SAFETY EXIT

Encinitas Opening Doors Program

Opening Doors

June 27, 2017

Written by: Guest contributor, Lisa Shaffer

Lisa Shaffer and her husband, Steve Bartram, are long-time CRC supporters. Lisa served on the Encinitas City Council from 2012-2016.

Most of us will never be homeless, but what if we were? What do people do if they find themselves out of options? In Encinitas, they turn to the Community Resource Center. Thanks to “Opening Doors,” an innovative pilot project funded in part by the City of Encinitas, 32 more households, including five veterans, now have housing.

Azucena Acosta is the CRC’s Housing Navigator. A navigator is “a person who directs the route or course of a ship, aircraft, or other form of transportation, especially by using instruments and maps.” In Azucena’s case, she directs the route or course of clients, using her MSW training and the CRC’s network of social services and housing resources. And a navigator is definitely needed through the complex maze of forms, policies, programs, and organizations.

The first step is an intake assessment. Some clients walk in looking for help. Others are identified by CRC staff through outreach in the community. If the client has a connection to Encinitas, a detailed assessment is conducted, using, among other instruments, the San Diego Vulnerability Index & Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool (VI-SPDAT). This tool establishes the priority assigned to each individual case, and determines the best match with specific program resources. The objective is to determine whether the client is ready for housing, and will be likely to stay in the housing once assigned. Case managers at the CRC enroll clients in other services like counseling and nutrition assistance as needed.

Since affordable housing units are not readily available in Encinitas, few of the clients are able to be placed locally. The remainder find housing in other north county cities, mostly Vista, Oceanside, and San Marcos. Some decline the housing that is offered for a variety of reasons. But CRC is always there, working to help those who are willing and able to work with staff to find solutions.

But CRC is always there, working to help those who are willing and able to work with staff to find solutions.

As with other CRC programs, what distinguishes this organization is its commitment to treating clients with dignity, and focusing on long-term success, not just short-term patches. Azucena and the other staff establish relationships with their clients and promote self-sufficiency through teaching and modeling life skills, not doing the client’s work. Everyone is welcome at intake. Staff work with clients to define goals and then follow up to see if the commitments are kept. Even when there is a setback, a client can still return. Staff asks “where were you last successful? Let’s start there.” Not all needs can be met immediately, especially with housing, so staff is careful not to create false expectations, while working to place as many clients as possible.

When I asked what would make the CRC’s homelessness program more successful, the immediate answer was more housing. Whether building new units, purchasing existing housing inventory, or subsidizing leases on market-rate rental units, more capacity is needed if we are to place more people in long-term housing. The second thing needed is more money to cover the full program costs. Encinitas provided about $100,000 for the first year of the program, and that year ended in April 2017. City funding only covered the Housing Navigator position, but not the supplemental case management and other services. New funding is anticipated in the 2017/18 budget, but the proposed amount will not cover the full costs. The final item on the CRC wish list for housing is additional staff to help with housing readiness, assessment, placement, and follow-up case management support.

Edward Everett Hale said “I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” Affordable housing and homelessness are big, complex, difficult societal challenges. Community Resource Center cannot solve them alone, but it can do something. For those five (5) veterans and the other 28 clients who are no longer homeless, thanks to Opening Doors, they have made all the difference.

Edward Everett Hale said “I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”