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.

To view up-to-date and past reports on point in time count data for San Joaquin County and other CoCs across the US, please 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 high cost and low availability of housing.  This dynamic is dramatically compounded by inflation and wage stagnation.  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 those experiencing homelessness 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 need 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). A vast body of research indicates that 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 tuberculosis or COVID-19) 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. Housing itself should 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.  While mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, and other wraparound supportive services are essential to addressing causes of homelessness on an individual level, the high cost and low availability of housing in San Joaquin County and throughout the US is the cause of homelessness on a systemic level.  Housing solves homelessness, and without adequate housing at all levels of the market rates of homelessness will continue to rise.

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 unable to bring with them into shelter and 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.  The San Joaquin Community Response to Homelessness, adopted by the SJCoC, the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors, and the City Councils of Stockton, Tracy, Manteca, and Lodi, sets a goal of expanding our local system of low-barrier emergency shelter by 200 new beds by 2025.  Thanks to recent investments from San Joaquin County, the City of Stockton, and the SJCoC, it is expected that the system will have added 788 new beds by that time.

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 permanent housing for people experiencing homelessness, thus ending their homelessness and serving as a platform from which they can address the personal issues in their lives stopping them from acquiring and maintaining stable housing, such as chronic substance abuse or mental illness. This approach is guided by the belief that people need basic necessities like food and a safe place to live before attending to anything less critical, such as getting a job, budgeting properly, or accepting treatment for struggles with mental health and substance abuse.

The Housing First approach has been formally adopted as official policy at all levels of government, including the US Congress, the State of California Legislature, the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors, and the Stockton City Council.  Every funding program intended to serve those experiencing homelessness must by law adhere to a Housing First approach.

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 rapidly re-house those experiencing homelessness or prevent households from losing housing at all.  No program designed to help the homeless can be successful without being properly resourced, and all of these solutions require significant commitments 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.

There are many examples of permanent housing projects serving those experiencing homelessness in San Joaquin County:

  • Central Valley Low Income Housing Corp. operates permanent housing projects that each month keep around 750 homeless individuals in stable housing. These projects, funded by the Continuum of Care, have been serving indigent households since 1998.
  • The Housing Authority of the County of San Joaquin partnered with Central Valley Housing, STAND, and Stockton Shelter for the Homeless to create 11 units dedicated to housing the homeless using modular housing, a project called Turnpike Commons.
  • The City of Lodi developed a 4 unit project for chronically homeless households, a project called Harmony Homes.
  • The Housing Authority has partnered with San Joaquin County to create 76 new units for homeless clients of Behavioral Health Services, with plans for at least several dozen more units, including projects called Crossway Residences and Sonora Square.
  • Visionary Home Builders developed 74 units of affordable housing, a project called Liberty Square.
  • 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 49 units of permanent supportive housing for homeless Veterans, a project called Victory Gardens.

Since 2019, 252 new units of permanent supportive housing for those experiencing homelessness have been developed in San Joaquin County, which represents by far the fastest expansion of this type of housing in San Joaquin County history.  While this has significantly expanded capacity for this essential component our our system of housing and services for those experiencing homelessness, the SJCoC believes that a continued focus on further expansion of capacity in permanent supportive, affordable, and market-rate rental housing will be critical to seeing visible reductions in rates of homelessness throughout the San Joaquin County region.

Rental assistance programs, funded through federal and state sources, provide subsidies to pay for operations, maintenance, supportive services, and other necessary costs.  Permanent supportive housing programs pay ongoing rental support for those who are chronically homeless.  Rapid Re-Housing requires households to 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, San Antonio, Sacramento, Spokane, 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 California Interagency Council on Homelessness, 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, and can vary year-to-year depending on federal appropriations.  Typically, the SJCoC receives approximately $5 million annually to pay for the ongoing operation of permanent supportive housing and rapid rehousing projects, keeping families stably housed that would otherwise be homeless.  These funds are restricted for permanent supportive housing and rapid re-housing projects only, cannot be used for emergency shelters or other project types, and all existing projects funded directly through the SJCoC must apply for a renewal each year.

