In hopes of better serving the local homeless population, the Kings/Tulare Homeless Alliance is changing the way it connects high-risk homeless residents with housing.
This week, the organization will be conducting its first-ever Registry Week in Kings and Tulare counties. The project aims to build a database of homeless individuals and connects them with housing programs based on the severity of their needs.
Housing resources are currently distributed on a first-come-first-served basis.
“It’s changing the way we do things,” said Machael Smith, program director for the Kings/Tulare Homeless Alliance.
Registry Week kicked off in Visalia on Monday. The effort will continue today in Hanford, followed by additional events in Tulare, Porterville and Dinuba later this week. Volunteers will visit known homeless “hot spots” that have been identified by local law enforcement, service agencies and other officials.
“The focus is on people living in places not meant for human habitation, so that’s the street homeless,” Smith said.
The Kings/Tulare Homeless Alliance released its 2015 Point in Time homeless census earlier this year, which showed that the homeless population in Kings County increased from 173 to 226 since last year.
Most of the increase was in Hanford, which saw a 46 percent jump from 138 people to 202.
Lucia Orosco, Homeless Management Information System specialist for the Kings United Way, said the new approach will focus on individuals who are hardest to serve, some of whom have given up on finding housing. That could include those with health problems, mental illnesses or substance abuse problems.
As an example, Smith and Orosco pointed to a 98-year-old homeless man in Hanford who recently attended the Project Homeless Connect event. Due to his age and health conditions, he would likely be a high priority for housing.
“If we find him, we’re pretty sure he’ll be at the top of the list,” Orosco said.
Smith said local agencies are aware of a handful of homeless Hanford residents over 70 years old.
“They will die on the streets if we don’t do something,” Smith said. “Our point is to divert people who could die on the streets into housing.”
Orosco said nearby Fresno County has had massive success with the housing-first model. She pointed to the Fresno-Madera Continuum of Care’s 2015 Point in Time survey, which showed the bi-county area decreased its homeless population by 55 percent since 2013.
“It’s really working in Fresno County,” Orosco said.
Smith said research increasingly shows that the most effective way to stop homelessness is to provide individuals with housing first, and then connect them with supportive services.
The assessment survey includes questions about the person’s housing situation, as well as health, run-ins with law enforcement and their ability to handle their basic needs. Smith said surveyors will also take a photo of each participant and identify how they can be reached in the future, either by phone or at a particular location.
Smith said the data will be entered into a computer system that will assign a score to each case, similar to the triage process used in emergency medicine. Local agencies hope to complete 150 assessments this week and have 300 completed by the end of September.
“We want to really work hard to populate the system so we get an accurate picture of who is in need,” Smith said.
The prioritization system will also create a central list of people in need of housing. Orosco said individual programs currently maintain their own waiting list.
Smith said service agencies will follow up with participants annually to gauge the level of success or failure of the housing programs.