As the Capital Region rallies around renewed homelessness talks and discussions on the impact of rising rent, one nonprofit has already worked for the last 17 years at the intersection of homelessness and affordable housing.
Sacramento Self Help Housing helps get people off the streets and into homes by helping them find the services, income and relationships with landlords they need to sign a lease. That could include helping clients with anything from employment programs to housing vouchers and safety net services like welfare, SSI and disability assistance. They also provide interim and permanent supportive housing services, and run a “Renters Helpline” for housed but vulnerable Sacramentans looking for guidance.
In 2015, the nonprofit served 12,578 clients and worked to house about 3,300 people, of which two-thirds found homes.
“In some ways, applying for an apartment is sort of like applying for a job,” says SSHH Executive Director John Foley. “If you don’t have a way to even say hi and explain yourself, or if you do a poor job of filling out an application, you’re not going to be on the top of a list. And these days if you’re not at the top of the list there’s no point.”
One of the first things SSHH does with homeless residents is walk them through what they can expect from the application process. They look at their credit scores, criminal background checks and income streams, then work to overcome the barriers these things pose to hopeful tenants. “It’s a reality check,” says Foley. “For a lot of people who don’t realize how tight the housing market is, it’s kind of extreme.”
Sacramento is the fastest-growing rental market in the country, with rent prices rising 11.4 percent last year and vacancy rates plummeting to 2.6 percent. Add in the homelessness crisis and sluggish developments on new affordable housing, and options become increasingly limited.
Still, the team at SSHH, like Homeless Outreach Navigator Lauren Juskelis, are regularly out in the streets, creeks and parks, working — and succeeding — in housing homeless residents.
“Some days I’m not in an office at all,” Juskelis says. “I’m driving clients to their meetings, and connecting them with other resources.” She’s had particular luck this winter helping folks find temporary warming shelters.
According to Foley, the resources people may need before finding housing will vary: Can they update their resumes and find work? Do they qualify for disability benefits or other streams of income? The organization will cobble together what they can to connect clients with affordable housing. And if they still can’t afford it, clients will look at renting a room instead.
While working with Sacramento Steps Forward in their Common Cents program, Foley recalls connecting one vulnerable veteran — a man barely able to function — with the Veteran’s Affairs department after sustained and dedicated contact with him. “There’s no question, he would have died if we hadn’t done that,” Foley says.
Sometimes homeless clients will do everything asked of them — work on their credit scores, find jobs, etc. — but at the end of the process there are still no housing options in the region for them. These losses hurt the most, Foley and Juskelis say. But they keep at it, and Foley views the Common Cents program as a possible template for the future once the region sorts out the housing crisis.
Until then, SSHH continues to works tirelessly to connect Sacramento’s most vulnerable citizens with the housing they desperately need.”