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IN THE NEWS



Tom Silva, Mayor Cutter and Executive Director Liz Varela sign the Compact,
while members of the San Leandro City Council look on.


San Leandro’s Blueprint to End Homelessness Takes Root

March 21, 2016 | San Francisco Chronicle

After years of sleeping in his battered 1995 Nissan Maxima, Johnnie Pullen, 62, has finally been promised a market-rate apartment in San Leandro, with the rent paid indefinitely. He’s one of the first to benefit from San Leandro’s new effort to provide 25 units of permanent housing for longtime street dwellers. On Wednesday, he’ll move into a new one-bedroom on Davis Street, paying the landlord one-third of the $1,600 a month he receives from Social Security. The nonprofit Building Futures With Women and Children will cover the rest with funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“I’ll have a bedroom, living room, bathroom and kitchen,” Pullen said Monday. “In fact, you know what? I’ll have a key. So I don’t have to go there that night, but I know I can go there anytime I want.”

The San Leandro Homeless Compact is an arrangement between the city’s Rental Housing Association, which will coordinate with landlords providing the units, and Building Futures, which will provide a slew of services for participating tenants. It’s billed as a long-term solution for homelessness in San Leandro, an East Bay city that’s seeing the first inklings of a regional housing crisis.

“It’s a growing problem Bay Area-wide, and we’re a smaller city that’s now creating systems to end homelessness. We’re not just leaving it to the Berkeleys, the Oaklands and the Santa Claras of the world,” said Building Futures Executive Director Liz Varela. Between 150 and 200 people sleep on San Leandro’s streets each night — a fraction of the 4,040 homeless counted in Alameda County last year but a significant number for an area that’s not yet awash in services.

The city opened its first warming shelter last year, and Building Futures has begun doing street outreach, helping homeless people find places to get food or health care or take a hot shower. The nonprofit also runs a weekly program at a coin-operated laundry, handing out soap and covering the costs of washing clothes.

Landlords’ participation key


But short-term services aren’t really enough to solve a homeless problem that’s become painfully obvious, particularly in San Leandro’s downtown corridor. With rents escalating rapidly, the problem will only get worse, Varela said.

Pullen is among many longtime residents who lost his home just as the real estate market was heating up. After suffering a debilitating stroke in 2012, he was unable to keep his job at a vitamin company in Union City, and could no longer afford to rent an apartment. He began parking his car in the industrial pockets of West Oakland and staying there for days at a time, hoping no one would ask him to move.

“I was afraid I’d be riding around with no money,” Pullen said. He said his Social Security payments won’t cover the cost of gas and occasional motel stays, which can run up to $100 a night.

San Leandro officials say their program will provide Pullen with a home, a case manager, and such “wraparound” services as medical and dental care. It hinges on a unique agreement between the city and several participating landlords, who are allowed to terminate a lease or raise rents at their discretion.

“The juiciest thing about this is the landlord piece,” Varela said. “The truth is that Johnnie would not be able to get his apartment without that (arrangement) — apartments are competitive.”

The Housing First model — giving homeless people a permanent place to live, in the hope that everything else will fall into place — became popular on the East Coast two decades ago, when a New York program called Pathways to Housing began taking people off the street and putting them into apartments. The idea was to mix the city’s poor in with everyone else, rather than relegate them to a shelter or residential hotel.

In the past few years, many cities have implemented similar programs, said Nan Roman, president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness in Washington, D.C. She said it’s often cheaper to pay for someone’s long-term housing than to keep him outside battling the elements: Some homeless people rack up costs because they routinely need to be shuttled to jails, sobering centers or emergency rooms.

Getting back into society

Furthermore, she said, people who are constantly worried about basic survival — finding enough food and a warm place to sleep — aren’t able to tackle the issues that got them out on the street in the first place.

“If you don’t have housing and food, your mind is going to be focused on those things all the time, and not on, ‘Why should I stop drinking?’ or ‘Why should I get a job?’” Roman said.

For Pullen, having a stable home means getting back into society. But first he plans to hibernate for two days. “I’m gonna sign the contract,” he said. “Then I’m thinking I’ll get in the bathtub and soak for half a day. Then I’ll lay in my bed for two days, not bothering no one.

Link to full text here: San Leandro’s blueprint to end homelessness takes root Rachel Swan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer.
Email: rswan@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @rachelswan
 





 

 
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