Homelessness Solutions, Partnership and Hope
Tipping Point talks with Dariush Kayhan about the Moving On Initiative, one year in
Over the last year, 136 people who had experienced homelessness now have a place to call home, thanks to a program called the Moving On Initiative. Initiated by the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH), Moving On is a partnership between the City & County of San Francisco, the San Francisco Housing Authority (SFHA), Tipping Point Community and the nonprofit provider Brilliant Corners. The program identifies people in supportive housing ready for independent living, provides assistance to find units as well as Housing Choice vouchers for participants to afford housing in a competitive rental market.
Each partner organization plays an essential role in the program’s success. HSH oversees and provides ongoing funding for the program, coordinates housing providers and client applications. SFHA issues the vouchers to help clients pay rent and Brilliant Corners helps identify units by developing relationships with landlords, providing ongoing support to the landlord, helping clients move in, and providing transition support to the clients.
We sat down with San Francisco Housing Authority Deputy Director of Operations, Dariush “Dar” Kayhan, to learn more about the Moving On Initiative, the role of the Housing Authority in San Francisco, and why he remains hopeful.
Tipping Point: To set some context, could you first describe the idea behind the Moving On Initiative?
Dar: We all know how expensive it is to live in San Francisco. There is an everyday struggle to survive experienced by thousands of San Franciscans who are homeless or just barely getting by. It’s one of many factors that can lead people to experience homelessness or housing instability.
The experience of homelessness itself often leads to many other issues like substance abuse, mental health problems, broken families, and interactions with the criminal justice system. One of the most effective solutions for stabilizing people is housing and, when more intensive services are needed, supportive housing.
Part of my job is to get housing subsidies, called vouchers, into the hands of formerly homeless and low-income folks in a targeted way. Those of us in the field — like Jeff Kositsky, Director of HSH, and many others — have talked about wanting to carve out some vouchers for folks who are ready to transition out of permanent supportive housing.
Supportive housing is expensive to provide. We realized that if someone no longer needs that level of services, yet is still low income, we could get them a voucher and help them find a unit. That person’s space in supportive housing would then be freed up for people who do need those services — people who are chronically homeless, living on the street, or in shelters or navigation centers.
HSH and Tipping Point started building the program by making policy recommendations that would help connect more people in supportive housing to vouchers. The Housing Authority then engaged the community to gain support and received approval from HUD to create a policy that sets aside 350 vouchers per year for people ready to transition out of supportive housing and into their own homes.
Tipping Point: What is a Housing Choice voucher and why is it an important part of the Moving On Initiative?
Dar: Housing Choice vouchers, formerly called Section 8, are financial assistance provided by the federal government for low-income families and folks who are elderly or disabled, to help them pay rent in the private housing market, for housing of their choosing. They are really worth gold, especially in this market.
In San Francisco, where housing is tight and the cost of living is high, we have great demand for these vouchers. However, for some people, it can be a very complex program to navigate: participants need to not only find available and eligible housing, but they also need to find a landlord who agrees to participate, since the voucher subsidy is paid directly to the landlord.
When HSH and Tipping Point came to me with the idea for a program that would initiate a moving on process for people graduating from supportive housing, they asked how I could help make that happen — the vouchers were a key resource I could bring to the table.
Frankly, there are a lot of Housing Authorities that don’t necessarily see themselves as part of the homeless solution, they really see themselves as dealing with poverty. And while that’s true, Housing Authorities are getting pulled into homelessness more these days, and I think that’s a good thing because they have an important resource.
Tipping Point: What has contributed to successfully getting the Moving On Initiative off the ground?
Dar: When Jeff Kositsky became the Director at HSH, he reached out to me about turning the conversations we’ve had for years into a reality. Even with all of our great energy and resources, I think Tipping Point pushed us over the edge — changing an idea into an efficient program by putting funding in place and actually hiring staff in the areas where we had gaps and liabilities.
There were a lot of unknowns: what the housing was going to look like and concerns about whether people were going to be disconnected from their service system if they moved outside of San Francisco or even to an unfamiliar part of the City. In the first six months it was hard to find units and get the program up and running, but we’re now in a place where there are many more units coming in and we’re doing really well on the housing we are finding.
In the last year, we’ve secured 136 homes for San Franciscans who were formerly homeless and ready to move out of supportive housing. 100% of these folks remain housed today. Their moves have freed up 136 spaces in supportive housing for people who were homeless. This is no small feat — it’s the equivalent of creating a new building in the middle of San Francisco in one year, at a fraction of the cost and time that would take.
Tipping Point: What is the role of a partner like Tipping Point?
Dar: We really needed someone to be the hub of the wheel. Tipping Point first identified the gaps that existed and created the connective tissue to bring all of the components together, seamlessly.
The Tipping Point team quickly drilled down on issues. For example residents of supportive housing were ready to move out but could not afford rent and didn’t know how to find a unit. That’s when Tipping Point brought in Brilliant Corners, who began reaching out to landlords in an effort to find more units, and provided support to clients throughout their housing search, move, and settling in.
The second thing was bringing everyone together and mapping the process — everything from what’s on the referral form and eligibility criteria at the case management level to how that information gets to HSH. Initially we were getting inundated with referrals. Tipping Point was able to look at the flow honestly and see where the bottlenecks were.
I won’t sugarcoat it: at times there were some really tense conversations. There’s so much demand and as agencies we have limited staff and limited budgets. All the more reason for an organization like Tipping Point to come in and ensure that everything is functioning efficiently and that we’re not wasting any time or resources.
Tipping Point: You’ve been working on housing issues in San Francisco for a long time — what gives you hope?
Dar: I’ve seen chronically homeless people with mental health issues, substance abuse, HIV/AIDS and physical disabilities who are completely disjointed from their families, move into housing and thrive. They’ve been able to maintain their housing and pay their rent on time. I’ve seen them reconnect with their family and friends, stabilize their mental illness and sobriety, make it to their doctor’s appointments and regain their self-esteem and hopefulness. I’ve seen that with folks where you would think there’s no way, they’re never going to move inside. There are thousands of people that we’ve moved into housing in San Francisco alone, so that gives me hope.