California’s housing shortage is no new news, and Santa Clara County in particular stands out with 9,706 homeless people in 2019, a 31% rise from 2017 and one of the most in the nation. To combat this issue, LifeMoves, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization in Silicon Valley working to find long-term solutions to homelessness, has recently implemented a supportive interim housing model in Mountain View with funding from Project Homekey. Consisting of 100 modular units and housing about 124 people who are expected to stay for 90-120 days, the site is projected to serve over half of the city’s homeless population within its first year.
The units at LifeMoves Mountain View are made from existing modular buildings, but they have been effectively modified such that the interior looks no different than a typical home. Each unit is also individually insulated and has a locking door, so all residents are able to enjoy comfort and privacy; recently, the rooms were even used to temporarily protect construction workers from the heat wave.
Aside from just providing a place to sleep, however, the site fosters a secure community environment and caters to families, couples, and singles alike. Namely, for singles, who have shown a tendency to stay alone in their rooms in other housing programs, this means keeping amenities in a separate place to draw them outside and give them opportunities to interact with each other.
Additionally, there are many shared spaces, including a playground, a community room, and multiple case management offices; adults are able to discuss official matters in a private office while their children play on their own or join the on-site summer camp. Because they don’t have to worry about being overheard by others, they feel much more comfortable sharing personal details about their circumstances. More examples of this prioritization of comfort include support for all religions as well as plans to construct a zen area behind the housing units for relaxation. Security is maintained through plentiful cameras and the removal of serious troublemakers, but there are no hired patrols so that the environment can remain welcoming.
Perhaps the most valuable part of this project is the assistance it offers to its residents. LifeMoves is understanding of the mental toll homelessness takes on a person, so it provides plenty of mental and behavioral health services as well as treatment for addiction. As long as an individual shows any interest in recovery, even if this interest is initially faked solely to keep their temporary home, the program is willing to help. Other services include aid for education, employment, financial literacy, and securing permanent housing, all of which are individualized to the client’s needs. In this sense, the site is more than just a place to comfortably stay for a while; it addresses struggles and sets up residents for better futures.
Outside of just Mountain View, though, this supportive interim housing model is a new, effective option to be added to the current list, particularly due to its efficiency and flexibility. With respect to price, it is almost an order of magnitude cheaper per unit than both permanent affordable housing and emergency shelters because of its use of modular units, which reduce construction time from years to less than 6 months. This is especially valuable in the context of homelessness because the availability of housing directly affects a homeless person’s quality of life and ability to adapt to society, even if the housing is temporary. On top of that, a modular home design allows for flexibility in configuration and scale: the units can be rearranged to fit on unusually shaped plots of land, and a site can be expanded gradually with the addition of new units, not requiring complete remodeling like a traditionally constructed building would. This model also presents flexibility in the additional services it can provide, since there is no hard limit in facilities. While hotels are not designed to treat mental and behavioral health problems and RV homes even less so, supportive interim housing is able to give its residents the help they need.
Moving forward, LifeMoves plans to implement 10 more housing sites of this design in Silicon Valley, which could serve 20,000 people in five years. The infrastructure will continue to improve, and costs will continue to decrease after trial and error. A potential area of concern may be helping the sites and their residents better fit in with more affluent communities, but this is an issue with many forms of temporary housing. The current problem in California is that a large majority (71.7% in 2019) of homeless individuals remain unsheltered, so the implementation of supportive interim housing offers a promising solution.
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