Saffron Strand Case Statement for 2016
Why You Should Help Support Saffron Strand
Despite improved economic conditions in other San Francisco Bay Area communities, the West County area of Contra Costa County continues to experience unemployment at more than twice the national rate, as well as an ongoing problem with homelessness. West Contra Costa is “home” to nearly 60% of the county’s homeless, where its major city, Richmond has the Bay Area’s greatest concentrations of homeless people.
Saffron Strand surveys confirm that the vast majority of local homeless adults want to work. With the right help, many can re-enter the job market, achieve and sustain gainful private sector employment, and work their way out of homelessness.
Current county and municipal programs for homeless residents address basic needs such as food and shelter, but cannot provide subsidized housing for every homeless person. The “Housing First” approach adopted at the county level also does little to reduce the demand for homeless housing. Rather, it reinforces dependence and encourages those who already are served by the homeless system to remain in the system. Those who are homeless, but outside the system, have the same needs, but often they must do without homeless services and remain on the streets or find other temporary, unhealthy, or otherwise risky accommodations.
The challenge of Contra Costa County’s homeless problem is not going away. It stands to become worse as many who lost their jobs in the Great Recession also have lost their unemployment benefits and exhausted their financial and family resources. Business-as-usual approaches are not likely to succeed in the future any better than they have in the past. Federal funding for homeless prevention does not directly target those already in dire need.
The problem continues to grow in 2016, especially as federal and state budgets remain under extreme pressure. Current estimates suggest more than 15,000 county residents who experience homelessness sometime during the year. The latest county estimates indicate 7,000 are homeless on “any given night,” sleeping on streets, in vehicles, or temporarily in shelters or homes of relatives or friends.
The long-term unemployed and hard-to-employ in the Bay Area are adding to the homeless population and increasing occurrence of domestic and criminal violence, HIV and AIDS, physical disabilities, and early death. At least a third of homeless persons have mental health problems, often compounded by substance abuse problems.
The objective of Saffron Strand’s unique program of direct services to the homeless is to reduce homelessness in Contra Costa County, especially in the West County area. Through Saffron Strand, we focus exclusively on providing new opportunities for homeless people to build job and social skills so they can achieve and sustain gainful employment and economic independence. We accept homeless persons as members of our “intentional community,” which id dedicated to getting every member back to work. The volunteer work of members is required for operation of the organization. We offer membership without charge to homeless people of every origin and background to realize their individual potential. We maintain professional quality office space for members, a place of respect where they can participate with dignity during the work day to expand their work skills, develop their individual talents, seek and find outside employment, and increase their capacity for cooperation and community involvement.
Despite very low income, more than 75% of homeless persons have a high school diploma or GED and many have college, university, and advanced degrees. Also, more than 15% of homeless persons are employed by others and many have their own legal, income-generating enterprises. Saffron Strand recognizes their huge potential. Often, by resolving just a few of their most critical challenges, homeless people can start or re-start a career, find gainful employment, achieve economic independence, establish homes, support families, participate in our communities, and improve our society.
Saffron Strand survey research conducted at West County community events during 2009 and 2010 indicates that the continuum of service for the homeless population is incomplete. There is a common theme among all the homeless in expressing their needs: They seek wellness, dignity, self-esteem, and affirmation from others of their value and attractiveness as individuals. Therefore, homeless persons are likely to respond more positively to services that are not specifically “tailored” for homeless people. Most homeless people do not desire to remain homeless. Their state of homelessness is acutely distressing and they are seeking a different, better life. Moreover, as survey respondents indicated to us, homeless people are almost unanimous in their willingness to work without pay in order to learn job and social skills, even though many have been unemployed for long periods — in some cases for many years.
Thus the potential is great for Saffron Strand to offer social and vocational skills training focused on upward economic mobility, supporting attributes of economic independence, including wellness and preferred personal appearance. Saffron Strand can help the homeless look upward to new possibilities in themselves and their lifestyles, not sideways to maintain their status quo on the streets, or downward into increasingly poor health and probable early death. Saffron Strand sees and serves the potential in people.
Some local residents insist that there always have been homeless people in Contra Costa County. They note that the homeless have sheltered under bridges, camped out on vacant land, and lived in our midst, mostly unnoticed and without problem. It just happens that we notice them more now because recovery from recession has not reduced their numbers. Moreover, today there are more people in every stage of homelessness everywhere in the county. They are especially obvious in West County where shelters are full, soup kitchens are busy, and the demand for homeless services exceeds the supply. Many more Contra Costa residents are on the verge of homelessness: One lost job away, one illness, one family emergency, and then they are homeless, too.
We know that Saffron Strand’s new solutions for the homeless — “Employment First” — are urgently needed in Contra Costa County. Our services are unique and effective. Demand for our services is growing as an increasing number of our homeless members succeed in sustaining employment and achieving greater economic independence.
Saffron Strand operates as a 501(c)(3) non-profit, charitable, membership organization. Your donation is totally tax-deductible. Please help now: See Support.