(The following is an opinion editorial published by the OC Register)
By MAX GARDNER, DAVID SNOW, RACHEL GOLDBERG, WHITNEY AYERS, GEORGE SEARCY, HEATHER STRATMAN and KAREN WILLIAMS / Contributing writers
December 9, 2016
By the end of the year, it is estimated that more than 15,000 men, women and children — one in 20 Orange County residents — will have experienced at least one night of homelessness. This is undoubtedly a crisis with numerous causes and potential solutions.
Our organizations find hope in a new study that will — for the first time in our region’s history — pinpoint the current costs of homelessness to our local communities.
For decades, addressing our homelessness crisis has been impeded by the unknown costs of care. These costs are very elusive and are spread across a labyrinth of departments, organizations, services and sectors. This reality has made action driven by policy change structurally difficult to achieve. Simply put, our policy makers have not had access to the necessary data to evaluate the costs of homelessness to our community in order to target comprehensive solutions.
This new analysis — called the OC Homelessness Cost Study — will help shift the paradigm.
Collaborative study to change the dynamic
The study will help pave the way for solutions that account for compassion as well as fiscal responsibility.
When completed early next year, it will provide our most thorough picture of costs associated with the current approach to addressing homelessness. Moving forward, it will help answer critical questions, like “does it cost more to simply maintain the status quo than develop comprehensive solutions?” It will empower local and regional policy makers with empirical data on the costs to their specific communities. In essence, it will provide a deep analysis of our current approach that will help drive future change.
It engages the full spectrum of stakeholders touched by homelessness, including hospitals and emergency rooms, public safety departments, non-profit service-providers, transportation agencies and cities. Importantly, the study also involves hundreds of those experiencing homelessness directly to have an understanding of the frequency and types of services they utilize.
All told, it will provide a necessary and vital assessment of how we currently fund solutions to homelessness.
The common thread to ending homelessness: Collaboration
This endeavor also reflects a critically important strategy to end homelessness: collaboration.
Indeed, the study is a true partnership funded largely by Orange County United Way and implemented by the University of California, Irvine’s Department of Sociology. It is also made possible through the expertise of key stakeholders, including 2-1-1 Orange County, the Association of California Cities — Orange County, Jamboree Housing Corporation and the Hospital Association of Southern California.
This level of collaboration has proven to be the essential ingredient to lasting solutions. The Orchard in Santa Ana and the Kraemer site in Anaheim are two shining examples of when collaboration leads to results.
The Orchard was a true partnership of both the private and public sector. The project team repurposed an old motel in Santa Ana into roughly 70 permanent supportive housing units that will also include a community garden, commercial kitchen and laundry facilities. Similarly, the Kraemer site involves partnerships and funding from the county, several neighboring cities and nonprofits to develop what will soon become the region’s largest year-round emergency shelter.
These unique and distinct solutions were the result of strong partnerships between the public, private and nonprofit sectors. They also resemble the types of solutions we believe will be shown by the study to have the greatest, most cost-effective impact.
Once we understand the cost of care, we can then make informed decisions on allocating the necessary resources to build more integrated and lasting solutions.
There is growing consensus in this county to prioritize urgent action to end homelessness. It is our shared belief that this study — and its reliance on the collaborative model — will help move us beyond the simple moral imperative of solving this crisis and begin to identify the return on investment for humane, cost effective and permanent solutions.
Max Gardner is CEO of OC United Way; Dr. Snow and Dr. Goldberg are professors of Sociology at UC Irvine; Whitney Ayers is the regional vice president, Orange County of HASC; George Searcy is vice president, Community Impact for Jamboree Housing Corp.; Karen Williams is CEO of 2-1-1 OC; and Heather Stratman is CEO of the ACC-OC.