Housing Options for the Unsheltered with Brian Greenberg – Episode 9

Housing Options for the Unsheltered - Episode 9Brian Greenberg, PhD, manager of Life Moves, joins host Roberts Strock and guest host David Knapp to discuss the current and growing needs among the unsheltered population. Life Moves is the largest comprehensive homelessness program in Northern California. It focuses on providing amenities like private/public showers and toilets along with connecting participants with job opportunities, housing support, and health services. When less expensive housing options have basic privacy, it provides incentives that bring people off of the streets. Organizations like Life Moves work to provide a maximum amount of services at a minimal cost. Greenberg’s program works with psychology masters and PhD interns to provide needed mental health services at a fraction of ordinary cost for these mental health services. The program also views people as people. People can go through the program multiple times even if they relapse or make a bad choice. As long as they’re trying to move forward in their lives and follow the rules that leave everyone in the community feeling safe, they can continue to work within the Life Moves program. However, expanding affordable housing requires broadening the scope of housing options. Tiny homes, travel trailers, and shipping containers all offer shelter at a more affordable cost. Creating a community for the unsheltered also centers around support from peers, the local community, and law enforcement. There’s a great need for society to view the unsheltered as people who need and deserve compassion and opportunities.

Mentioned in this episode
Life Moves
Hope of the Valley
PSH
The Global Bridge Foundation

Note: Below, you’ll find timecodes for specific sections of the podcast. To get the most value out of the podcast, I encourage you to listen to the complete episode. However, there are times when you want to skip ahead or repeat a particular section. By clicking on the timecode, you’ll be able to jump to that specific section of the podcast

Transcript
Announcer: (00:01)
The Missing Conversation, Episode Nine.

Brian Greenberg: (00:05)
What we need is for a middle-class and persons of affluence to realize that it’s better to have those people housed in their community, the right size program and the right size community, um, then to have them living on the street.

Announcer: (00:22)
On this podcast, we will propose critical new strategies to address world issues, including homelessness, immigration, amongst several others, and making a connection to how our individual psychology contributes and can help transform the dangers that we face. We will break from traditional thinking, as we look at our challenges from a freer and more independent point of view. Your host Robert Strock has had 45 years of experience as a psychotherapist, author, and humanitarian, and has developed a unique approach to communication, contemplation and inquiry born from working on his own challenges.

Robert Strock: (01:00)
So I’d like to welcome you to The Missing Conversation, and I’m really glad you found us again or perhaps for the first time, if it is your first visit, I’d highly encourage you to tune into our prior episodes. First, I’d like to introduce you to Dave, my closest friend and partner in The Global Bridge Foundation and also the central person in virtually every aspect of my life for the last 50 years. And this includes our original psychological work, spiritual, personal, and business work, which feels like about 10 great lifetimes.

David Knapp: (01:41)
Good to be here.

Robert Strock: (01:43)
Thanks Dave. So today we’re going to have the honor to meet the manager of the Life Moves program, the largest comprehensive program for the unsheltered population in Northern California. The head coordinator is Brian Greenberg, PhD, who manages the Life Moves program or programs. He’s a licensed psychologist with over 25 years of experience developing and managing behavioral health and housing programs. Prior to his current position, Dr. Greenberg oversaw research and evaluation, adolescent services and development for 18 years at the Walton House. Brian also serves as a clinical consultant for drug treatment programming and has published articles in peer reviewed journals concerning his work with substance abuse, treatment research, and housing. He received his undergraduate degree from Ohio State University and his master’s degree and PhD from the California School of Professional Psychology, in Berkeley, California.

Robert Strock: (03:00)
He’s also a lot of fun, based on my prior conversations with him. Brian, I really thank you very much for coming to visit with us. We’re in particular, looking forward to, for what is missing in the various fields programs for really caring for the large homeless and large growing homeless population and going about it here by interviewing the best programs we can find and certainly find yours to be one of those, I’m looking forward to it. So if you would please just begin by telling us about your program, especially giving us a scope of the work that you’re doing as a foundation.

Brian Greenberg: (03:45)
So, um, Life Moves, service unsheltered, uh, people in Silicon valley and the San Francisco peninsula. We have outreach teams that serve unsheltered individuals. We have safe and supportive parking, um, in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, um, the peninsula and Silicon valley, again for people living in RVs and in their vehicles, we, uh, manage large numbers of people, um, in motels, both families and individuals. And then we have your traditional site-based shelters, uh, both for individuals and families, sometimes combinations of the two. We run a drop-in center across the street from Stanford University, uh, that serves maybe 80 to 110 shelter, um, individuals every day. So we have this, um, diverse range of programs, serving individuals who are experiencing homelessness. Um, obviously, um, homelessness is a pressing issue, um, throughout the West Coast and especially in areas maybe within 50 miles of the coast. Um, and so we have programs that are scaled to meet that challenge and scaling to meet that challenge.

