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Long-Awaited Report on Placer County Homeless Presented to Supervisors

April 07, 2015

An action plan and recommendations that are part of a long-awaited study on homelessness in Placer County were presented to the Placer County Board of Supervisors Tuesday. Dr. Robert G. Marbut, a nationally recognized homelessness expert hired by the supervisors, discussed his research and presented suggestions to the board. 

Marbut made his presentation to the board and answered questions clarifying points and issues arising from his research. The Board heard public comment and then directed county staff to research ways to take action on many of the issues discussed at the meeting.

Marbut’s study, conducted in December of last year and January of this year, collected data on who the homeless are, how they came to be homeless, where they came from and how long they’ve been homeless. The study also looked at the myriad services offered throughout the county and what’s being done well and where improvements are needed.

The survey found that Placer County is doing exemplary work in providing critical services to homeless families. The data also shows that the overall number of homeless and homeless veterans is decreasing. However, Marbut’s research showed that services offered by a variety of providers throughout the county lack a cohesive plan that will move homeless people off the streets and into stable environments where they can receive needed services. Marbut noted that the number of chronically homeless, generally defined as someone homeless for more than a year, is increasing and is almost three times the national average.

The supervisors have approved the use of the old minimum security barracks at the Placer County Government Center in North Auburn as a temporary overnight homeless shelter. That facility is expected to open around the beginning of May. One of Marbut’s suggestions was that the county needs a permanent 24-hour, seven days a week facility to make significant progress in reducing the homeless numbers, but said that opening the barracks is an incremental improvement. Supervisor Jack Duran echoed those sentiments.

“I have my concerns about the barracks, but that’s a good start,” said Supervisor Jack Duran. “But if we don’t get a handle on this now, it’s going to grow.” 

The supervisors hired Marbut in September 2014 to do research and compile a comprehensive report on homelessness in the county. The data was collected through surveys and interviews. Marbut also said the use of a federally mandated information gathering system, Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), needed to be shifted from a score keeper model to a proactive case management tool. Marbut also recommended updating area service plans to provide more stability. 

The data compiled by Marbut shows that homelessness in Placer County is a home grown population. Most of those who are homeless in Placer County have a connection to the county. They were living here when they became homeless, have family in the area or went to high school here. Additionally, there are three distinct homeless populations: Roseville, Auburn and the eastern portion of the county. Marbut’s research debunked a misconception that the rail yard in Roseville was source of a significant portion of the homeless.

Marbut looked at triggers of homelessness in the area, why some of this population stays homeless for a long time, where the homeless come from and mobility of the population. The survey found that among area homeless males, mental illness and substance abuse, coupled with job retention issues affected a significant percentage. For homeless females, domestic violence and financial hardships caused by a divorce or relationship breakup were additional factors.

Marbut said that whatever the factors that lead to homelessness, getting services through a 24-hour, seven day a week program and a single-stop services center in Auburn to those persons with substance abuse and mental health is critical to getting them off the streets.

Through the use of HMIS, coordination between service providers, and strategic planning rather than tactical moves are all needed to improve programs that help people get out of homelessness. Once a homeless person is stabilized, Marbut said that Placer County needs to increase long-term housing opportunities. To view the presentation, click on this link: Board of Supervisors and then click on the April 7 meeting video.

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