“A vital role:’ CoC board chair reflects on impact

The Sacramento Continuum of Care (CoC) board has welcomed a new slate of members and a newly-appointed executive committee for 2021. 

We are excited to introduce the new board members, who will contribute their expertise to the CoC as it shapes conversations around homelessness in our region. Click here to read biographies for the recently-appointed executive leaders and new board members. 

Erin Johansen, the CEO of Hope Cooperative, has been appointed as the board’s chair. She previously served as the CoC’s vice-chair.  Erin became the CEO of Hope Cooperative in 2016 after serving as the agency’s first Development Director for three years. Hope Cooperative has been providing mental health and supportive housing services for people with mental health challenges in Sacramento County. Prior to leading Hope Cooperative, Erin spent more than 25 years in the food business as a sales and marketing professional and is the co-founder and former executive director of a nonprofit substance abuse treatment program for teens in Placer County.

We spoke to Erin about her new role and how the work of the CoC will drive change in our community.

What motivates you to serve on the CoC board? 

I have been serving actively for several years and I am committed to being part of finding solutions to homelessness in our community. The organization I lead has been working in the homeless space for 40 years, most specifically focused on people with behavioral health issues who are experiencing homelessness or are always at risk of homelessness primarily due to poverty that is related to their disability.  

We know that housing is key. Our local housing capacity has been seriously challenged for more than six years. Affordable housing takes years to develop and there was relatively little interest or resources devoted to that effort for the last decade. Hence, we are struggling to find adequate supply, which seriously hampers our ability to make a dent in homelessness. I am hopeful that the tide is finally turning on that and there is interest in exploring innovative solutions that may be quicker and cheaper to develop. For me, this is what is driving me to continue.

What do you want the community to know about the CoC? 

The CoC brings together those with lived experience of homelessness, the provider community, the faith community, the activist community, local government officials, SHRA, law enforcement, and the business community. This diverse body is well-positioned to educate our community about bringing a united response to ending homelessness. 

The CoC makes informed decisions about investing federal and state funding into programs that pave pathways to permanent housing. We use data to assess and understand our community’s needs and direct resources accordingly. We’re making strides to address systemic racial inequities and constantly evolving to adapt to the changing needs of our unhoused neighbors. 

This board has the potential to be the place where we tackle systemic deficiencies that get in the way of addressing homelessness in a meaningful way. This year, we hope to engage our county, cities, and the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency (SHRA) in addressing the system changes needed, including building robust community-wide data sharing and partnerships. 

Why is the work of the CoC critical in addressing homelessness in our community? 

The CoC plays a vital role in offering thought leadership, analysis of system-level issues, and capacity-building strategies to shape a comprehensive system of care. It gathers the largest variety of stakeholders together to tackle the largest issue our community faces. We have made incredible progress in coalescing with all the powers that be in our community, but we still have work to do. 

The COC has the potential to be the data resource to measure what we are doing and how well we are doing it, but we can’t do that effectively without the entire community participating in data sharing and collaboration. We recognize this level of coordination is a challenge, but we are eager to continue our important work to foster strategic partnerships in our community. 

We are continuously shining a bright light on the problem of homelessness, trying adaptive changes, and moving the ball forward, so to speak.

What is the most impactful thing the CoC is undertaking this year? 

In my opinion, it is the work of the Systems Performance Committee to review and analyze gaps in the system, and the work of the Coordinated Entry System Committee to analyze the Coordinated Entry System (CES). These committees of the CoC have focused on the in-depth analyses of our system of housing and resources, which highlight ways to strengthen our community’s response. 

Both efforts provide the first comprehensive views of our system, revealing that multiple agencies have control over certain aspects of the system. This requires us to build more trust among the agencies to achieve collaboration for a real system change and maximized performance. 

We will use these analyses to guide future decision-making as we move toward creating a system that works together. 

I want to call out as an example, the willingness of the Behavioral Health System to try to find a way to work with CES.  These were two systems that had nothing to do with each other. They each had different ways of assessing a person who was appropriate for services and thus housing that was attached to those services.   There is very little alignment between those two measures.  However, they have been diligently trying to find common ground, building on the work done previously by the veterans’ groups and the youth providers.  This is painstaking and takes a lot of time and manual work to create efficiencies that will make it sustainable.  But the effort to continue to try is there.  To me, this is how we improve system performance.

 Where does the CoC fit in the community?

The C0C is positioned to be the convening body where homelessness is addressed. We have most of the right people in the room to really make a difference – the provider community, the faith community, the activist community, representation from County Behavioral Health, County Department of Human Assistance, SHRA, the cities, law enforcement, the business community.  

However, most of the public does not know there is a CoC, who it is, what it does and is supposed to do. It feels very disjointed and the public sees finger-pointing between jurisdictions and they are frustrated and angry. Many of those experiencing homelessness have accepted living in encampments, surviving, creating their own social networks and do not have hope that they have options so they are holding fast to their piece of sidewalk.

To be more influential in fixing the system-wide response, we will be finding ways to bring the CoC work to the public and elected officials to increase understanding, improve decision making, and address common misperceptions. This effort includes hosting more public forums, such as the May annual meeting. We’ll be talking more about the “wins”, championing ways to create more housing, and advocating for increased coordination and alignment between our public partners to address this humanitarian crisis.