Interview with Frederick Ferrer, CEO of The Health Trust

“Were you shocked by what you saw on the streets during Registry Week?” I ask.

“I’m never shocked,” says Frederick Ferrer, a veteran of homeless services and the current CEO of The Health Trust. Their mission is to lead the Silicon Valley community to advance wellness.

A Bay Area native, Fred went on to tell me more about The Health Trust’s role in Housing 1000 leadership.


Q: How are you involved with Housing 1000?

Fred: Well, I supervise Destination: Home and help to guide and set policy for the initiative. I was also able to participate in Registry Week last July when we went out at 4AM and surveyed homeless folks. I was so honored that they trusted me so quickly, giving me personal information about themselves in the hopes that we could help. Councilmember Pete Constant and I volunteered together that morning, and I thought it was so cool to be doing this with a Republican councilmember. You know, we don’t often imagine fiscally conservative politicians identified with initiatives to help the homeless, but Housing 1000 is bipartisan in that way—compassion and cost savings. It was such a great experience to do this together. I think I work better with Pete after that experience.

As part of surveying, we used smart phones to take the photos of homeless individuals so that our Care Coordination team could find them later. I remember I had the photos of dozens of men and women on my phone, and I had to delete them for confidentiality purposes. But it was the hardest thing, erasing those photos. I felt like I was erasing a person. I don’t want to erase our homeless neighbors, I want to honor them. Housing 1000 represents a way to do that, for me—it’s about learning people’s names, and welcoming everyone home.

Q: How do you think your prior experience has prepared you to help end homelessness in Santa Clara County?

Fred: Well, I’m from Marin, and I have Latin heritage, plus decades of experience in the Latino and Vietnamese communities in the Bay Area, so I understand a bit about how different communities can work together in this region. There’s a disproportionate number of people of color who are homeless, and I’m interested in addressing that and investing in solutions.  

Q: Why is it that The Health Trust is involved in ending homelessness? Is it really a health issue, here in Silicon Valley?

Fred: Homelessness has always been a health issue. Silicon Valley is the tale of two cities—one that’s extremely educated, works highly paying jobs, and has great food access, but there’s also a population that is very vulnerable. Why are there gorgeous farmer’s markets in Los Gatos, but only liquor stores in some neighborhoods of San Jose? It’s upsetting to me to see the wealth gap have a health impact—I think that the true test of our health as a community is how we treat the most vulnerable.

You can have all the best resources in some areas, wonderful schools and clean streets, but what about the mother with a small child in a homeless shelter? That woman is in fight-or-flight mode, trying to protect her child, and that’s her main priority. It’s stressful for the child too, and that has an impact on brain development. Meanwhile, what are they eating? How is that affecting school performance? The mother’s job search? In the coming months I hope we can have a serious conversation about the health of chronically homeless individuals and families.

Q: What are some challenges you’ve run into?

Fred: A lot of people don’t understand that the cost of street homelessness is three times higher than housing someone. I’m not even talking about shelters here, though we have lots of fine shelter workers doing a wonderful job, but even unsheltered homeless individuals cost more for the community than permanent housing.

The other big challenge is that people don’t understand the solution, and how different Housing First is from the current model. We need to get upstream of the problem and understand why people are on the street.

Q: What would you say to someone who asks, “aren’t all homeless people just drug addicts?”

Fred: I’d say there’s not much truth to that. For the few who do use, however, the causation arrow is often pointed the other way! You have to understand how vulnerable people are on the street. It’s very common, as a homeless man or woman, to be the victim of violence. There’s a cycle, because it’s not safe to fall asleep on the street, so people sometimes use substances to try and stay awake. Staying awake is safer than falling asleep out there. A lot of chronically homeless people have multiple severe medical problems, and substance abuse exacerbates those and leads to addiction, which results in repeated emergency room visits.

Our question should be, why are we letting people get this sick in the first place? Why are they on the street to begin with? The human suffering is unacceptable, and the problem is solvable.

Q: How can people help, moving forward?

Fred: I think there’s a lot of hope for Silicon Valley. We have a lot of innovators here, a lot of smart people who get things done. But I’d like to see the same attention paid to poverty that we pay to getting the next iPhone. One new development Housing 1000 is behind is their crowdfunding site, HousingONE. All too often you don’t see nearly the same pace of innovation in the nonprofit or public sectors, and I think we can change that—together.

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About K.A. Erickson

I worked with Housing 1000 (http://www.housing1000sv.org/) from August 2011 until July of 2012 as an Americorps VISTA member. I am the ghost of Katherine past! I wrote a couple interviews to post automatically even after I left--from beyond the grave, as it were. ;) My current blog talks about fiction writing, world travel and other adventures: http://feistynotes.wordpress.com/
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4 Responses to Interview with Frederick Ferrer, CEO of The Health Trust

  1. Pingback: Here’s some great info on Housing First in New Orleans (from a conference & article): Housing First model of addressing homelessness is discussed | NOLA.com | Homelessness in Savannah, Stories for Learning

  2. Pingback: Interview with Leslye Corsiglia, Director of the Housing Department of the City of San Jose | Housing 1000 Official Blog

  3. Pingback: Interview with Jon Talbert, Pastor with WestGate Church | Housing 1000 Official Blog

  4. Pingback: Interview with Mark Walker, Managing Director of Global Community Affairs at Applied Materials and Chair of the Destination: Home Leadership Board | Housing 1000 Official Blog

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