Robert Strock: (05:06)
And with the population that you’re attempting to giving, to give housing to, uh, what are your future plans? And maybe you can give us a sense of the obstacles that you’re facing and being able to, uh, add that element more significantly to your programming.

Brian Greenberg: (05:28)
Sure. So, um, to develop a unit of housing, a studio, um, using prevailing wage costs with infrastructure costs maybe $550,000 a door. Um, it’s very difficult to develop a unit of housing for under a half a million dollars, and it usually costs somewhat more than a half, a million dollars upwards of $550-$655. So what, we’re trying to meet the urgent need to get people off the street, um, with high volume, low cost solutions, um, because of COVID and even before COVID we saw the need for each person to have their own door. So assemblance of privacy, so people would want to move into the unit. So I think a good example is our project that we’re going to, that we, we broke ground about 30 days ago. We’re going to open it in March in mountain view where there’s a hundred doors and a dozen of those doors are going to serve families with children.

Brian Greenberg: (06:30)
Another dozen will serve couples and the other 76 or so will serve single adults. And when you do prefab units, um, where you can get maybe four households, two to four households in something that’s the size of a shipping container, you can develop those doors for closer to 50 or 65. Um, so you don’t have, you may not have your private kitchen. You may have a stall shower or a stall toilet like at the gym. Um, but what you can give people is some semblance of privacy, certainly some private space, their own space and move to get people off the street ramp.

Robert Strock: (07:14)
So I’m, I’m assuming you’re probably about as frustrated as all the folks here in Southern California that it’s taken so long to make it easier to use the lesser expensive housing. Cause I’m sure, you know, as well as I do that, it’s been available with tiny houses or travel trailers or, or the likes, uh, to be able to move that $550,000 down to about the $50,000 you’re talking about.

Brian Greenberg: (07:41)
Uh, we’ve been frustrated and we’re really only halfway there, right? We’re trying to do really light touch on infrastructure. You know, those five things that go into every home, your sewage, your water, your electricity, your natural gas and your electronics, your phone and whatnot internet. Um, too, we’re trying to look at ways to deal with those five inputs to homes that are really light touch. Um, maybe more temporary solutions. So what we’re doing in Mountain View is about halfway there, but we’re hoping to be able to scale that. And the problem in densely populated urban areas with tiny homes is you can only fit so many on an acre, right? There has to be a little space between each unit. Um, so we’re really looking at ways to do, because most of the folks experiencing homelessness are in densely populated urban areas. They don’t, they’re, they’re reticent to move out of those areas.

Brian Greenberg: (08:43)
So density and light touch really becomes a key.

David Knapp: (08:47)
I wanted to ask, uh, what is the average stay of the folks that are using your facilities are in the category you’re talking about, uh, is, is there a goal of permanent housing? Is it, uh, is it transit, transition to other solutions for them after you’ve given them services, which I know is a big part of what you do that we will talk about? How does that, how does that work?

Brian Greenberg: (09:14)
So, um, prior to COVID, when there was no unemployment in the bay area, um, literally the unemployment was one or 2% and everyone that needed a job, we could get employed, our average length of stay, or a hundred or 120 days they’ve gone off. That average length of stay has gone up to about 150 days, uh, because people need some semblance of income or a proxy for income to get housing. And that proxy, proxy for income could be a housing voucher or disability benefits or a job, um, or, uh, a VA supportive housing vouchers. There’s lots of, um, practices for income, but the best income that gives people, some structure in their life is a job, even if it’s only a part-time job. And even if that individual is on disability.

Robert Strock: (10:08)
Yeah. To quote you, um, you told me that you were lousy at getting people great jobs and great at getting people lousy jobs.

Brian Greenberg: (10:17)
Yeah. So we do some, we place some folks in vocational training programs, but to deal with the scale problems that homelessness presents, it’s really important for us to have throughput in our facilities, right. We want to get people in and out as soon as possible. So a 6 or 12 month training program really doesn’t work for us because first of all, not everyone completes those programs. Not all of them pay people, tend to leave them for paying jobs. So we find that even people that are getting $900 or a $1,000 a month on disability, if they can get that income up to just about $1800 a month, we can get them housed. Then our success rates improve dramatically and they have part-time work to give some structure to them. So exactly like you said, Robert, we’re, we, we with, uh, with a majority of our population, we’re great at getting them lousy jobs and allows you to give people great jobs. It’s not the sexiest of taglines, but it does work for a portion of our population and for programs to have proof points.

