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Close to Home: The keys to confronting homelessness

  • Matt Martin, executive director of Social Advocates for Youth (SAY), right, speaks during Lost in Paradise: A Forum on Homelessness in Sonoma County at the Glaser Center on Feb. 12. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)

We applaud The Press Democrat for hosting the Feb. 12 “Lost in Paradise” forum on homelessness. Advocacy groups including our Housing Advocacy Group have been working to get cities to provide more shelters and permanent housing for homeless persons for years. Much has been accomplished but sadly the numbers of homeless persons in Sonoma County have more than tripled.

In 2001, the county's homeless count found about 1,500 persons. By 2013, that number had increased to 4,280. The 2001 count found 10 homeless minors under 18 years old; the 2013 count found 277.

Experience in other parts of the country shows that, “Housing First” — getting homeless persons into permanent housing with supportive services where needed — is the fastest, most effective and least costly way to reduce homelessness. Providing housing costs money, but maintaining homeless people in shelters, hospitals and jails and on the streets costs just as much or even more.

Here's what has to be done now to address this crisis.

First, local governments must help provide financing to build more affordable housing. Every dollar of local financing for affordable housing leverages $10 to $20 in state and federal affordable housing funding. Before the state abolished redevelopment agencies, cities were legally required to allocate at least 20 percent of the increased property taxes they received from redevelopment activities to build new affordable housing.

While redevelopment agencies are no longer operating, cities are receiving the increased taxes generated by redevelopment projects and should continue to allocate at least 20 percent and preferably more to support affordable housing development.

Second, housing developers should be required to include a percentage of affordable units in all development projects. The county now requires most developers to set aside 20 percent of homes in new subdivisions for lower-income families. Every city in the county should do the same.

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