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Napa County hears plans to tackle homelessness

The bowl 2

A residence seen last year inside of the Bowl, a homeless encampment in the city of Napa. Napa County is considering a new approach to tackle homelessness.

The sight of tent cities and people living in cars crammed with possessions can be a thing of the past within a few years — that’s the message being preached by All Home.

But the five-year price tag for this vision of virtually eliminating homelessness in Napa County could be $87 million.

The Bay Area nonprofit wants to reduce the number of people homeless and on the verge of becoming homeless in the region by 75%. And if this sounds like a mere dream, the group says that’s part of the problem.

“One of the biggest barriers is the skepticism this can be done, that homelessness is in fact solvable,” said Tomiquia Moss, CEO of All Home.

Instead, she used the words “audacious goal.”

Still, there’s the possible price tag. A three-pronged effort in Napa County involving interim shelter, permanent housing and prevention could cost $87 million over five years, said Ken Kirkey of All Home.

All Home made a presentation to the Napa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday at the invitation of Supervisor Belia Ramos. Ramos is on the group’s Regional Impact Council Steering Committee, along with 37 other regional civic and business leaders.

Napa County, like other communities, does a “point-in-time” one-day count of the homeless annually, though this year’s count was canceled because of the pandemic. The last count in 2020 came to 464 homeless.

“We believe working with Napa County and its cities, this is an incredibly solvable challenge,” Moss said.

But All Home doesn’t see placing today’s homeless into homes as solving homelessness. The group said another piece is the substantial number of people who are not yet homeless but on the cusp of homelessness.

About 900,000 people in the region fall into the extremely low-income category, Kirkey said. They essentially don’t make enough money to live in a region that has become more expensive over the last decade.

For every homeless person housed in the region in recent years, two people have become homeless, Kirkey said.

“We think a prevention framework is very, very important to keep people from drifting into homelessness, oftentimes essentially because of poverty,” he said.

For that reason, the All Home approach stresses prevention. As a possible goal, Napa County might in one year move 46 people into interim shelters, move 93 people into permanent homes and help another 187 people avoid homelessness, according to a chart shown to supervisors.

“If we can really come up with a system that addresses the fact that people do become homeless and they can quickly move out of homelessness, we will have a very different dynamic than we do currently,” Kirkey said.

Jennifer Palmer, county interim director of Housing and Homeless Services, said the county had an unexpected experiment with the All Home approach during the pandemic.

The county used state money to rent a motel to house medically frail and elderly homeless people. It housed 54 people at a time and had Abode Services — which runs the local homeless shelter — work with them on behavioral health and housing plans.

From April 2020 to June 2021, 78 people used the service and 52 moved onto permanent housing, Palmer said. That’s 67%.

“When they first moved into the non-congregate shelter, I don’t think they would have been ready for a permanent housing solution,” Palmer said. “I don’t think they would have been ready to be a neighbor, ready to maintain their own housing."

They needed to stabilize coming from an unsheltered setting. The opportunity to work closely with case managers and have meals and medical assistance helped them make the move, she said.

“I just wouldn’t want to underestimate the cost of what we’re talking about,” she said.

Coming up with $87 million over five years would be the challenge. Kirkey said money for homeless issues is available from the federal and state governments. Also, existing money must be used as efficiently as possible.

“We would really want to work with you and our costs are pro bono, our assistance to you is pro bono,” Kirkey told the Board of Supervisors

Ramos said after the meeting she hopes the All Home presentation leads to action.

“I’ve been working on this for 18 months,” Ramos said. “I’m committed to it.”

She herself has experienced housing instability, but her parents helped her. The issue is near to her heart, Ramos said.

This isn’t the first time Napa County has looked at new ways to tackle homelessness. A 2016 report done for the county and city of Napa outlined a number of possible steps.

“Napa can end homelessness,” said the report by the Corporation for Supportive Housing and National Alliance to End Homelessness.

Instead, the one-day point-in-time homeless count rose from 317 in 2016 to 464 in 2020. However, county officials said one reason for the rise is a change made in how the homeless are counted, resulting in a more accurate number.

When she first got pregnant, Napan Crystal Ellis was homeless, living in a tent by the Napa River. Today, she has housing. She also recently had a baby girl, named Artemis.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.

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