Interview with Kevin Zwick, Executive Director of Housing Trust of Santa Clara County

Kevin ZwickKevin Zwick now leads Housing Trust of Santa Clara County, but his first job out of college was with Project Open Hand in Oakland. Project Open Hand provides food for folks with HIV and critically ill clients, including many homeless men and women. Kevin visited clients where they were—in their homes, in shelters, sleeping on couches and more. He was able to see first-hand how homelessness impacts the very sick.

Q: What happens to somebody who’s sick when they lose their housing?

Kevin: When Project Open Hand clients became homeless, which would happen periodically, they would deteriorate rapidly. Becoming homeless was a huge predictor of health. Once our clients lost housing they were no longer able to stick to their medication schedule, they couldn’t make it to the pharmacy, and they had trouble getting to doctor appointments. Some of them didn’t survive becoming homeless.

For the very sick, it’s clear to me that housing is a matter of life and death. For our ill clients at Project Open Hand, housing wasn’t a luxury—it was what kept them alive. That’s why I’m really in awe of the efforts here around Housing 1000. It’s a way to address that situation. The vulnerability index is a way to measure exactly where you can have the greatest impact and when housing will save a life.

Q: How did you get involved with the Housing Trust?

Kevin: I’d been working affordable housing in Berkeley for a few years when I heard about Housing Trust of Santa Clara County. I was really struck by the way the business community, the County and local housing advocates came together to look for solutions. Homelessness is one of three core areas for Housing Trust, which I think is a legacy of early Board members Sparky Harlan and Don Gage who are so dedicated to the cause of fighting homelessness. The Housing Trust is engaged in many areas around affordable housing, including home ownership and rental housing issues as well as homelessness.

We’re excited right now about two new programs to combat the foreclosure crisis. The first is our new Foreclosure Help Center. People can come in and talk to a volunteer to get up-to-the-minute information on foreclosure prevention resources.

The second is a program to help people stay in their homes. If you’re under water on your mortgage now, you might not be able to afford to continue owning your home. But we’re making it possible for clients to rent—with the opportunity to buy again later—and in the process, they get to stay in their family homes.

Q: Can you tell us more about the Housing Trust’s new security deposit program?

Kevin: Our new deposit program, called Finally Home, helps people who can afford housing pay the security deposit so they can move into a new place. Sometimes the best solution to a problem is simple, yet still elusive. I participate in Destination: Home’s Housing Work Group,  and this year we realized that we can find people who need housing, and we can find affordable housing. But when you’re living on a fixed income, it’s almost impossible to save up $1,500 for a security deposit.

So starting in June of this year we’ve been providing grants to help homeless families and individuals move into new places. This funding targets the homeless—people apply through a case worker at our partner organizations (Community Services Agency, Family Supportive Housing, InnVision Shelter Network, Next Door Solutions, Silicon Valley Independent Living Center, Unity Care Group, and West Valley Community Services).

Two thirds of our grants so far have gone out to chronically homeless folks, and half have gone to people with kids. There’s not just one type of homelessness, and there’s not just one type of chronically homeless person or family. The need is diverse, but we’re funding solutions that work.

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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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