For various reasons, the rate of homelessness and near-homelessness has been growing in California. Only half of its 40-million residents own homes, and the half that do not are spending 50% or more of their income on rent. Compounding this, the Yuba-Sutter area poverty level sits at 22% compared to the national level of 15.6%. For various reasons, the rate of homelessness and near-homelessness has been growing in California. Only half of its 40-million residents own homes, and the half that do not are spending 50% or more of their income on rent. Compounding this, the Yuba-Sutter area poverty level sits at 22% compared to the national level of 15.6%.
Homelessness has been a huge issue in Yuba-Sutter county for ages. The problem was so extensive at one point that local law enforcement were cooperating loosely with the various named and established homeless camps throughout the region. This cooperation helped officials and various humanitarian programs get a measurement of the population and allowed them to enter and work with organized collectives of homeless individuals.
While the relationship between the homeless individuals in these camps and those from outside was strained at times, that strain came to a head some time around last June, when a Point in Time count (the method by which local agencies get a census of the homeless population) revealed that roughly 3000 individuals were living in these camps. This represented a huge spike in homelessness and prompted the City of Marysville to take action.
Originally the plan was to implement mass arrests throughout the area, but this approach was brought under fire by local activists, and a more humanitarian approach was put forward with the 14 Forward project.
John Nicoletti, a Yuba County Supervisor at the time of the program’s implementation and one of the program’s pioneers, expressed his frustrations with the mass arrest approach. “They like to call it code enforcement action – they want to put some sort of sweet term on it – I think it was boot stomping; it was just getting rid of people without regard for where they were supposed to go or not go,” he said.
The three biggest challenges that homeless people face, according to Nicoletti, are: Having a dry place to sleep, having a secure place to store the things you own, and food. “When you step back and look, there’s like 18 different locations you can get food in Yuba-Sutter,” he explained. “There’s clothing closets in almost every church (and other additional spots); so housing is the #1 crisis.”
At 14 Forward, residents are provided refurbished tuff sheds that house two. These residencies have coded locks so that residents can safely store their things; there is also a large shipping crate where bigger items can be stored. While this may not be a five-star resort experience (the facilities lack electricity, and light is provided by battery-powered or hand-crank lanterns), it represents a step up in terms of safety and ability to move beyond simply securing one’s basic needs.
When he presented the idea of a transitional homeless village to the County Administrator, Nicoletti was met with budget concerns. “I said… we actually are spending the money now, we just aren’t communicating; we’re in silos.” He elaborated, “Health and Human [sic] are always looking for kids to get into schools – they’re always down in the river looking around. The sheriff’s department is down there looking for problem spots or areas where they have to keep control by monitoring. Probation department has a good relationship with a good share of the people… and so… we know these folks, we know them by name, we know basically where they’re living… But we’re [all] doing it for our own area of focus.”
When all was said and done, the county ended up spending around $140,000 building the camp, and an additional $80,000 was raised in private funds to support the program.
Various organizations such as Habitat for Humanity also offered voluntary services – assisting in the procurement and assembly of the tuff sheds, or in the case of Recology providing a year of garbage services and handwashing stations.
When asked about the progress the program has made, he revealed that the number of homeless is estimated to have been reduced from 3,000 to 600 since the program was implemented.
Additionally, the amount of underage homeless has gone down from an estimated 750 to less than 40; it’s helped over 30 people get full-time employment; it’s assisted 4 veterans with getting their lives back together; and it’s placed 115 families (women with children) into housing. “The program has results,” he exclaimed. “It works – in a year we’ve done that!”
One of the goals for the 14 Forward project is creating a place where these agencies can pull together. Nicoletti explained “14 Forward is the result of ‘if we could do one thing, what would make the biggest impact in their lives?’ and so the magic of 14 Forward is – if a person is homeless, instead of depending on a bicycle or something like that to get around, all of those services: Behavior health, health and human services, law enforcement, job search – all of those things are brought to 14 Forward… that contact – regular contact – is helping people move forward quickly”
The 14 Forward program isn’t done moving itself forward, either – there are plans to expand to a new location where showers, laundry, food services, and training programs are currently being installed. This new site isn’t just going to be a shelter; it’s designed to be the location where they plan on implementing a program called coordinated entry. Nicoletti explained, “Our coordinated entry site means if you’re on the streets for any reason, we bring you through the site, there’s a
thirty-minute interview to prioritize where challenges are, where barriers are, and start matching services to it.”
The goal of this site is partially to lower barriers for homeless youth and to try and build up people who want to find a better path forward, getting them resources that are immediate needs. The facility just got its business license and just got cleared to open, so they’re still in the middle of moving in. “It’s pretty exciting,” Nicoletti admits. “I think it’s going to be even more successful than the stuff we’ve been working on.”