Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

The SJCoC collects data daily on the homeless living in shelters through a web-based system called the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS)Counting the unsheltered homeless can be much more difficult.  Typically, the SJCoC conducts what is called apoint in time count of the homeless on odd-numbered years, which will include a volunteer effort to count the unsheltered County-wide.

At one Point in Time in January 2019, 2,629 people experienced homelessness in San Joaquin County. Of those, 1,558 were unsheltered.  The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Veterans Affairs consider a person to be homeless if they are sleeping outside, in a place not meant for human habitation such as a car or abandoned building, or in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program. Other federal agencies have different definitions for homelessness.  Because our mandate comes from HUD, the San Joaquin Continuum of Care (SJCoC) uses the HUD definition of homelessness.

To read the full report on the results of the 2019 Point in Time Count of the Sheltered and Unsheltered Homeless in San Joaquin Countyplease click here

There are many reasons why an individual might find themselves homeless:  sudden loss of employment, sudden loss of housing without means to re-house quickly, trauma, physical health issues, mental health issues, domestic violence, substance abuse, and addiction, incarceration, etc.  The SJCoC seeks to address issues contributing to homelessness not only for individuals but also the systemic issues that lead to homelessness.  The greatest single factor contributing to homelessness in our communities is the gap between wages and housing prices.

·     In San Joaquin County, a renter needs to earn $29.46 per hour – $5,107 per month – to afford the median asking rent of $1,532.

·     In order to meet the current demand for rental housing, San Joaquin County needs to add 25,489 more units.

·     Over the last ten years, State and Federal funding for housing production and preservation in San Joaquin County was cut by 59%.

Healthy communities have a broad range of housing options for all income levels.  Without addressing the systemic lack of housing contributing to homelessness in San Joaquin County, the numbers of homeless will continue to rise.

For more information about San Joaquin County’s housing crisis, please click here.

Yes – there are groups of people who experience homelessness in different ways, but all homelessness is characterized by extreme poverty coupled with a lack of stable housing. Children on their own or with their families, single adults, seniors, and veterans compose various demographic groups that may use different types of programs or services or have differing factors that contribute to their homelessness. There are also those who experience homelessness for various lengths of time (short-term, long-term, or “chronic”) or who experience multiple episodes of homelessness (moving between housing and homelessness). Those who are “doubled up” or “couch surfing” are also considered homeless if their housing arrangement is for economic reasons and is unstable (a disagreement or other scenario could result in being asked to leave). Accessible and affordable housing is the key underlying need for all these situations regardless of other demographic factors.

Poor health (illness, injury and/or disability) can cause homelessness when people have insufficient income to afford housing. This may be the result of being unable to work or becoming bankrupted by medical bills.  Living on the street or in homeless shelters exacerbates existing health problems and causes new ones. Chronic diseases, such as hypertension, asthma, diabetes, mental health problems and other ongoing conditions, are difficult to manage under stressful circumstances and may worsen. Acute problems such as infections, injuries, and pneumonia are difficult to heal when there is no place to rest and recuperate.  Living on the street or in shelters also brings the risk of communicable disease (such as STDs or TB) and violence (physical, sexual, and mental) because of crowded living conditions and the lack of privacy or security. Medications to manage health conditions are often stolen, lost, or compromised due to rain, heat, or other factors.  When people have stable housing, they no longer need to prioritize finding a place to sleep each night and can spend more time managing their health, making time for doctors’ appointments, and adhering to medical advice and directions. Housing also decreases the risk associated with further disease and violence. In many ways, housing itself can be considered a form of health care because it prevents new conditions from developing and existing conditions from worsening.

Evidence shows that systems of care for the homeless which provide a pathway from the streets to temporary shelter to permanent stable housing, with links to a broad range of supportive services at each step, can effectively reduce homelessness in a given community.  For further information please click here.

There are many reasons why the homeless may not want to access shelter.  They may feel, like many of us would, that tents offer some privacy and independence while a shelter does not. They may have a pet, partner or possessions they are not willing to part with.  A shelter might be full by the time they try to secure a spot.  It’s difficult to say how many want to stay out of a shelter, versus how many cannot access a shelter because of their circumstances, or because they’re making a logical decision that many of us would make in that situation, or because they are struggling with substance abuse which is leading them to prioritize drugs and alcohol over other concerns.  The goal of the SJCoC is to have sufficient emergency shelter in every City in San Joaquin County to accommodate everyone who is homeless, whenever they are ready to enter a program.

Typically, about 25% of individuals living in local shelters report a substance abuse problem, and about 20% report a mental illness.  For the unsheltered, these rates are difficult to determine but likely higher.  Still, the majority of the homeless do not struggle with substance abuse and chronic mental illness.  There are many reasons why an individual might become homeless, and the trauma of homelessness can often result in the development of a substance abuse or mental health problem.  Characterizing the issue of homelessness as an addiction and mental health crisis is not inaccurate, but fails to acknowledge that it is virtually impossible to address those issues for an individual living unsheltered day to day.  This is what is meant by the term “Housing First.  Stable housing is an essential component of effective treatment; lack of stable housing virtually ensures that treatment for these issues will not be successful.