Robert Strock: (11:28)
Yeah. And as I said to you, um, I congratulate you for getting people lousy jobs, uh, as you call it and I felt the play in what you said. Uh . . .

Brian Greenberg: (11:38)
And, and, you know, I could introduce you to people I’m not exaggerating who have reinvented their lives in fast food restaurants, reinvest, reinvented their lives in retail, reinvented their lives in the back end of restaurants as a four hour evening dishwasher. Um, the value of work, you know, we don’t ask enough from government and we don’t ask enough from philanthropy, but we could also ask more of many of the homeless people that we serve because there is a value in work. Um, and so sometimes we set that bar too high. Um, but we always set that bar. What we believe is high enough for people to achieve something meaningful.

Robert Strock: (12:27)
Yeah. I find it interesting to track Northern and Southern California and some of these discoveries have happened relatively recently, but there’s an operation called Hope of the Valley here in Los Angeles that is using what, what you might call mini mini homes or Pallet Shelters with showers that have separate doors for each person to enter into their shower. Uh, let’s separate that 64 square foot, uh, places that they’re able to have, uh, their housing, not a thousand people and their goals are slightly, slightly dissimilar, but it’s something that I wonder if that’s something that you see as desirable as a possible expansion with adding the vast programming, which we’ll get into a little bit later that you, you offer people.

Brian Greenberg: (13:17)
So let me say that in the shelter we’re building now, every shower stall has a private door and every toilet has a private door. Um, so that, it’s your space when you’re in there. Um, you know, the old, um, you know, when, when we were in high school, those old gang showers, um, no one, no one would do gang showers anymore for a range of reasons. So, um, people experiencing homelessness, you know, they need privacy and that, that privacy can be a carrot for them to move off the street and into a program and engage in programs. So it’s just like when you send your kid to an elementary school, if it looks lousy and the drinking fountains are broken off, and the bathrooms are red tag, no matter how good the teachers are, you feel like they’re not going to get a good education. But if the school is beautiful, even if the teachers are mediocre, you feel like your kid is getting a good education. And so beautiful facilities are clinically critical.

Robert Strock: (14:20)
Yeah. And, and, um, when they have their separate shower door, is that going into group shower or do they actually have their own shower?

Brian Greenberg: (14:30)
That’s a, that’s a private stall.

Robert Strock: (14:32)
So they have a whole, a whole bunch of private stalls in the same location.

Brian Greenberg: (14:36)
Exactly. It’s kind of like your high-end gym where the toilets wouldn’t have, you know, they wouldn’t be stalls, they’d be individual rooms.

Robert Strock: (14:46)
Yeah, no, that makes tremendous sense from an economic point of view. And otherwise, one of the things that Dave and I did 48 years ago, uh, was something that you are doing in your, the first program we found anywhere that has substantially used Master’s interns in psychology, uh, to be supervised by professional psychologists or psychotherapists, and be able to use that for empathy, building advocacy, caring. And I’m just curious if that’s been going on for a while or whatever, but I think it’s so important that the audience realizes how, what you’re doing and what other programs can do.

Brian Greenberg: (15:31)
Yeah. So let me talk about our, um, Master’s and PhD inside the level training program. It serves three main purposes. The first is that great programs are a nexus of research and practice. And when you bring graduate students in, especially when you bring them in, in large numbers, they see things from a different light. They do their master’s thesis work there, and they do their doctoral work there. So programs have this huge amount of unexamined data that is ripe for papers in peer review journals for Master’s thesis, again for dissertations. So first great programs have to become a nexus of research and practice, and we’re always trying to develop them. Second of all, it creates a workforce trained to work in the field with this population. People that might have serious mental illness, people with addiction disorders, people that have burned bridges with their families, um, you know, how to serve challenging populations. And third, of course, it’s a relatively cost efficient way to serve people. So we have about 20 Master of Social Work students, about 70 Doctor of Psychology, Doctor of Philosophy pods, psychology students, PhD students. It’s a large training program. It serves multiple purposes. When you bring young people in with fresh eyes, your services, look we’re all better when we’re under scrutiny, um, and not to micromanage, but we’re all better when we’re under scrutiny. And people are asking questions about why we do it like this.

Robert Strock: (17:19)
Yeah. I, I just congratulate you for that. Do you know of any other programs that are at the scale of using Master’s interns like you are?

Brian Greenberg: (17:29)
Yeah, so I don’t know homeless programs. I know there’s a lot of mental health programs that run largely off, um, interns or practicum students or whatnot, but I’m not familiar with, uh, homeless, uh, programs.

