As California’s housing crisis has worsened, and the number of people experiencing homelessness in the state has spiked far beyond 150,000, local governments and the homeless services organizations they contract with have been tasked with handling the growing number of unhoused people.
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Abode Services, Napa County’s homeless services provider, gave a presentation about what the organization does — covering homeless outreach, shelter and permanent housing — to about 30 people at the Napa County Library main branch on Thursday.
The event, sponsored by Napa’s branch of the American Association of University Women, featured three speakers from Abode who discussed the agency's various programs and then answered questions.
Wendi Moore, community engagement coordinator for Abode, led off the presentation; she was joined by Alex Gonzalez, housing navigator for the organization’s homeless outreach team, and Ashley Jacobson, housing navigator for the shelter team.
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Moore said Abode’s mission is to end homelessness in the communities the organization serves. Abode started in 1989 in Alameda County, and currently serves Santa Clara, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, San Mateo and Napa counties as well.
But Abode’s role in Napa, which started in 2017, is unique, Moore said, because the organization is involved in the county’s entire homeless services process — from “outreach, to shelter, to housing, and beyond housing, to contingency care for those who need our care until they become independently and stably housed,” Moore said.
Abode uses a housing-first model — now adopted by California — which means the organization sees providing permanent housing as a top priority.
“In other words, you want to put people into housing as quickly as you can, in order for them to be able to stabilize and meet the life goals that they set for themselves,” Moore said. “... Once people are stably housed, they’re in a far better position to work actively toward accomplishing their other life goals.”
It starts with outreach, which is Abode’s way of bringing unhoused residents into the homeless services system. Gonzalez said the outreach gets referrals from all over the place, and regularly goes out to visit encampments and vehicles that are being occupied by homeless residents. The team then offers various services, including diversion, preparing documentation to apply for government programs, transportation to housing and medical appointments, support services through the shelter, and crisis intervention.
But the team generally needs to build relationships and rapport with homeless residents first. “The main point of outreach is that we are connecting them,” Gonzalez said.
Abode also runs two county shelters, the South Napa Shelter and the seasonal winter shelter, which together provide 154 beds. At the South Napa Shelter, at 100 Hartle Court, Abode offers food, showers, laundry, and mail service, along with case management services, according to Moore.
Jacobson then described how Abode works with homeless residents to try to bring them into housing. That first involves navigation, she said, a process by which Abode seeks to remove barriers to securing housing for a resident. That could include such factors as a poor credit score, a criminal history or a previous eviction.
She added that this part of the process also involves referrals for mental and physical health needs, substance recovery services or public benefits.
“The most important part, I think, is that when you see a client, everyone’s super-different,” Jacobson said. “So everyone has different needs.”
But once Abode is able to successfully help a homeless resident become housed, they also often need to help them along with that process to achieve long-term stability, Jacobson said. That can involve help with paperwork, paying bills, and other areas of needed help that may be particular to the person in question. Jacobson recounted, for example, that she has an elderly disabled client who was recently housed, who was shown how to get quarters from the bank and use them for a coin-operated washing machine.
“I’m really just making sure people feel comfortable because someday we’re not going to be there,” Jacobson said. “And it’s important that they are confident that they can maintain their long-term living.”
Gonzalez noted that, overall, Abode outreach served 489 unique individuals in 2022. And 361 unique people stayed in one of Napa’s shelters that year as well, she said. (Napa County’s one-day point-in-time count last year found 494 homeless people in the county.)
In response to questions about how people could help out, Moore said that the South Napa Shelter day center is one place where volunteers can help to serve lunches, provided by various Napa restaurants. Moore said Abode is also in need of toiletries.