Housing First is a homeless assistance approach that prioritizes providing permanent housing to people experiencing homelessness, thus ending their homelessness and serving as a platform from which they can pursue personal goals and improve their quality of life, such as treatment for chronic substance abuse or mental illness. This approach is guided by the belief that people need basic necessities like food and a place to live before attending to anything less critical, such as getting a job, budgeting properly, or addressing substance use issues.

Local law enforcement agencies continue to rightly cite, arrest, and prosecute anyone who is committing crimes such as vandalism, theft, robbery, assault, drug trafficking, or worse – including people who are homeless.  The SJCoC supports efforts to create tools for law enforcement to address homelessness, including the LEAD program, Ready to Work, expanding shelters, expanding Behavioral Health Services, and supporting diversion and rehabilitation efforts.  Creating new housing of any kind, whether market-rate or subsidized, is extremely complicated in California and requires a tremendous amount of planning, coordination and funding.  Considering the time it takes to build new housing, engaging in this work in the present is essential to solving the problem of homelessness in the future.  In the meantime, the SJCoC seeks efficient and effective short-term housing solutions such as adding new emergency shelter beds, creating navigation centers, and expanding programs that prevent or rapidly re-house the homeless.  No program designed to help the homeless can be successful without being properly resourced, and all of these solutions require significant resources to establish and operate on-going.  Limited funds must be prioritized towards solutions that address the most immediate concerns.  Those concerns can vary greatly between each person and community.

Central Valley Low Income Housing Corp. operates permanent housing projects that each month house around 750 homeless individuals in permanent housing. These projects, funded by the Continuum of Care, have been housing homeless households since 1998. The Housing Authority of the County of San Joaquin is partnering with Central Valley Housing, STAND, and Stockton Shelter for the Homeless to create approximately 18 units dedicated to housing the homeless.  A partnership between the Housing Authority and City of Lodi plans to add 5 new units of homeless housing there.  The Housing Authority is also partnering with San Joaquin County to create approximately 30 new units for homeless clients of Behavioral Health Services.  The Behavioral Health Services CHOICE program utilizes Mental Health Services Act money to keep clients of BHS Full-Service Partnerships in permanent housing.  The Housing Authority and San Joaquin County have partnered to create 50 units of permanent supportive housing for homeless Veterans, a project they are calling Victory Gardens.

Permanent supportive housing programs pay ongoing rental support for those who are chronically homeless.  Rapid Re-Housing requires households pay for their own rental costs following a brief period of rental support.  Housing Choice Vouchers (formerly “Section 8”), Veteran Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH), and public housing programs are used to pay for subsidized housing for qualified income-eligible individuals and families.

Representatives of the SJCoC have visited communities including San Francisco, Oakland, New York City, Sacramento and Yolo County, as well as studying communities including Houston, Salt Lake City, San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Clara County, and Fresno to gather best practices. Significant information was also gathered from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S Interagency Council on Homelessness, the State of California Homeless Coordinating and Financing Council, and the Continuum of Care Consortium of Northern California. The SJCoC is always looking to bring new and innovative solutions to San Joaquin County. If you know about a best practice that you would like to see implemented in San Joaquin County, please contact us.

Some programs do institute drug testing, as it is often necessary to pass a drug test to become employed.  Starting with the establishment of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness in 2004 under the George W. Bush Administration, “Housing First” has become one of the guiding principles of effectively reducing homelessness.  Since then, hundreds of jurisdictions across the US, including the Federal Government, State of California, County of San Joaquin, City of Stockton and City of Lodi have all adopted “Housing First” strategies which in part require programs to demonstrate that they are not placing sobriety requirements on participants as a condition of receiving housing and services in order to acquire grant funds.  In particular, the State of California has enacted extensive legislation which set requirements for housing programs under “Housing First”.

Each year for the last two decades, HUD has annually allowed the SJCoC to apply for funds to address the needs of people experiencing homelessness.  The amount awarded is not guaranteed.  Last year SJCoC received funding in the amount of $4,352,004.  These funds are restricted for permanent supportive housing and rapid re-housing projects and cannot be used for emergency shelters or similar projects.  All existing projects funded directly through the SJCoC must apply for a renewal each year.  The maximum amount of funding that can be applied for each year is based on what it would take to renew all existing projects, and so the funds the SJCoC receives annually go to fund the ongoing operation of these projects.  Aside from this, there is no ongoing source of funding allocated to the SJCoC.  While the SJCoC does not typically have access to other funding sources, HUD has mandated that CoCs throughout the US promote community-wide commitment to the goal of ending homelessness by facilitating collaboration and strategic planning, which includes discussions regarding the use of all funds available in the County to help the homeless.  There are specific plans in place to utilize each individual source of grant money.  These plans vary widely depending on the limitations on spending placed by the funding source, and the capacity and goals of the organizations that receive these grants.  Grant funds are closely monitored by their funders and require significant time and resources to track and report back to funders regarding program outcomes such as number of people served and quality of services provided.  Grant funds not used in a manner acceptable to funders are often required to be returned to funders.  The SJCoC is committed to encouraging the most efficient and effective use of funds by facilitating collaborative community planning, design, and implementation of programs critical to ending homelessness in San Joaquin County.