Robert Strock: (17:42)
Yeah. We, we have an agency here for Southern California that we’re really offering, uh, in some cases, grants, uh, to optimize that feature and a number of programs that are not utilizing interns. So you, you blew my mind when, when you told me that you were already so advanced in that regard. So I’m very, very happy about that. What, what else would you say that you cover that you think other programs could learn from?

Brian Greenberg: (18:13)
Um, I think you always have to, the tension between being effective and cost efficient, and you always need to be kind of balancing those two things, not so cost efficient that you’re losing your model. Right. Um, but that, you’re always, re-examining how you can repurpose staff to bring them better. So, like, we, we have a study going on now for, uh, in regards to family reunification. You know, the only thing that all homeless people have is a family somewhere, either have a kid or a parent or a sibling or an uncle. Um, many times they burn those bridges. Many times they haven’t talked to them for those years, but how can we leverage those family resources? Because we know about maybe 10, 15% now of the people that are successfully rehoused, um, become reunified with family. How can we make that tick up a little bit, right. And really, you know, maybe it’s a financial incentive to the family. Maybe it’s a, maybe it’s someone experiencing homelessness getting on medication or becoming engaged in substance abuse, recovery services, you know, how can we leverage the fact that everybody got family somewhere, um, into improving our outcomes. So I think it’s, again, it’s that constant examination of looking at who’s successful looking at who’s not, and working to improve.

Robert Strock: (19:47)
Just on those small niche of people where you’re reuniting with families and, uh, for the individuals that do have an ID. And have you, as part of your fundraising used mileage for airlines to purchase tickets?

Brian Greenberg: (20:04)
No, we haven’t even considered that. Um, and, and really the, the costs associated are, are a smaller barrier than the emotional and the history of the relationship barrier and the burn bridges, um, the, you know, and look our homeless people. Aren’t perfect. And sometimes their families, aren’t perfect. I’m not putting it all on our population. Right. I mean, there’s lousy, you know, some of us have been lousy kids and some of us have been lousy parents. Um, things go both ways. So, but it’s that, it’s, it’s, it’s all that emotional baggage. Um, that’s a bigger barrier to work for sure.

Robert Strock: (20:43)
I think, however, whenever you can save $500, somebody on the other side of the country, um, I’ll be happy to be your first donor of miles. Right. Thanks. Hopefully, hopefully the catalyze that, um, what are your greatest needs still existing in your program.

Brian Greenberg: (21:02)
Um, you know, what you call NIMBY, not in my backyard. Um, I like to refer to as banana build, absolutely nothing anywhere near anybody, you know, um, unsheltered people, uh, occur in every neighborhood, in every community on the west coast, whether it’s an affluent community, whether it’s a, uh, more impoverished community. Um, and I think that, um, what we need is for a middle-class and persons of affluence to realize that it’s better to have those people housed in their community, the right size program and the right size community, um, than to have them living on the street. That, you know, the people experiencing homelessness themselves are in our only stakeholder that merchants are stakeholders and residents are stakeholders, of law enforcement is our stakeholders and working together. We can improve that. You can really dislike homeless people and still want a right size shelter in your community. If you understand that it’s not going to deleteriously affect the value of your home, and it’s not going to be a blight on the community and that it can be a win-win for a wide range of stakeholders.

David Knapp: (22:24)
Dave, I do have a question. I’m curious about the people that you said, the average had been maybe 120, maybe now 150. There are some cases where they’re staying, what about the folks that just can’t get it together? How do you, I mean, how, how long does it go? Do you, do you have a finite time where you say, Hey, this isn’t going to work at our program, or how do you handle that?

Brian Greenberg: (22:51)
So, uh, let me first say that it’s impossible to predict who’s going to succeed. You know, I cut my teeth in drug treatment, recovery programs. And new people that work in orientation, they always say, oh, you know, Dave, he’s so motivated, he wants to have a better relationship with his children and his boss is mad at him, he wants to, he wants to stop drinking. You know, it could be Robert who only wants to stop drinking to get his driver’s license back.

Brian Greenberg: (23:17)
And doesn’t care about the families he’s burned out, the job he’s burned out. We never know who’s gonna, who’s going to succeed, really engage and succeed in behavioral health services. It’s impossible to predict. And when we talked to, um, admissions folks, they acknowledged that after they’ve been there six months, right that we don’t know. So that’s number one. We, we don’t say, oh, Dave’s a loser, a Robert’s going to be, I’ve got, Robert’s going be a rockstar. So putting that aside, we have, we have several staff that needed to go through either recovery or shelter programs, three, four, and five times. You know, if you’re a cigarette smoker or a meth addict, it takes you an average of seven quit attempts to get your life together. So it’s fine. You know, if someone needs to go through our program three or four times to get it, um, to get engage in services, that’s fine.

