Homelessness prevention system: Santa Clara County, CA

MORE ABOUT THE STRATEGY USED IN THIS CASE STUDY Housing stability and displacement prevention

At-a-Glance

Summary

  • In 2015, Santa Clara County had among the highest number of residents experiencing homelessness of any city or county in the country. The same year, a report found that 105,000 individuals experienced homelessness in Santa Clara County between 2007 and 2012, and that the services provided to these homeless residents cost public and nonprofit agencies over $3.1 billion during that period. While the county was expanding the services offered to households currently experiencing homelessness, local leaders increasingly recognized the need to dedicate resources to homelessness prevention.

  • In 2017, local leaders in Santa Clara County launched the Homelessness Prevention System (HPS), a county-wide network of local government agencies, nonprofit service providers, and private funders that assists households at imminent risk of becoming homeless. HPS assigns each household a case manager, who helps them access public benefits, legal support, and other support services. Most critically, HPS also offers clients temporary financial assistance averaging $6,119 per household. This helps individuals and families stabilize their situation and remain stably housed.

  • Keys to HPS’ success include the strength of its lead organizations, Destination: Home and Sacred Heart Community Service; its ability to effectively leverage both public and private funding streams; its commitment to including those with lived experience of homelessness in decision-making processes; the flexibility it provides to case managers in providing financial assistance; and its approach to targeted outreach to households in need.

  • Obstacles to the system’s success include restrictions and administrative burdens associated with funder requirements; resource constraints that prevent HPS from addressing the full scale of the homelessness problem in Santa Clara County; continually rising regional housing prices as a result of insufficient housing supply; and challenges scaling up services in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Results and accomplishments

95%


Since 2017, 95% of families receiving prevention services from the Homelessness Prevention System (HPS) remained stably housed while enrolled.

$2.47


A study on HPS found that Santa Clara County received $2.47 back in benefits per dollar spent on emergency financial assistance.

15,000


HPS has distributed financial assistance to nearly 15,000 low-income individuals in Santa Clara County.

  • Keeping thousands of residents stably housed: The Santa Clara Homelessness Prevention System (HPS) provides assistance to low-income families or individuals who are at risk of losing their housing. To date, 95 percent of households receiving HPS services have remained stably housed.

  • Standardizing services county-wide: HPS is supported by a coalition of local government, non-profit, private, and philanthropic partners. By creating a network of 20 community-based organizations, HPS created a “no wrong door” model, where residents can access a consistent set of services across the county’s different municipalities.

  • Identifying those most at risk: Working with researchers at the University of Notre Dame’s Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities, HPS developed a ten-question survey to quickly and reliably identify residents at the most acute risk of becoming homeless.

  • Scaling up in response to COVID-19: When the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically increased housing instability in Santa Clara County, HPS partners secured nearly $100 million in public, private, and philanthropic funding for COVID-19 relief. To ensure that residents could benefit from these funds as soon as possible, HPS scaled up quickly, processing thousands of inquiries in the early weeks of the pandemic.

  • Securing sustained public funding: Recognizing the need to address homelessness in the area, San Jose passed Measure E in 2020. The measure imposed a tax on high-value property transfers, creating a permanent funding source for homeless services, including prevention services like those provided through HPS.

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Overview

What was the challenge?

  • High levels of homelessness: In 2015, Santa Clara County conducted a comprehensive count of its homeless population, identifying 6,556 individuals experiencing homelessness during a two-day period. This figure meant that Santa Clara County was among the ten major cities and counties with the highest number of homeless people in the country.

  • Research quantifies the high cost of homelessness: Later in 2015, Destination: Home, a public-private partnership focused on ending homelessness, and Santa Clara County commissioned a study to examine the cost of homelessness in Santa Clara County. The report found that nearly 105,000 individuals experienced homelessness in Santa Clara County between 2007 and 2012, and that the services provided to these homeless residents cost public and nonprofit agencies approximately $520 million per year.

  • Limited focus on prevention: According to data from Santa Clara County’s Homeless Management Information System, for every one person the county’s social services providers housed, three more were becoming homeless. Local leaders recognized that shifting greater resources to preventing homelessness (rather than attempting to respond after individuals had already entered into homelessness) would improve residents’ housing stability and reduce the overall cost of addressing homelessness.

