Cities and counties throughout the Bay Area face a dire affordable housing crisis. In Alameda County alone, homelessness grew by 40% from 2015 to 2017, with 41% of those experiencing homelessness reporting that a serious mental illness (SMI) impacted their ability to obtain housing. The County has been experiencing a decline in available housing units since 2004, losing over 500 beds for individuals with SMI due to the closure of 50 independent living facilities. In response, the County proposed the establishment of the Alameda County Supportive Housing Community Alliance (CLA) to provide stable and supportive housing for individuals living with SMI, especially those who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color. FUSE Executive Fellow Karen Nemsick helped build the CLA into a fully operational, self-sustaining nonprofit institution.
To do this, Karen coordinated and led a project management team. She assisted in creating a vision for the organization and facilitated the recruitment and training of a founding board of directors. To understand residents’ needs and challenges, she engaged more than 60 individuals with SMI and their family members through focus groups. She engaged with county supervisors and city council members to introduce the organization and build a pool of supporters and compiled a database of inventive financing models, including public-private partnerships. Karen developed program manuals for Real Estate/Acquisitions, Supportive Services, Property Management, and Resident Stewardship that will guide policies and procedures. Additionally, she set plans to engage the board, advisory committee, and project management team in developing CLA’s Equity Principles. The CLA is poised to launch, with the board of directors overseeing hiring the first executive director in fall 2021. As a result of her work, the CLA will be able to preserve and secure properties for supportive and affordable housing units that serve Alameda County’s most vulnerable populations.