Brian Greenberg: (24:12)
So we, as long as people stay engaged, if you’re using you can’t bring drugs onto the property, keep a toe in drug treatment. We tolerate relapse. We just don’t, we just don’t tolerate unsafe behavior. So you can’t get credit for a fire started, um, or bringing drugs on site. But if you’re willing to just holding the water of maybe it’s your serious, mellowness maybe it’s your addiction disorder, um, maybe it’s behavioral problem. If you’re willing to just stick your toe in the water to try to change, we’ll keep working with you. But the moment you say, you know what, I don’t need this, I just want to shoot dope or I just want to smoke meth, or I just want to drink, leave me alone. Then we exit. So we’re fine with people stay in 10 months and 12 months, as long as they stay engaged in something to move their life forward.

Robert Strock: (25:10)
Yeah. I think one of the points you’re making, which seems like a common feature of the vast programs is you can’t bring it on the premises because if you do . . .

Brian Greenberg: (25:22)
You can’t, the, the, the, the philosophy of the program is the most vulnerable young woman, who’s been out there as a sex worker who might not be very literate. Who’s just trying to regain some semblance of a life, her life, herself, the most resonant, the most vulnerable resident of the community that when you ask her, do you feel safe? She says, I feel completely safe here. I feel like I’ve arrived at the right place. I don’t ever have to look over my shoulder and bringing illicit drugs and alcohol on site, it’s not safe for people struggling with addiction disorder. So you go out and use, you stay in treatment, we see addiction as a chronic relapsing disorder. For many people like diabetes or hypertension or asthma, you don’t throw out someone out of asthma treatment for having an asthma attack. Now, we don’t throw people out of shelter if they relapse, but you have to say, oh, I had an asthma attack. I’m going to go see the doctor. Oh, I relapsed. Let me, re-engaged in services. So it’s all about your willingness that the person experiencing homelessness, their willingness to engage, then we’re willing to engage, but you must be safe. You know, it has to be safe for the gang banger, who can bench press 310 pounds. And it has to be safe for the 23 year old who’s transgender and has been victimized for the last decade. It has to be completely safe for everyone. That’s the acid test

Robert Strock: (26:58)
I’d like to come back, uh, and ask you to say it again to BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything), because I think it’s a much better expression than NIMBY. And then briefly, maybe even saying nothing, we might have a good meditation together. Um, what you really see could be done to bring up enough education or, um, requirements by the government. If you really see any realistic optimism or whether you think we need to work around it.

Brian Greenberg: (27:30)
So again, uh, we need to overcome BANANA in high income neighborhoods, build absolutely nothing anywhere near anybody. Um, and I think one of the keys to doing that is engaging with law enforcement. You know, when law enforcement gets on your side, the community opposition tends to melt away. When you have the Chief of Police come in and say, I know this will make it safer for the community and for my officers and for the merchants and for you residents, then opposition, so we need to expect more law enforcement in terms of partnering with social service agencies, not see them as, oh, there’s the cops. So we welcome, you know, we don’t deal very well with ICE immigration services, and we don’t let them in our facilities without, uh, without a subpoena or a warrant. Um, but we welcome law enforcement. We want them to hang out. We want them to be B-S-ing with our folks all day long. You know, we put coffee out, uh, we’d like to have a place for them to sit and chat. Um, and so, and it’s also important in the planning stage to work with law enforcement.

Robert Strock: (28:48)
So, I mean, would they, in, in your best fantasy be doing an ongoing series of educational zooms with a local population, but how do they get the word out to the, the, the BANANA folks? Um, is that really a viable thing in mass?

Brian Greenberg: (29:06)
Well, I think that it’s viable that when, when all these coastal towns are hiring police chiefs to bring them in and say, what do you think about talking to our city council on a regular basis about how it’s safer for your cops, um, to serve homeless people in a well-run community rather than on the streets, you know, no one makes more house calls than home, than, than the law enforcement. They they’re the only people that still make house calls. Right? And so we need to serve them as a primary, treat them as a primary stakeholder. And they would much rather deal with our population, with our staff around supporting them, not outside, but in an environment. And so we, we occasionally do have to call law enforcement, but then we partner with them. So I think that part of dealing with that NIMBY/BANABA issue is really forging stronger relationships with police and sheriffs.

Robert Strock: (30:11)
Yeah. So you’re talking about city council as well.

