually eliminate homelessness, communities must adopt a Housing First approach," she said. "Addressing homelessness at the municipal level is in line with current trends on housing and homelessness at a state level. "One example of this is Assembly bill 816, which, if passed, would require cities to identify gaps and resources needed to tackle homelessness and submit a detailed plan on how they plan to reduce homelessness by 90 percent over the next decade."
The staff proposes that the city develop a 10-year housing first plan, including data and profiles on the homeless population in Oxnard, recommendations on how to meet those goals over the next 10 years, funding strategies, the creation and development of affordable housing, with community consultation throughout the process.
During council comments, Oscar Madrigal said the presentation was great, and the key focus is on homelessness and how to help people who are currently homeless.
"Are there any measures or help for people who are close to being homeless," he asked. "A lot of the presentation was getting the people who are homeless back into homes, but over the next 5-10 years, will we see more people, unfortunately, dealing with the homeless issue. Sadly, this is not going to be the end of it. There is a large group of people who may experience difficult times ahead. Is there anything in the works in the future that may help alleviate that rise in the future?"
Housing Director Emilio Ramirez said Housing First is a response to homelessness.
"It is not necessarily a preventative measure; it is definitely something that is responsive to homelessness, especially chronic, unsheltered homelessness," he said. "There are other efforts afoot regarding prevention, including the housing authority's vouchers and rapid rehousing. I'm happy to present a prevention program at a future committee meeting, but Housing First is not intended to combat prevention. It is technically for unsheltered chronically homeless."
Ramirez said the housing first plan is at its beginning stages and will take the better part of a year.
"We started with the Homeless Commission, and you're the second public venue where we are presenting this," he said. "We are going to undertake a 6-8 month community Charette process and identify what the homeless Housing First is and come back to the council in the future for the adoption of the plan. We are going to come back to this committee at least two more times to draft that plan and identify how we implement it."
The committee received and filed the presentation, and they look forward to future presentations.