  • Regional fragmentation affects service provision: Prior to HPS, the organizations providing homelessness prevention services in Santa Clara County were largely uncoordinated. As a result, each service provider operated differently, leading to inconsistent access to services across different organizations and municipalities. And without consistent data collection practices, the County struggled to identify which interventions most effectively tackled homelessness.

What was the solution?

  • Taking a coordinated approach: In 2017, local leaders in Santa Clara County launched the Homelessness Prevention System (HPS), a county-wide network of local government agencies, nonprofit service providers, and private funders that assists households at imminent risk of becoming homeless.

  • Offering support services to households at the highest risk: When a potential client contacts an HPS agency, the agency conducts a standardized pre-screening interview and questionnaire to evaluate the household’s risk for homelessness. If the household is at imminent risk of homelessness, they are assigned a case manager, who will help them access public benefits, legal support, temporary financial assistance, and other support services.

  • Providing temporary financial assistance: HPS also offers clients temporary financial assistance to stabilize their situation and stay housed. Case managers work with households to determine the amount of assistance they need. While the majority of clients use financial assistance to cover rent or other housing-related expenses, they may access these funds to cover other expenses that will keep them stably housed. On average, each household receives $6,119 in total assistance while participating in HPS.

  • Following up with former clients: The average length of enrollment in HPS is longer than in many other homeless prevention programs, in part because HPS allows for flexibility in how long clients receive services. Once a client’s housing situation is stabilized, their case manager then follows up 30, 60, and 90 days later to determine whether additional assistance is needed. If the client again becomes at risk of homelessness, they are eligible to re-enroll in HPS and receive additional support services.

  • Creating a coordinated service delivery system: HPS is led by Destination: Home and Sacred Heart Community Service, an established social service agency. The former oversees the network and focuses on convening stakeholders and leading fundraising efforts, while the latter handles the network’s operational and administrative functions. Both Destination: Home and Sacred Heart support the work of 18 other community-based organizations that deliver HPS services.

What factors drove success?

  • Leveraging organizational strengths: As a lead partner in HPS, Destination: Home leveraged its experience convening local leaders to set and execute on a shared agenda across the 20-member network and its funders and government partners. Sacred Heart Community Services led the coordination of the network's administrative functions, leveraging its past experience as part of a network of community services organizations, which gave it expertise in areas like data collection and analysis, provider training, and the development of network policies and procedures.

  • Providing flexibility to service providers: As part of its model, HPS does not place hard caps on the amount of financial assistance it provides to the households it serves. This approach allows case workers the flexibility to address each client’s full range of needs. Instead, when a household passes certain thresholds for the amount of financial assistance it receives, the caseworker elevates the case to Sacred Heart or Destination: Home for assistance identifying additional support services.

  • Conducting targeted outreach: The HPS model focuses on providing services to households at imminent risk of homelessness. To identify those in urgent need, HPS conducted targeted outreach to undocumented households, health clinics, and local courts serving those at highest risk of housing instability.

  • Responding to the needs of those served: By incorporating those with lived experience of housing instability into its decision-making processes – such as through a lived experience advisory board – HPS identifies opportunities to improve services for the residents it serves. For example, when HPS leadership learned that many residents did not have their own bank accounts, it developed alternative methods to distribute cash payments (e.g., through no-fee Visa debit cards).

  • Leveraging varied funding streams: Early on, Destination: Home raised the majority of the funding for HPS from private sector partners. As these dollars came with fewer restrictions than funds received from the public sector, they provided HPS with the flexibility to refine and demonstrate the effectiveness of its model. Over time, however, HPS has increased the proportion of funds it receives from government partners, providing it with greater long-term sustainability.

What were the major obstacles?

  • Navigating restrictions on funding: Many of HPS’ funding partners required a significant amount of documentation to support each cash payment HPS issued. These stipulations created a large administrative hurdle for households at imminent risk of homelessness. Early on, HPS leveraged private donations, which often came with fewer restrictions, to minimize barriers residents faced to accessing payments. As HPS has demonstrated its effectiveness, more funders have loosened their documentation requirements.