Brian Greenberg: (30:14)
Right? I but, but it’s harder to, you know, city council is elected and police chiefs are hired. Right, right. So, Dave, uh, I have a son that’s a firefighter and I find that similar to law enforcement, they’re, uh, they’re out there, they’re dealing with it. And there’s a view that he and other firefighters, at least in the city of Ventura have that there’s a stubborn element of movement, or that even if a shelters offered people that live in some of their homeless communities, don’t want to move off the street, they just say, I want to stay where I am. I don’t care. I see you’re offering something. How do you, how do you work with that where you are, or is that an issue where you, I think that’s an issue everywhere I may. So I have a personal opinion on that. And, um, if you go to, you know, the south of market area, San Francisco or Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco, um, the, the Market Street corridor, it’s replete with homeless people.

Brian Greenberg: (31:25)
And it’s replete with, with, with tents, I’m of the opinion that, um, when did that, generally speaking, we need to work in two stages. First, we need to have enough private doors for everyone that’s free and where people are treated with dignity. And then second, we have to stop enabling and, or encouraging tents and other structures. Right. But you can’t do that until you’ve created enough low cost doors. Because if your son would say, would be able to say to people, look, you’re going to have your own bed and your own door that locks there’s three or four rules you can’t break, but there’s clean showers, there’s three meals a day and by the way, we do this for only about $55 a day, right? Shelter, someone, three meals, a day, case management, mental health services, soup to nuts services for $55. Right? So if you, once you say that, then you can, once you have that, then you can sit.

Brian Greenberg: (32:30)
Then the community can say, you know what, we’re not going to tolerate these encampments. This is off the hook. The structures, attempts, um, this, these, these sanctioned encampments where there’s a, there’s a sex trade working and a drug trade working, and it’s not really safe for anyone. Then you can begin to deal with that more effectively. But it’s hard if you’re just going to put someone in a dormitory for 60, with 60 people and not really feed them, right. Not really treat them right. So you have to, you know, it’s a carrot and a stick, and we have to get the carrots in order, before we use the sticks.

Robert Strock: (33:14)
I have a question for you as to, if you could, within the realm of reality, let’s say, or potential reality in the next few years, influence and change the guidelines of the state, county, and city governments to really take care of this issue the best way possible through legislation, where would you, where would you want to influence, uh, where it would really, on a scaling capacity, really make a difference?

Brian Greenberg: (33:44)
Well, um, I mean, we’d start with the federal government and we’d undo the Housing and Urban Development. The HUD cuts that happened under the Reagan administration. And we would continue to build, um, subsidized housing, but a lot. But at the same time, we would build transitional housing, you know, the $35,000 units so that we could get people off the streets. And as they were engaged in services, transition them to a place where they could have a lease, right. And we want to start people off, many, not everyone, but some people off in a place where there’s 24 hour staff, where with people who have serious mental illness, or they have entrenched addiction disorders, they can get services. So if they hit a rough patch, once they’re in permanent housing, they’re engaged, they know clinicians for their behavioral health disorders. They have a medical home for their primary care condition, and it can be, it can be dealt with easier. So not everyone needs that stage, but as $500,000 a door, even for subsidized housing, we’re just not going to be able to develop it in our lifetimes or in our children’s lifetimes quickly enough to not need those $35,000 transitional doors or $70,000 as well.

Robert Strock: (35:07)
So a question about the, uh, larger scaling populations like Los Angeles and Sacramento, where it’s not landlocked, where you have the possibility of having larger groups of land, larger longer-term projects, and the possibility of having either installation of solar panels, um, working with regenerative farming, uh, services that could serve the benefit of our country, the world, and maybe blow the mind of a capacity of some smaller percentage of the homeless population. Um, what do you think if you’re looking at a hundred thousand people like we are in Los Angeles, what do you think about having and attempting to have 600 acre parcels that are off, off the beaten path that are self-sufficient communities that have transportation set up, um, and, and looking at those options?

Brian Greenberg: (36:06)
I think those options are great. I think it’s a mistake to think there are more cost efficient, intentional communities are just as labor intensive as running a 60 bed program in downtown San Jose. Right? You have to keep the environment safe and people who, look homelessness is caused by poverty. Most of our people, most of our clientele unfortunately, did not win the parent lottery, right, um, they grew up in the wrong zip code with the wrong parents. Um, but to do that is more than putting people on a farm. So I think you can do it in an urban setting, uh, have an intentional community. And I think you can do it on a farm, have an intentional community, but to think that it would not require a 24/7, 24 hour day, seven day a week, staffing would be a mistake. So I think it’s easier to get a conditional use permit, um, and to site something on acreage in the central valley or in the hills, outside of LA. Um, but it’s still gonna cost that $55-$60, not $55-$60 a night, um, to staff and manage it. And again, make certain it’s safe for the most vulnerable residents.

