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'100-day challenge' aims to house homeless veterans, families in Santa Barbara County
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'100-day challenge' aims to house homeless veterans, families in Santa Barbara County

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Local organizations and Santa Barbara County officials on Monday started a "100-day challenge," part of a new statewide initiative that is aimed at housing homeless veterans and their families.

The challenge initiative was launched by Gov. Gavin Newsom last year, and calls on counties and cities across the state to end or reduce homelessness in targeted populations, such as youth or veterans, according to Ali Sutton, deputy secretary for homelessness at the Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency, which is facilitating the challenges.

The initiative is modeled on similar, successful efforts across the country

In Santa Barbara County, the challenge is to house at least 75 veterans in the next 100 days, according to Steve Baird, president of the Echo Group, a local veterans nonprofit, one of the challenge’s sponsors. 

The challenge isn’t necessarily about money, but about “busting” the system barriers that keep people from getting the assistance they need, according to Sutton.

The annual Point In Time Count, released in January, indicated a need for such a challenge with the county homeless veteran population increasing from 118 to 210, or 83%, from 2018 to 2019.

“The 100 day-challenges generally are done without additional resources but how to better use the resources we have,” according to Sutton, who praised Santa Barbara County for rolling right into a second challenge.

Lucille Boss, a senior housing programs specialist, confirmed the county’s participation in the challenge but didn’t immediately provide details, adding a formal announcement is expected next week.

The county is completing a similar, federally-funded 100-day challenge to house homeless youth, which launched in July in conjunction with three other counties. The county’s specific goal was to house at least 50 youth.

While the emphasis isn’t about throwing money at the problem, Newsom’s announcement encouraged governments to utilize the $650 million in emergency homeless aid included in the 2019-2020 budget.

The money was already allocated to the county and a separate entity known as a Continuum of Care program, or a local multi-jurisdictional body of community stakeholders, who could dole money out to private organizations to help with the challenge, according to Russ Heimerich, deputy secretary of communications at the state BCSH agency.

“[The challenge] won’t necessarily involve making decisions about grants or sending money out but what it could also do is identify roadblocks to housing veterans, could involve money or improving internal processes,” Heimerich said.

For the challenges, counties are arranged into cohorts and periodically meet to discuss ways to make the system more efficient, with the Rapid Results Institute, a Connecticut-based nonprofit consulting firm, providing technical assistance during the 100-day period, according to Sutton.

The communities are the ones leading the discussions, while the nonprofit helps them think of creative solutions.

“The intention is to help communities learn how to make long term change and not just for 100 days,” Sutton said.

An example of a solution that emerged from one cohort was a partnership with the DMV to streamline the preparation of personal documents needed for housing assistance, according to Sutton.

In this case, Santa Barbara, San Francisco and Sonoma counties were combined into a cohort, according to state officials. Each county has its own specific focus on ending homelessness.

The cohort met last week for a three-day Zoom meeting and one focus Santa Barbara County is interested in is how to better share data, particularly between separate databases that track homeless and veterans, and try to find matches for those who need services, according to Sutton.

Baird, whose nonprofit runs Camp Flores, a privately-funded house in Santa Maria for homeless veterans, said his specific focus is on housing veteran families and female veterans. 

"This is going to be a landlord engagement opportunity to speak with landlords and owners," Baird said, adding a property management company will be brought in to lend their expertise with Section 8 and other housing programs. "Our major driving points are focusing on veteran families and female homeless veterans because it's very hard to find," Baird said. 

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