LIVERMORE -- Everyone deserves a home.
That phrase became a running theme for speakers at the first Summit on Homelessness, where more than 200 advocates, county and federal housing officials, faith-based representatives and the homeless themselves met at the Robert Livermore Community Center on Wednesday to share ideas, collaborate and brainstorm solutions to the Tri-Valley's homeless problem.
"The purpose of this summit is to not simply sustain homelessness, but to find ways to lift people out of homelessness," said Livermore Mayor John Marchand, who convened the gathering. "The need is going up, and the funding is going down."
Panelists spoke often of the need for more affordable housing in the area and incorporating the Housing First model, a strategy seeking to secure permanent housing for the homeless as an initial step to prevention.
Nearly 4,300 people in Alameda County were homeless in 2013, according to the county's most recent Homeless Count and Survey. Elaine deColigny, executive director of EveryOne Home of Alameda County, said though daunting, the crisis has a clear-cut solution.
"Investing in affordable housing solves it," deColigny said. "We all need a place to call home."
Echoing her comments, Eduardo Cabrera, a regional coordinator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, stressed the importance of integrating HUD programs like Rapid Re-Housing with Housing First and referring the homeless to available resources.
"We're not here to maintain or manage homelessness," Cabrera said. "These are our neighbors, and we want to welcome them into our community and move the needle forward."
Speakers from the VA Palo Alto Health Care System pointed to a lack of affordable housing and access to health care as root causes of veteran homelessness. The HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program has provided 60 Section 8 vouchers to veterans in Alameda County, according to the VA's Kate Butler, but because of the high rents, they've only been able to place two of the recipients in Livermore.
"Rents are going up -- this is a problem," Butler said. "We need more vouchers and to explain to landlords what a great thing it is."
According to Alameda County, Livermore's homeless population numbers about 60 to 80, though local estimates suggest the number may be triple that. In March, Livermore began issuing citations for urban camping on public land, drawing criticism for criminalizing homelessness.
Rich French, a homeless veteran from Livermore, set up his campsite on the lawn outside the summit meeting Wednesday, along with a recent citation taped to his tent to "show people what it looks like."
Skeptical at first, French left the summit cautiously optimistic about the event bearing fruit.
"I'm hopeful things can change," French said. "When you have a big problem, it's a chance for a big solution. ... I've heard the talk; I'd like to see the walk. Now's their chance."
Panelists included representatives from housing and homeless prevention groups ECHO Housing, Abode Services and EveryOne Home of Alameda County; the Department of Veterans Affairs; Livermore police; and Livermore's Holy Cross Lutheran Church.
A report of the findings from the summit will be considered by the Livermore City Council at a future meeting. Representatives from the cites of Dublin and Pleasanton also attended the event.
Marchand, who is pushing for converting the Livermore VA hospital into a treatment center for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and as transitional housing for returning and homeless veterans, said the summit's most tangible measure of success would be addressing the city's homeless vets.
Contact Jeremy Thomas at 925-847-2184. Follow him at Twitter.com/jet_bang.