Community Dialogue on Homelessness

Published on February 20, 2015

With more than 100 concerned people in attendance, a public forum was held in Auburn Thursday night where the results from a study on homelessness in Placer County were released to the public. The study, done by Dr. Robert G. Marbut, Jr., a nationally recognized expert on homelessness, was conducted over the last several months. Results showed that overall, the numbers of homeless in Placer County is small compared to other areas of the country. However, the number of chronically homeless is growing and poses a challenge for the community.

Although the study was commissioned by Placer County, it took a comprehensive, county-wide view and notes that homelessness is a wide arcing community challenge, affecting county and city governments, residents, businesses, the faith-based community, and service providers. Thursday’s forum presented the assessment of gaps in services and housing and provided an opportunity for interested stakeholders to participate in the development of long-term solutions to reduce homelessness. Community input from the forum will be used to assist Dr. Marbut in developing recommendations based on what has been proven to work in similar communities across the country. The recommendations will be in the final report, which will be presented to the Board of Supervisors in late March or April.

Dr. Marbut noted that there were many things being done well in Placer County, but he pointed out that the system of county/city governments, service providers, and the faith based community lacks coordination and decision making is not strategic. 

“Homelessness is often triggered by mental illness, substance abuse, or an extreme event such as a job loss or domestic violence,” Marbut said.  “Reducing homelessness improves the lives of individuals, benefits the business climate, and reduces the strain on law enforcement and the emergency medical system -- and it can be done.

“To successfully reduce homelessness and impacts to businesses and residents in the community, all stakeholders must participate and fund the system – cities, county, businesses, and the faith-based community,” Marbut said

The purpose of the study is to provide information, data and recommendations that can be used by the county, city governments, service providers, homeless advocates and the faith-based community  to make informed decisions on how best to address homelessness.

The Marbut study’s survey results debunk misconceptions about homelessness and presents up-to-date data that accurately characterizes not just the number of homeless, but why and how they came to be where they are and from where they came. 

The unfortunate specter of homeless families was one of the issues in the study. While the number of families without a regular roof over their heads is low, the study pointed out the extensive assistance the families receive through service providers, advocacy groups, the county and others who are involved.

“The forum was an opportunity to understand what’s working, and identify areas to focus on to improve success and best leverage community resources,” said Graham Knaus, Placer County Assistant Director of Health and Human Services. “The entire community needs to come together to craft solutions that will fit the cities and unincorporated areas of Placer County.” 

The study revealed some unique circumstances surrounding the area’s homeless. While the number of homeless is not rising significantly, the percentage of chronic homeless is increasing at an alarming rate. The percentage of these chronically homeless persons is significantly higher than the national average.

The study showed that the homeless issue in Placer County is mostly homegrown. Many of the homeless in the area have a connection to Placer County: a third attended high school here; half have family in the area; 55 percent held a job in Placer County before they became homeless; and more than 80 percent became homeless while they lived in Placer County. Another common mischaracterization of the homeless challenge faced by the region is that the Union Pacific’s J.R. Davis rail yard in Roseville is the source of a significant portion of the homeless. Data from the study showed only about 5 percent of the region’s homeless could be traced back to the rail yard. 

The assessment also found that the needs in Roseville, Auburn and the eastern end of the county, including Lake Tahoe, are all very different. Because the issue of homelessness is not limited to one jurisdiction, Marbut’s study points out that the solution the challenge needs participation from all stakeholders and jurisdictions.  

While the complete study with recommendations will be released publically at a later date, Marbut said Thursday’s release of the findings is a snapshot of where we are now. He also noted that the findings are not suggestions on how to proceed. Thursday’s forum received input from the public, stakeholders and service providers. Dr. Marbut will continue to analyze the date he has compiled and create a Draft Action Plan that can then be used by decision makers in crafting a mechanism to address the challenges the community faces with homelessness.

Watch the video of Marbut’s presentation and the follow-on community discussion.

Download the slide presentation (PDF) from the meeting