Robert Strock: (37:29)
Yeah. I completely agree with that. I think the advantage that it may have, if it’s prearranged is a set of jobs for the right kind of people where work and mentorship could happen for services that they could then use for later on.

Brian Greenberg: (37:45)
People, you know, when people lose their jobs, what they have, uh, the biggest, the number one problem that people have is the lack of structure, not the lack of income, right? I mean, it’s, what do you do after you brush your teeth in the morning, right? And so that the, the, the opportunities for a wide range of work options are tremendous. When you have a job, right, you don’t have to just be in the back end of a restaurant. You don’t have to be just stacking shelves at target at three in the morning, there’s this huge range of labor intensive things that need to be that’s the upside.

Robert Strock: (38:22)
And for you, what inspires you personally most about the work you’re doing?

Brian Greenberg: (38:29)
So, um, for 18 years, I worked in low cost, high volume drug treatment and addiction, you know, you know, for poor folks, addiction doesn’t get treated for another, until they’ve been an addict for a decade, and then it becomes entrenched in your system. And it’s hard to get above that 20, 30, 40% success rate for long-term recovery, for addiction program and housing. So we give keys away to people’s apartments. Every day, we get people off the streets, every day. I mean, my staff are, you know, that the gratitude, when you give a family or an individual or a couple of keys to an apartment or keys to their own unit is just a mind blower. So it’s really an area where you see successes every day. I mean, what kind of behavioral health program are you placing people in their, in their, in their dream apartment, on a daily basis?

Brian Greenberg: (39:28)
Um, what breaks my heart is that poor kids don’t go to college and if they go, they don’t finish, to a large extent. So we have kids that are uber bright, you know, poor kids and homeless kids are just as smart as affluent kids, but it’s just an overwhelming task to get them into college and to get them to complete. I think that’s the most soul crushing thing for many of my staff that work with families is the lack of educational opportunities when, especially, when you don’t win the parent lottery and you grow up in the wrong city.

Robert Strock: (40:02)
Is there any legislation that you know of that will create opportunities for you and other programs that’s underway or being discussed?

Brian Greenberg: (40:12)
Well, I think for our population, um, a $15 minimum wage is incredible, right? I know, uh, California’s, uh, better at minimum wage, but as you increase minimum wage, our population does better. Um, I mean, people forget that homeless people are poor and that they can work. Most of them can at least work part-time jobs. And, um, you know, we have people coming from the deep south that make $9 an hour, making $15, you know, they, sometimes they moved to Stockton or they moved to Fresno, they moved to Gilroy, but making $15 an hour or $17 to $18 an hour does make a difference. So minimum wage legislation, funding, HUD, um, rent control, um, if it was means tested, I think would be a great thing. Um, it’s, I think it’s, it has some challenges if it’s not means tested or people increasing their income and staying in apartments.

Brian Greenberg: (41:10)
Um, so there’s some nuances to rent control. Um, and again, at the local level city councils and county supervisors getting on board that people sleeping outside is not okay. Right. Um, and you know, this explosion and people living in vehicles and, and, uh, we don’t call them recreational vehicles because they don’t really recreate in them. Um, but this explosion of people living in oversized vehicles and in their cars, um, to open up places, um, where there’s showers and toilets and food, um, and a place for the kids to play, um, you know, to accept, uh, oversized vehicles as permanent lodging on our city’s streets is just outrageous. And rather than just implementing no overnight parking of oversized vehicles, but really each community stepping up and say, we have room for 30 RVs right here, and we’re going to staff it, and we’re going to treat you with dignity until we can get you out of there. So, you know, effective legislation to deal with these, all these people living in motor vehicle cars and oversized vehicles.

Robert Strock: (42:30)
How are you funded?

Brian Greenberg: (42:32)
So about, uh, almost 50% over 45% is through philanthropy. That’s, um, individuals, that’s, uh, Family Foundations, that’s corporations, um, fulfilling tropically, and that, and that 45% has to start over every fiscal year at July one. So we need to raise about $45,000 a day, 365 days a year through philanthropy. So we’re always building that base of new donors, um, that are, that tend to be smaller donors and working to collaborate with them in larger ways to participate with them in larger ways. And about 55% is from, um, the primary government money that we get is from counties that used to be a decade ago, I’ve been at my job for 15 years. It used to be Housing and Urban Development. They have largely gotten out of the shelter and interim housing business. There they’re all in, on permanent supportive housing. Um, HUD they’ve shifted their focus from, um, homeless services and shelters to PSH, Permanent Supportive Housing. So the counties are the number one, then the veterans administration, we have large programs for unsheltered veterans. Um, and then the cities and then the state.

