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history includes chronic homelessness and in some cases, mental health and substance abuse challenges. According to Erin O’Brien, CEO of Community Solutions, “We’re thrilled at how the county has brought homelessness issues to the forefront and made housing the homeless a priority. Every person deserves to have housing, to feel safe.” “We see people with unmet mental health needs that contribute to their homelessness and often lead them to substance abuse. It’s hard for anyone to live in that reality. Life gets complicated very fast. We need to remove the stigma associated with mental health challenges.” Erin said that her organization works closely with a variety of partners on this issue, including the county as well as the Gilroy and Morgan Hill Police Departments. “Dealing with the chronically homeless is a big drain on police department and other resources. But the homeless are not typically a danger to the community, they just need help.” “Community Solutions embraces the housing first philosophy, to house, engage with, and provide services to the homeless. It’s hard work done by passionate people. And it works. When you house the homeless, a large majority of them remain housed and become productive citizens, good neighbors.” HomeFirst Services of Santa Clara County has been helping the homeless since 1980. Formerly known as the Emergency Housing Consortium, HomeFirst served more than 4,000 homeless individuals last year, including veterans, families and youth. Many people may not be aware that HomeFirst operates the Gilroy Armory cold weather shelter in partnership with the National Guard. In a recent issue of the organization’s newsletter, HomeFirst CEO Andrea Urton wrote, “What strikes me the most about this year’s experience is that this community is very resilient and dedicated to bringing people in from the cold . . . Going forward this year, we’ll work on projects with partners to explore how we can shelter and house people in innovative ways.” HomeFirst also focuses on housing first strategies. As part of this effort, it operates the Boccardo Family Living Center (BFLC), a multi-service transitional housing program for homeless families, located in San Martin. The program provides 26 units of transitional housing. Families pay a below-market rental rate that allows them to build financial resources while they work to achieve stability. The BFLC also operates an emergency shelter program for families that is open December through March and provides housing for seasonal migrant farm workers. Along with shelter and transitional housing, HomeFirst provides housing search services, mental health counseling, employment search services, programs for homeless veterans, a shelter for homeless foster youth, and a medical clinic. The National Guard Armory opens its doors during cold winter months to provide a walk-in shelter for the homeless. A significant number of homeless come to the shelter from outside of South County, and some believe that when the Armory closes the shelter each spring to resume its regular operations, some of the homeless leave the area again while others stay. 30 GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN For this reason, rather than trying to take on a countywide homeless population, the Armory may adopt a referral-based system next winter so that the local support system can prioritize and focus effectively on the local homeless population and help them move through the necessary steps to transition out of homelessness to a better life. “The high cost of living and income disparity creates numerous hurdles for the David Cox ‘working poor.’” St. Joseph’s Family Center traces its history back to the 1960s when Marge Albaugh and friends from St. Mary Parish organized food and clothing donations for the needy; first for their parish, then for the community of Gilroy. In 1981, the group’s efforts were formalized as St. Joseph’s Family Center under the auspices of the Diocese of San Jose, and in 2002, it became a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Today, St. Joseph’s operates a Food Pantry five days a week and provides hot meals for the homeless three evenings a week. It offers comprehensive services to assist with job searching, and acts as a liaison with other homeless services in Gilroy and throughout Santa Clara County. Last fall, TODAY spoke with Executive Director David Cox, who provided an overview of St. Joseph’s collaborative work with Gilroy churches, schools, businesses and civic groups on programs to combat hunger. Along with Second Harvest Food Bank, St. Joseph’s partners with food suppliers including Safeway, Wal-Mart, Target, Trader Joe’s and Costco, among others. “In all of my 16 years with the agency, we’ve never had a downturn in demand for services,” Cox said.  “The high cost of living and income disparity creates numerous hurdles for the ‘working poor’.  Gilroy has the County’s highest per capita rate of homelessness and food insecurity.  It is important that our community understands these dynamics, and we challenge ourselves to get involved – through awareness and education, advocacy, volunteering, and/or financially supporting local agencies that are dealing with these issues on a daily basis.”   St. Joseph’s also secures government funding for emergency rental and utility assistance to assist families in crisis, triggered by circumstances beyond their control (i.e. loss of employ- ment). The Center may subsidize the cost to help a family to enter new housing, or to maintain their current housing and/or utility services. gmh Gilroy Police Department: Enforcement with Empathy The cities of Gilroy and Morgan Hill are fortunate to have effective police departments whose men and women protect us through a strong partnership with our communities. As law JULY / AUGUST 2016 gmhtoday.com