More information about the plight of women who are homeless and pregnant is soon headed to the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.
The board unanimously recently requested a report for more information about the experiences of women who are pregnant and homeless within the county after Supervisor Susan Ellenberg pointed out that such women were not targeted to benefit from Project Homekey, a state initiative that provided hotel shelter to unhoused people who were considered to be most vulnerable to developing complications from COVID-19.
While the state and local agencies have stepped up their contributions for homeless services over the past year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not recognize pregnancy as a high-risk condition that enabled someone to receive higher priority to access shelter through Project Homekey, Ellenberg said.
The Valley Homeless Healthcare Plan, part of the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, does offer obstetric and medical services to about 120 unhoused women and their families each year, but those services don't necessarily result in housing for those individuals and families, Ellenberg said.
The system for prioritizing unhoused people for housing services doesn't currently give priority to single, pregnant women because they don't count as families, yet they run the risk, once the babies are born, of losing custody of their children due to a lack of housing, Ellenberg said. And the currently lengthy wait for housing means that some mothers would likely give birth while they're still waiting to access services, she said.
"It's critical that we begin to identify the need for services in our county and to invest in early interventions that will provide greater supports to families. Failure to invest in the housing instability of infants and their families will likely result in significant downstream costs for the county, including in emergency health care services, developmental supports, and involvement of families in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems," she said.
The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on April 20 to request a report answering questions including:
• How many unhoused pregnant women and families that include infants are provided services through the county?
• Are they eligible for motel housing through Project Roomkey? Under what conditions?
• What resources, both general and specific to COVID-19, are offered to pregnant homeless women?
• What options are there to offer all homeless women who are pregnant or parents of infants non-congregate housing? How much might those options cost?
Supervisor Joe Simitian also asked county staff to identify any lessons learned from the county's efforts to provided non-congregate housing options to unhoused people.