County and Eureka Enter ‘Housing First’ Policy Pact

Humboldt County and the City of Eureka have agreed to jointly implement a so-called housing first approach to addressing homeless, with both approving resolutions to that effect.

A joint resolution to support a “housing first” homelessness reduction plan from the Sacramento-based Focus Strategies firm was approved by the Board of Supervisors at its March 1 meeting.

That night, the Eureka City Council also approved the resolution, which will return to the Board of Supervisors for final approval on March 8.

The collaborative approach doesn’t come without some doubt, as the Eureka City Council has considered options that contradict the plan’s housing-centric focus and approved a shelter crisis declaration that facilitates setup of emergency shelters.

The term housing first refers to a strategy that emphasizes immediate placement into housing prior to actions such as drug addiction or mental health counseling referrals. It discourages setup of temporary shelters as a means of addressing homelessness.

Supervisor Ryan Sundberg said he’d heard that the Eureka Council would be considering establishment of a temporary campground at its meeting later that day. Rob Holmlund, Eureka’s community development director, clarified the situation.

“The city has not allocated any funding to a camp and staff recommends against that approach as it conflicts with the Focus Strategies report,” he said, adding that the matter wasn’t on the council’s meeting agenda.

Holmlund said he did analyze the permitting and zoning conditions related to establishing a transient campground at the council’s request and he recommended waiting for the Focus Stategies report before taking further action.

“It could be that council asks other entities to do that sort of thing without spending any city money or resources on it,” he continued. “In that case, it would be more in line with the plan — the plan says we should be putting our collective energies into housing first and anything that manages homelessness, like a camp or a car place, is really just a distraction from the solution.”

In January, supervisors and city councilmembers met together in a joint meeting for a presentation on the Focus Strategies plan, which was paid for both governments. Supervisor Estelle Fennell has questioned how the plan would be carried out in county areas and she said she’d like for the board to have an opportunity to field its own presentation from Focus Strategies.

“And I do remember specifically that they pointed out that authorizing the kind of approach that the city has taken before this would be counter to what’s being recommended in this resolution,” she added.

Holmlund said that while it’s possible to have Focus Strategies return for another presentation, “At some point we need to own this,” adding that “they can’t manage this perpetually into the future for us.”

Supervisor Virginia Bass has been involved in homelessness reduction planning for many years and she described the joint resolution as a show of leadership. “There are other cities and counties that are working on this but there’s not a joint resolution — there’s not one that has stepped forward yet to actually say, ‘We’re committed to the housing first model and we’re willing to do this together,’” she said.

Bass said she inquired about the cost of having Focus Strategies return for a presentation and was told it would be $4,000. Supervisors agreed that it would make more sense to have county Department of Health and Human Services staff address implementation of the plan, touching base with Focus Strategies by phone if necessary.