The primary response to homeless encampments within each City is through the “clean-up” efforts of local law enforcement and public works departments.  Several organizations that regularly work with the homeless, including Community Medical Centers, St. Mary’s Dining Room, and San Joaquin County Behavioral Health  and Public Health Services, conduct regular street outreach to the homeless living in encampments in an effort to connect them to available housing and services.  According to the most recent SJCoC Point in Time Count, there were 1,558 unsheltered individuals living on the streets of San Joaquin County, many in encampments along the roadways and waterways.  According to the most recent Housing Inventory Count submitted by the SJCoC to HUD on April 26, 2019, on any given night in San Joaquin County the utilization rate for all emergency shelters is at or above 100%, meaning that every bed is full and they are allowing “overflow” clients to sleep on mats on the floor.  Without sufficient emergency shelter, clean-up efforts will be ineffective in permanently reducing the number of homeless encampments in local communities.  The SJCoC advocates to add emergency shelter beds with links to services in each City of San Joaquin County where the homeless live in order to provide these individuals with a place to go when they are displaced by clean-up efforts or simply ready to make a change in their lives.

CareLink routinely visits homeless encampments to administer medical care. Shelters routinely test for tuberculosis. San Joaquin County Public Health Services has sought and obtained grants specifically aimed at targeting health and communicable diseases within the homeless population.  Organizations based in Tracy and Manteca provide mobile showers that target unsheltered homeless.  St. Mary’s Dining Room operates a “Hygiene Center” which allows the homeless to use shower facilities and launder clothing.

Homelessness is a problem for every city in San Joaquin County.  It is unrealistic to expect that more than a fraction of the homeless in a given city will voluntarily re-locate to a shelter in another area miles away.  The SJCoC believes in a coordinated approach to addressing homelessness that focuses in part on local initiatives.

This model has been tried in other communities to varying degrees of success.  The more successful of these projects will include the provision of intensive wraparound services and provide quick exits into longer term programs to assist the homeless on the path to self-sufficiency.  These services are expensive, requiring significant investments in land, infrastructure, sanitation, staffing, food service and security.  Projects that do not provide these services typically have high rates of recidivism, meaning the homeless leave the program quickly and return to the streets.  Even if it were possible to require the homeless to stay in one location, they would still be homeless in a tent city.  In the meantime, the City or County would have spent significant money on not solving the problem, meaning that this money could not be spent on more effective shelter or permanent housing.  The SJCoC seeks to prioritize limited available funds to effectively reduce homelessness.  Proposals that seek to establish and provide ongoing operating support for projects of this type should be properly resourced before being considered.

Certainly there are homeless individuals who regularly engage in serious criminal activity, but that is also true for any group.  We should not characterize entire groups of people as criminals.  Local law enforcement personnel work hard to protect and serve the communities of San Joaquin County, and that includes addressing crimes perpetrated by the homeless.  If you are aware of any criminal activity occurring in your community, the SJCoC strongly encourages you to report that activity to the appropriate law enforcement agency.

Some churches will open up their restroom facilities to the homeless on a limited basis.  Mobile shower programs regularly operate in Tracy and Manteca.  Limited restroom facilities for the homeless are maintained and managed by several non-profit organizations, including Gospel Center Rescue Mission, St. Mary’s Dining Room and Stockton Shelter for the Homeless.  These facilities can be expensive to operate, which often means that limited funds must be prioritized for other uses.  Other such facilities in the past have been closed after short periods of being open, because the facilities sustain vandalism and other damage that can strain repair budgets.  The SJCoC believes that publicly and privately funded restroom facilities are essential to addressing this serious issue, and encourages any plans to implement these solutions for the homeless in San Joaquin County.

All illegal dumping can be reported to the proper law enforcement agency that has jurisdiction of that area. Major cleanups are often done by Public Works departments, again by whatever government is in jurisdiction of the affected area.

Nothing – all participants of the SJCoC are volunteers.  In April of 2018, San Joaquin County created a position titled Program Administrator – Homeless Initiatives, sometimes known as the “Homeless Czar”, to become the first and currently only person working in local government specifically on the issue of homelessness (current information regarding salaries for all San Joaquin County employees can be found here.  This position is working directly with the SJCoC to support our work and acts as the “Collaborative Applicant”  of the SJCoC.  Additionally, the County has made this person a resource for every City, law enforcement agency, non-profit organization and citizen seeking assistance with issues of homelessness within their jurisdictions.

Housing affordability is an issue for many residents in San Joaquin County and millions of Americans in cities across the nation. While there are many factors contributing to the lack of affordable housing, it is important to understand that housing is a complex issue, that needs both short and long-term solutions. If you would like to learn more about the facts on housing affordability in the United States, please click here.