  • Meeting the need for services: Despite its efficient use of public and nonprofit resources, HPS cannot meet the full demand for homelessness prevention services in Santa Clara County. Ultimately, the HPS model is designed to keep households at imminent risk of homelessness stably housed, not to address the fundamental cause of homelessness in Santa Clara County: rising housing costs resulting from a housing shortage.

  • Scaling up in response to COVID-19: When the COVID-19 pandemic began, demand for HPS services increased significantly. Although HPS secured additional funding, scaling up operations on a temporary basis proved challenging. In particular, hiring and training more staff without a long-term plan to retain the additional positions created uncertainty for HPS’ service delivery partners.

Timeline

Implementation process

How did leaders confront the problem?

  • Local leadership focuses on homelessness: In 2007, Santa Clara County Supervisor Don Gage and City of San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed launched a Blue-Ribbon Commission to End Homelessness. When the Commission issued its report in 2008, it recommended the establishment of a regional governance structure to oversee homeless services. Based on this recommendation, local leaders founded Destination: Home, a public-private partnership to coordinate the stakeholders working to end homelessness across Santa Clara County.

  • Studying the cost of homelessness: In 2015, Destination: Home commissioned a study, Home Not Found, to determine the cost of homelessness in Santa Clara County. The study found that nearly 105,000 individuals experienced homelessness in Santa Clara County between 2007 and 2012. During each of those years, government and nonprofit agencies in the County spent an average of $520 million providing services for homeless residents.

  • Doubling down on prevention: Spurred on by the Home Not Found report, local leaders renewed their commitment to homelessness prevention. By prioritizing prevention and services for persistently homeless individuals, Santa Clara County would position itself to both reduce homelessness and make more efficient use of public and nonprofit resources.

  • Piloting a new approach: In 2017, Destination: Home launched the Homelessness Prevention System (HPS) as a pilot program, with initial seed funding from the City of San Jose, County of Santa Clara, and private philanthropic partners. To oversee the operational side of the program, Destination: Home selected Sacred Heart Community Service as its network co-lead. As early results showed that temporary financial assistance was a cost-effective way to promote housing stability, Destination: Home adopted HPS as its flagship strategy for homelessness prevention.

How was the strategy designed?

  • Creating a referral system: To reach households at the highest risk of homelessness, HPS developed partnerships with community-based organizations that worked with target populations or in target neighborhoods. By setting up a referral process with these partners, HPS better positioned itself to connect with these households before they became homeless.

  • Screening for those most at-risk: Recognizing the need to identify which households were at the highest risk of homelessness, HPS adopted the Homelessness Prevention Assessment Tool (HPAT) across all of its partner agencies. This tool allows case managers to quickly and efficiently identify households at risk of homelessness during the intake process. With support from researchers at the University of Notre Dame’s Lab for Economic Opportunities, this assessment tool was later shortened to a ten question survey that is both less invasive and similarly valid and reliable.

  • Setting parameters for cash assistance: HPS intentionally designed its financial assistance protocols to provide caseworkers with the flexibility needed to address each client’s barriers to housing stability. Instead of placing hard caps on the amount of assistance a household can receive, HPS sets thresholds at which caseworkers elevate the case to Sacred Heart or Destination: Home. The lead organizations then collaborate with the caseworker to identify what additional support services may be available to meet the client’s long-term needs.

  • Creating a “no wrong doors” system: Before HPS, Santa Clara County residents followed different processes and received different services depending on where they lived and the homeless services agency they interacted with. HPS was designed to eliminate these inconsistencies, ensuring that residents can access a consistent set of services across the county’s different municipalities and social services agencies.

How was the plan implemented?

  • Setting consistent expectations across partners: When HPS launched, it consisted of Destination: Home, Sacred Heart, and six partner agencies. To ensure residents received consistent services across the network, each organization in HPS signed on to a memorandum of understanding (MOU). The MOU outlines policies and procedures that must be executed consistently across the network, as well as performance and service thresholds. This standardization only grew in importance as HPS expanded to become a 20-organization network.