Robert Strock: (43:53)
You helped enlighten me. Um, when I was talking about Permanent Supportive Housing, um, could you help enlighten me more and, uh, maybe speak about some of the limitations or if you were in charge of that, how you would rechannel that.

Brian Greenberg: (44:09)
So again, I, it’s a pro . . . it’s difficult to do things on the cheap. Everybody wants to do things very inexpensive and people with serious mental illness, if you may have uncontrolled bipolar disorder, or you have schizophrenia and you’re prone to not take your medications and may get delusional or hallucinate, um, a half hour visit or an hour visit once a week by a case manager may not cut it for you. And, you know, we can, we can argue whether Permanent Supportive Housing is better, scattered site, whether you master lease a unit from a landlord and give it to a tenant, or whether it’s better to take over a whole building, but you know, the same kind of community Robert, you’re talking about building on the land in a, in a, in a rural area, you need to build, have an intentional community, uh, in permanent supportive housing where people can support each other, and that doesn’t necessarily happen naturally or organically.

Robert Strock: (45:15)
You need trained staff to facilitate that. So this whole model of PSH of visiting someone once a week and making sure they’re paying their 30% of their income in rent and looking in their fridge, um, for some of those people, it’s better to live in one of our interim housing sites for years. I mean, you know, there’s, there’s in San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland there’s PSH sites that law enforcement are afraid to go into, um, where they’re just like Gunsmoke. Right? It’s um, so, but it can be done, right, but the, but someone either philanthropically or governor, or governmentally, it has to be funded right.

Robert Strock: (45:58)
Well, wouldn’t you say? And it’s certainly what my understanding has been so far that a bit more allocation needs to go to inexpensive housing and much greater sense of programming that that’s, that’s a trend with permanent supportive housing that needs to be considered.

Brian Greenberg: (46:16)
Right. But programming, even if you use volunteers and we have over nine COVID times, we have over 10,000 volunteers a year. Um, programming is labor-intensive and nothing is more expensive than labor, right? So, um, it doesn’t need tons of labor, but it, you have to maintain a safe environment for the most vulnerable person, right. I mean, that is the key, and it has to be staffed to a level to be able to pretty much assure that.

Robert Strock: (46:50)
But wouldn’t, you agree that, that the $550,000 a unit is unsustainable, unscalable and that, that has to be reconsidered?

Brian Greenberg: (47:00)
Um, I absolutely, I mean, absolutely which doesn’t mean we should stop developing, um, subsidized housing, but we need to expand our scope. Um, you know, I mean, there’s obviously there’s profit for many developers in doing that. Um, in some ways you have to follow the markets, um, and, and, and, and do what the markets will, you know, will develop. Um, but we need to add more than stop, that we need to expand our scope and our vision.

Robert Strock: (47:31)
Dave, you have any, anything you want to share because we’re near the end.

David Knapp: (47:34)
I really appreciate, uh, the depth of, of what your work has brought the, the, uh, the programming. I mean, obviously I would like to do double the time. We have a, I’m very interested to know the details of, and drill down into really what the staffing requirements you’re talking about are, how many folks you need per se program that you operate. But, uh, this is, uh, this is a great start to a great missing conversation.

Brian Greenberg: (48:05)
And anyone listening, uh, Life Moves has a website. My email is on the website. Um, always answer emails. Um, we love non COVID time to give tours and show off our work. We’re not allowing guests during COVID.

Robert Strock: (48:21)
And that is lifemoves.org, correct?

Brian Greenberg: (48:24)
Yes. Thank you.

Robert Strock: (48:27)
All I can tell you is I’m very, very grateful that you took your time. Um, I have a feeling that you keep yourself busy enough, um, and that you don’t need more things to do. Uh, so I’m particularly grateful. Thanks so much.

Brian Greenberg: (48:40)
Really appreciate your attention to this. Thank you.

Robert Strock: (48:43)
Thank you.

Robert Strock PhoitoJoin The Conversation
If The Missing Conversation sounds like a podcast that would be inspiring to you and touches key elements of your heart, please click subscribe and begin listening to our show. If you love the podcast, the best way to help spread the word is to rate and review the show. This helps other listeners, like you, find this podcast. We’re deeply grateful you’re here and that we have found each other. Our wish is that this is just the beginning. 

We invite you to learn more about The Global Bridge Foundation—an organization collaborating to heal communities and the world at TheGlobalBridge.org

Visit our podcast archive page

 Be Part Of The Solution

Receive the latest news from The Missing Conversation Podcast that highlights leaders in the fields of Psycho-Politics, Agricultural Restoration, and Alternative Housing for the homeless.

Scroll to Top