Aside from this, there is no ongoing source of funding allocated to the SJCoC.  Since 2018, the State of California has allocated additional one-time funding directly to California CoCs through programs such as the Homeless Emergency Aid Program, the Homeless Housing, Assistance, and Prevention program, and the California Emergency Solutions and Housing program.  These sources have similar restrictions on use, and are not an ongoing source of funding for projects serving those experiencing homelessness.  These one-time funds have been used locally to expand emergency shelter capacity at Stockton Shelter for the Homeless and Gospel Center Rescue Mission, create new emergency shelter in the cities of Lodi, Manteca, and Tracy, develop new units of permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless mental health clients, improve coordinated entry and data collection, and many other projects.

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 strategic 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 funds.  These plans vary depending upon the expenditure limitations of the funding source, and the capacity and goals of the organizations that control these grants, typically units of local government such as cities and counties.  Grant funds are closely monitored by their funders, usually the federal or state government, 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 can be 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 prior to these clean-ups in an effort to connect individuals to available housing and services.  In 2019, San Joaquin County established the Encampment Response Team, an inter-agency effort to address concerns related to public health and safety within encampments, and to mitigate encampments where those concerns are identified and confirmed.

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.

The COVID-19 pandemic radically altered the response to homelessness from the perspective of the prevention of communicable disease for both the sheltered and unsheltered homeless.  Shelters have reduced capacity in order to limit contact between individuals living or working in a congregate shelter setting.  For over a year, San Joaquin County Human Services Agency utilized emergency funding from the State of California under Project Roomkey to provide isolation housing for the most vulnerable sub-populations of those experiencing homelessness, primarily the elderly.  Emergency funding was also used to expand medical respite services for the homeless.  San Joaquin County Clinics, in partnership with federally qualified health centers and others, provided vaccinations at no cost to those living in both shelters and encampments.

In addition to initiatives related to controlling COVID-19, there are many other efforts to reduce or prevent the spread of communicable disease for those experiencing homelessness.  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 Stockton, Tracy, and Manteca provide mobile showers that target unsheltered homeless.  St. Mary’s Dining Room operates a free medical and dental clinic, as well as 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 Stockton, 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.  The Downtown Stockton Alliance provides mobile shower facilities in their service area.  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 within that area. Major cleanups are often done by Public Works departments, again by whatever government holds jurisdiction over 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 to become the first and currently only person working in local government specifically on the issue of homelessness.  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.

People leave shelters and return to unsheltered homelessness for a wide variety of reasons, including recurrence of a mental health or substance use disorder, criminal justice involvement, and difficulties adjusting to a congregate living situation. When they leave a housing program, it’s sometimes for the same reason they first became homeless, such as loss of employment, physical health issues, or trauma. The greatest single factor contributing to homelessness in our communities is the high cost and low availability of housing. This dynamic is dramatically compounded by inflation and wage stagnation. Often, when an individual leaves a shelter or housing program they do not disclose where they are going, why they are leaving, or even that they are leaving at all. It can therefore be extremely difficult for shelters and other service providers to accurately track data on where clients go when they leave a program, and why they chose to leave.

We know not everyone who enters a homeless service program will be successful. But through data collection, we also know most individuals assisted with permanent housing do succeed in exiting homelessness. Retention rates for permanent housing is one of ten measures used by the HMIS Lead Agency to annually evaluate the performance of San Joaquin County’s system of housing and services for the homeless. Using data to determine the ability of permanent housing projects to keep clients stably housed over the long term is perhaps the best way to understand the overall effectiveness of the broader system. Since 2015, San Joaquin County has averaged a permanent housing retention rate of 94.5%, aligning closely with the national average. This means in San Joaquin County the vast majority of those living in permanent housing stay stably housed. Evidence shows permanent housing programs nationwide are effective in keeping most participants – especially the chronically homeless – from falling back into homelessness.