  • Ensuring clear lines of communication: As each partner agency joined HPS, they were assigned a designated liaison at Sacred Heart. These liaisons serve as points of contact and facilitate continuous communication between agency and Sacred Heart staff. Early on, Sacred Heart established monthly case conferencing meetings with each partner agency, allowing their case managers to workshop solutions for their clients.

  • Providing training for partner agencies: To ensure each partner organization provided consistent services, Sacred Heart also began coordinating regular training sessions for case managers. These sessions cover the network’s standard operating procedures and serve as professional learning to improve case managers’ practice.

How was the approach funded?

  • Securing initial funding: When HPS launched its rental assistance program in 2017, it received $750,000 each from the City of San Jose and Santa Clara County. Additional funding came from private sector and philanthropic entities, including $1 million from Google, $500,000 from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and $500,000 from the Sunlight Giving Foundation.
  • Scaling up operations: As HPS continued to demonstrate its effectiveness, public and private funders increased their commitment to the network. In 2018, Cisco announced it would donate $50 million to Destination: Home over a five year period, with a portion of this funding going to HPS. Local governments also increased their commitments, with Santa Clara County and the City of San Jose contributing $17.1 million and $8 million, respectively, in 2023.
  • Expanding during the pandemic: When the COVID-19 pandemic began, HPS scaled up its fundraising efforts to meet the increased demand for homelessness prevention services. Led by Destination: Home, HPS raised and deployed over $85 million in additional philanthropic and federal, state, local government dollars between March 2020 and December 2021.
  • Securing long-term public funding: In 2020, voters in San Jose approved Measure E, which imposed a tax on property transfers of $2 million or more. A portion of the revenue generated by Measure E is dedicated to homelessness prevention services, like those provided by HPS, providing an additional $4-9 million public funding each year.
  • Leveraging the flexibility of private sector funders: At the outset, HPS relied more heavily on the flexibility afforded by private sector donors, whose dollars generally came with fewer restrictions than funds received from the public sector. This flexibility allowed HPS to refine and demonstrate the effectiveness of its model. Over time, however, HPS has increased the proportion of funds it receives from government partners, who have relaxed reporting requirements and other restrictions and administrative requirements.

How was the approach measured and refined?

  • Creating unified performance metrics: To measure the effectiveness of its program model across multiple service providers, HPS developed a set of shared performance metrics. These included the proportion of financial assistance payouts issued within 72 hours, and the proportion of participating households that are stably housed while receiving assistance and the proportion stably housed both one year and two years after receiving services.

  • Incorporating independent evaluation: HPS partnered with the Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities at the University of Notre Dame to evaluate the effectiveness of its financial assistance program. Researchers conducted a randomized controlled trial to compare outcomes between vulnerable households that received financial assistance and those that did not. Published in 2023, the study found that households receiving financial assistance were 81% less likely to be homeless within 6 months of enrollment than households in the control group.

  • Responding to participant needs: Through its work with residents at risk of homelessness and analyses of early data, HPS identified a need for legal services and programs focused on survivors of domestic violence. To meet this need, HPS identified and integrated additional partner organizations into its network, allowing residents more seamless access to legal services, emergency shelter for families experiencing domestic violence, among other supports.

  • Expanding payment options: To identify ways to improve the effectiveness of its services, HPS surveyed residents connected to each of its partner organizations. HPS learned that clients needed more flexible ways to receive financial assistance. As a result, HPS partnered with Visa and two local credit unions to create additional payment options, such as no-fee debit cards.

  • Transitioning to a publicly-run system: Since the launch of HPS, representatives from Santa Clara County have been deeply engaged with the program. With increasing evidence for the effectiveness of the model, Destination: Home plans to transition oversight of HPS to the county government in July 2024. This move will ensure HPS’ long-term sustainability and open up additional avenues to expand funding for the program.

Acknowledgments

Results for America would like to thank the following individuals for their support in writing this case study: Jennifer Loving, CEO, Destination: Home; Chad Bojorquez, Chief Program Officer, Destination: Home; Ky Le, Deputy County Executive, County of Santa Clara; and Ragan Henninger, Deputy Director, Housing Department, City of San Jose.

This case study was written by Cole Ware and Ross Tilchin.