Program will house the chronically homeless without sobriety mandate

07/12/2017

The county is in the early phases of implementing a new program that will provide permanent housing and ongoing support for 50 chronically homeless people. An outline of the Whole Person Care program, expected to launch in October, was presented on Tuesday during the first-ever joint meeting of the Board of Supervisors and the Marin Housing Authority’s board of commissioners. Carrie Ellen Sager, the county’s homelessness program coordinator, told supervisors and commissioners that this effort was spurred by a survey of the county’s homeless population earlier this year. Surveyors counted 1,117 homeless people, 130 of whom were living in unincorporated Marin, in a one-day count in January. And though overall homelessness is down since 2015, the number of chronically homeless people—those who have been homeless for longer than a year—is on the rise, now totaling 359 people. Ms. Sager said the chronically homeless are the most vulnerable and carry higher assistance costs, including ambulance rides, police encounters and health emergencies. The new program will utilize a housing-first policy that forgoes sobriety or substance abuse treatment as prerequisites. Ms. Sager said studies have indicated that starting with treatment can be ineffective. “If people get housing before addressing their issues, they’re more likely to be successful,” she said. “It’s easier to get treatment for health issues if you have a safe, clean place to sleep.” Marin Health and Human Services acquired a five-year grant worth $10 million from the state’s Department of Health Care Services and will supervise the program. Part of the money will be put toward services tailored to the individual, such as housing case managers who will work with people to develop a routine and find employment. “Transitioning from homelessness to a house can be jarring,” Mr. Sager said. Services like case managers, peer support navigators, home health nurses and counselors currently can be charged to Medi-Cal. But that could change: Grant Colfax, director of Health and Human Services, was quick to warn supervisors that the new program could face financial difficulties if the Affordable Care Act is disassembled. “We will lose millions of dollars in potential reimbursement for those folks if Obamacare goes away,” he said.