SESLOC Spotlight highlights local organizations that make the Central Coast the best place to live.
The 5Cities Homeless Coalition is a local nonprofit powered by the community coming together to help those in need. Janna Nichols, Executive Director, explains how 5CHC has provided support and resources since 2009:
5Cities Homeless Coalition
Serving the Central Coast since: 2009
How many employees? 10 full-time, 20 seasonal
How many volunteers? 300
What’s your mission? 5Cities Homeless Coalition strengthens our community by mobilizing resources, fostering hope, and advocating for those who are homeless and those facing homelessness.
5Cities Homeless Coalition is transforming the lives of those who are homeless or facing homelessness in San Luis Obispo County. Our efforts focus on helping the most vulnerable in our community maintain dignity while working toward a new home (or retaining their home). While 5CHC has a special focus in serving those in South County, 5CHC’s housing navigation services assist families countywide to obtain or retain their housing.
5Cities Homeless Coalition’s housing navigation services assist with identifying immediate and long-term housing solutions, providing crisis management, accessing benefits that are important to housing stability, case management and housing navigation, providing on-site access and referrals to medical, mental health and substance use disorder services, and direct financial assistance.
Other services provided by 5CHC that are targeted to South County residents include with winter warming center seasonal shelter, benefits determination and streamlining access, street outreach and engagement, client resource center (mailing address, computer access, printer, phone, internet), transportation and utilities assistance, family reunification opportunities (including transportation to reunify out of the area), and identification and documentation assistance.
5CHC also offers a countywide Homeless Youth Program which targets homeless youth age 16-24, providing support for immediate needs, education and job development, and housing assistance. Partners in this program include Lucia Mar School District, Cuesta College, County Office of Education, and local law enforcement.
What’s unique about the 5CHC? The 5Cities Homeless Coalition’s primary focus with everyone who walks through our door or calls us for assistance is to help them regain their housing, or if they are currently in housing, prevent them from becoming homeless. Where that process starts, is different for anyone. We assist everyone from the man who’s been homeless on the street for 15 years, to the mom fleeing domestic violence, or the family who has just become homeless this week. We work with a philosophy of meeting people where they’re at and addressing the root causes of what led to a family or individual becoming homeless or their inability to pay rent for the month. Case Management is an integral part of our work and is the key to our housing success with more than 90% of those we’ve assisted maintaining their housing. The financial assistance helps solve the immediate problem of getting a family in the door or avoiding an eviction notice – but the case management – the financial literacy, budgeting, credit repair, job development, education, and basic life skills that our case managers impart on our clients are what make our programs so successful.
What do you attribute to your success? Our core values define our work, starting with the word “Coalition” in our name:
- We are inclusive;
- We act with transparency, integrity, and honesty;
- We see the whole person, not just the barrier or issue they face;
- We offer hope, support and resources;
- We act professionally and ethically, and are culturally responsive.
Since its inception in 2009, 5Cities Homeless Coalition has worked closely with our community to prioritize services; prevent duplication of services; identify immediate needs (particularly focused on resolving the crisis that caused them to seek services); and develop a “progressive engagement” plan with short- and long-term goals ultimately leading to stable housing and increased economic stability.
We are a nimble organization, and endeavor to respond when a need or gap in services is identified. A recent example of this occurred with the onset of the COVID pandemic. Utilizing a County campground, our team of staff and volunteers jumped to create a safe “shelter-at-home” program for those who didn’t have a home; providing meals, safe parking and case management and supportive services.
What advice would you give someone interested in supporting your mission? 5CHC has seen a drastic increase in requests for assistance as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Many families are struggling financially as businesses closed or reduced hours, and school closures increased the need for child care or the amount of time a parent needs to stay home. Requests for assistance with rent, utilities, food, clothing, car repairs, and more have tripled. Since March we have received over 150 unique requests for rent or utility assistance, with many families 2 or more months behind on payments. 5CHC works closely with agency partners to maximize our impact and prevent duplication of efforts. So far this year, we have assisted 40 households with rent to maintain their housing, 48 households get back into stable housing, and 52 households with immediate needs (car repair, etc.). Our goal is to alleviate some of the financial strains for those who have been most impacted by the pandemic, while working with them on a plan to rebound and regain economic stability.
This year we have experienced a huge increase in requests for assistance – families who have been financially impacted by COVID due to layoffs, reduced hours, or increased time at home with children are struggling to pay their rent and bills. The impacts of the pandemic will extend far beyond this year. While we are still in an eviction moratorium, families are still responsible for rent owed during these months. So far, we’ve been able to assist over 50 families with rental payments, numerous requests are still pending, and we are getting new calls and referrals daily.
We are also entering the winter months, and as the weather turns cold and the rain starts to come, we’ll be faced with new challenges of operating a Winter Warming Center during a pandemic. Any support we can get in the coming months will be so greatly appreciated – whether it be monetary donations, furniture items for families recently housed, sweatshirts and sweat pants for our warming center guests, meals on nights we open the warming center, or any other out of the box ideas you may have – we are open to it all. Complex problems such as homelessness and preventing homelessness require creative solutions and we sincerely thank you all for your support as we address these new challenges in a changing world.