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Recent Legislation Continues to Shape a State-wide Strategy for Ending Chronic Homelessness

–Low Barrier Navigation Centers are now a “use by right”
throughout California as noted below–

–Finding Space to Solve Chronic Homelessness is Critical–
–Leveraging State with Federal & Local Public and Private Funding is Crucial–

AB 101 was recently signed into law by the Governor, which took immediate effect. On page 20, Ch 159, section 65666, the bill states that “The Legislature finds and declares that Low Barrier Navigation Center developments are essential tools for alleviating the homelessness crisis in this state and are a matter of statewide concern and not a municipal affair as that term is used in Section 5 of Article XI of the California Constitution. Therefore, this article shall apply to all cities, including charter cities.”

A primary intent of a Low Barrier Navigation Center is to reduce barriers to entry into temporary shelter for chronically homeless persons who have been languishing on the streets while living in encampments. Upon entry, services are offered to help connect persons to permanent housing.

Among other issues and uses, the legislation authorizes Low Barrier Navigation Center development “be a use by right, as defined, in areas zoned for mixed uses and nonresidential zones permitting multifamily uses if it meets specified requirements.”

Description

AB 101 Article 12. Low Barrier Navigation Centers, section 65660 describes a Low Barrier Navigation Center as

a Housing First, low-barrier, service-enriched shelter focused on moving people into permanent housing that provides temporary living facilities while case managers connect individuals experiencing homelessness to income, public benefits, health services, shelter, and housing. “Low Barrier” means best practices to reduce barriers to entry, and may include, but is not limited to, the following:
(1) The presence of partners if it is not a population-specific site, such as for survivors of domestic violence or sexual assault, women, or youth.
(2) Pets.
(3) The storage of possessions.
(4) Privacy, such as partitions around beds in a dormitory setting or in larger rooms containing more than two beds, or private rooms.

Use by Right

As noted in AB 101 under section (3) on page 3, the legislation defined “use by right”

to mean that the local government’s review of the Low Barrier Navigation Center development may not impose certain requirements, such as a conditional use permit or other discretionary review or approval. The bill would provide that CEQA does not apply to an action taken by a public agency to lease, convey, or encumber land owned by a public entity or to facilitate the lease, conveyance, or encumbrance of land owned by a public agency, or to provide financial assistance to, or otherwise approve, a Low Barrier Navigation Center constructed or allowed by this bill. In addition, the bill, by authorizing Low Barrier Navigation Center developments to be a use by right under certain circumstances, would expand the exemption for the ministerial approval of projects under CEQA.

Specified Requirements

Also, as noted in AB 101 Ch. 159 section 65662 on page 20, “use by right” is also defined as a Low Barrier Navigation Center development meeting the following specified requirements:

(a) It offers services to connect people to permanent housing through a services plan that identifies services staffing.
(b) It is linked to a coordinated entry system, so that staff in the interim facility or staff who colocate in the facility may conduct assessments and provide services to connect people to permanent housing. “Coordinated entry system” means a centralized or coordinated assessment system developed pursuant to Section 576.400(d) or Section 578.7(a)(8), as applicable, of Title 24 of the Code of Federal Regulations, as those sections read on January 1, 2020, and any related requirements, designed to coordinate program participant intake, assessment, and referrals.
(c) It complies with Chapter 6.5 (commencing with Section 8255) of Division 8 of the Welfare and Institutions Code.
(d) It has a system for entering information regarding client stays, client demographics, client income, and exit destination through the local Homeless Management Information System as defined by Section 578.3 of Title 24 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

Funding

AB 101 also establishes the Homeless Housing, Assistance, and Prevention (HHAP) Program to be administered by the Business, Consumer Services, and Housing Agency (see AB 101 Chapter 6 on page 32). Upon appropriation by the Legislature, $650 million in funding was made available to a city, city that is also a county, county and a continuum of care. Eligible activities for funding include “new navigation centers” (see AB 101 Ch. 159 (8) on page 36.

Implications

Navigation centers are considered a “residential use” under this legislation. Thus, as a “use by right,” operators of navigation centers need to be mindful that the legislative purpose of a navigation center is to assess the quickest housing outcome possible for each individual and family seeking shelter. This purpose can easily become lost over time if performance measures related to housing outcomes are not met.

As a result, the purpose can inadvertently shift to managing the lives of persons who are homeless. If the understanding in the community is to send everyone who is homeless to the navigation center, maintaining the purpose of the navigation center over time is unlikely.

Housing navigators and other center staff will likely be overwhelmed with providing meals, showers, and mail to a steady stream of persons pushing carts or carrying their belongings along the streets headed to the center. If this happens, navigation centers will become more of a drop-in center that will likely increase its capacity to provide meals, showers, hygienic supplies, laundry machines, mail, and telephone and computer access because of the shift in purpose.

If a navigation center is only going to be able to offer permanent housing opportunities to a limited number of persons who occupy its shelter beds, the reputation of the center will likely garner more community opposition than support over time. If hundreds of persons are served and few are permanently housed, the center will likely recycle persons from the streets into the center and back on to the streets and will be viewed as part of the problem than part of the solution.

Thus, right-sizing a navigation center now, during a planning stage, is much better than down-sizing it later. Overwhelming the center with hundreds of persons who cannot be offered a permanent housing opportunity will not only cultivate an unwanted reputation among community stakeholders but among the homeless community as well.

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