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Since 2015, Citrus Heights has had a homeless navigator on its payroll, launching first as a part-time program and becoming a full-time program the following year.
The navigator program is a partnership with the City of Citrus Heights, Sacramento Self-Help Housing, the Citrus Heights Homeless Assistance Resource Team (HART) and a number of faith-based organizations. According to the city, the program costs approximately $51,000 per year, which is funded by a mix of general fund money and federal Community Development Block Grant funds.
Toni Morgan has served as the city’s full-time navigator for the past two years. She holds a bachelors degree in psychology and her background as a navy veteran has been credited with helping the program succeed.
While the navigator program has been praised for helping get homeless off the streets and earned recognition in 2017 with an award from the League of California Cities in a category for “housing programs and innovations,” the navigator’s effectiveness has been questioned by some homeless individuals who have aired their skepticism in letters to the editor in recent months.
In December, The Sentinel submitted a series of questions to the city inquiring more about the program and how many people have been helped by its homeless navigator. Below are the responses received earlier this month:
Q: What does the Navigator do?
The navigator assists people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. The navigator goes out to encampments to locate people, along with holding walk-in hours.
HART and the Citrus Heights Police Department are great resources in assisting the navigator in getting in contact with clients. After the first intake, the navigator evaluates how she can assist the client. Sometimes this includes things such as ID vouchers, assistance with accessing mainstream benefits, bus passes, job assistance, medical/Medicare applications, and referrals for individuals with substance use disorder.
Other times the navigator gives the client referrals for room rentals, apartment rentals, shared living situations and more.
Q: What kinds of services and programs does the navigator connect homeless with?
Some of the programs and services the navigator connects the homeless to are things such as ID vouchers, bus passes, job assistance, medical/Medicare applications, programs through Mather, the Department of Human Assistance, and transitional and permanent supportive housing.
Q: How does the navigator locate/contact homeless people?
The navigator goes out into the community and finds homeless individuals and makes direct contact this way. The CHPD also hands out her business card with every contact with a homeless individual.
She also has walk-in hours on Wednesdays and [contacted individuals through HART’s winter sanctuary program].
Q: How many homeless are now in permanent housing due to help from the navigator?
In 2018 there was 136 homeless or at-risk-of-homeless individuals housed due to the assistance of the navigator. In addition, 53 individuals were able to receive ID’s and 32 people were referred to a lawyer for assistance with such things as SSI (supplemental security income).
Of the people helped in 2018, 47% of them had a disability of some sort and 15% had a diagnosed mental disability.
Q: What are some barriers the navigator faces in trying to help the homeless?
Some of the barriers [faced] in regards to helping the homeless are things such as lack of affordable housing, need for increased access to mental health and social services in their community, and accessibility to employment.
Q: How do you respond to homeless who say the navigator program isn’t helping get homeless into housing? (Answered directly by Toni Morgan)
I would remind them that this program doesn’t create housing, but is limited to the available units that clients can afford. There is a lack of affordable housing and many participants are between extremely low and moderate income which commonly disqualifies them from market-rate housing options.
Participants have the self-determination to engage in services or not. What I will do is continue to offer them services until they are ready. I am here to assist in all aspects and hand out tools for anyone ready to accept them. We will continue also to listen to participants regarding their experiences with services with the goal of increasing access to services.
*Publisher’s note: As part of this story, The Sentinel requested to be put in contact with one or more individuals who have been helped by the navigator program. Citrus Heights Police Lt. David Gutierrez replied to The Sentinel’s request and said the city is currently working to put together some success stories that will be released to the public at a future date, noting “many confidentiality reasons” as a difficulty in sharing personal stories.
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