By Sacramento County Supervisor Patrick Kennedy.

Homelessness affects every county in the state. No matter how many people live there or what the economy looks like, there are people in your community who do not have a stable place to live. Homelessness has many causes, but we know that a significant number of homeless people suffer from mental illness, emotional disturbance and/or substance addictions that make finding a place to live even more difficult.

Ironically, having a stable home is one of the keys to providing this population with the care and services they need. The sheer number of homeless mentally ill people creates a significant drain on county budgets, and it doesn’t help that California is facing a serious shortfall of affordable housing units. The cycle of poverty, homelessness, and mental illness is even worse when housing costs are so high. Frankly, we can do better for this vulnerable population. We are all better off when they are in stable housing and getting the services they need.

I am very pleased to serve as the Governor’s appointee to the No Place Like Home Advisory Board, representing the unique interests of counties. No Place Like Home, the result of legislation signed last year, makes $1.8 billion available to counties to provide housing for the chronically homeless mentally ill. More than $260 million is available in the first round of funding and there is already about $6.2 million in technical assistance funding available to counties.

The program is administered by the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), which is trying to make it as easy as possible to apply for these funds, even for counties with limited staff and resources. There is an 8 percent set-aside for small counties and the technical assistance funds are available to help counties apply for the main grants. There may even be money available to help counties comply with reporting and other administrative requirements after the main grants are awarded.

The Advisory Committee will meet again on May 18 to discuss the No Place Like Home draft guidelines that were released a couple of weeks ago. If you want to learn more about them, there is also a Webinar on Friday, May 19 that will explain them in detail and allow you to ask questions. And HCD is wrapping up a series of workshops about the guidelines—the final one is on Monday, May 22, in Visalia, Tulare County.

The guidelines lay out exactly what counties must do to apply for and receive No Place Like Home funding, how the funds can be used and what recipients must do after receiving a grant to report back. While there is a lot of detail, the guidelines are worth taking a close look at. Stakeholders, including counties, can submit their comments to HCD until May 30 to provide feedback to HCD to make No Place Like Home as user-friendly as possible. The bottom line is, this is a great opportunity for every county in the state to get some much-needed help dealing with the homeless mentally ill in our communities.

These funds can help every county in the state address the root causes of homelessness, reduce the negative impacts of homelessness on our communities and restore dignity and hope to some of the most vulnerable members of our society at the same time. I’m excited about this and I hope you are, too!