Interview with Zach Olmstead, Senior Assistant, Office of Assembly Majority Leader Toni Atkins

PHOTO_Zack OlmsteadZach Olmstead, former Homeless Policy Director for Housing California, joined the Office of Assembly Majority Leader Toni Atkins as her new Senior Assistant on housing and homelessness issues.  Zack has been a long time advocate for policy reform to prevent and end homelessness and he has coordinated the efforts of homeless advocacy partners throughout the state.  Prior to his work with Housing California, Zack worked directly with homeless individuals and families as a case manager at St. Vincent De Paul Village.

Below is an excerpt of our interview with Zach. He gave us insight as to how his move will help further the ongoing successful efforts of Assemblymember Atkins to address issues of housing and homelessness at the state, regional and local levels.

Q: You have ample experience in housing and homelessness policy – how will your new position benefit San Diego and our regional efforts on these policy topics?

Despite San Diego’s great progress and innovation, much work remains to be done to reduce homelessness regionally…If we can reduce homelessness, we can save taxpayers money…and no legislator understands the need and economic benefits to ending homelessness better than Assemblymember Atkins…Her knowledge, passion, and commitment are unparalleled, and she has demonstrated this through chairing the Assembly’s Select Committee on Homelessness.  I’m pleased that she has hired me to help her lead on housing and homelessness policy, and am excited that together we will be able to achieve meaningful change.

Q: Our region has been making great strides in addressing homelessness.  Please share some insight on the challenges that remain to be addressed.

I believe that we know what it takes to end homelessness, [and] we simply need the resources to enact successful interventions.  We know from surveys and homeless counts that the number one reason reported for being homeless is the high cost of housing…I’m proud to be able to work with Assemblymember Atkins towards the passage of a number of pieces of legislation to address this challenge – the most important being the California Homes and Jobs Act (SB 391).  SB 391 would create a permanent and sustainable revenue source of funding for the creation of affordable homes for people who are homeless. Another important effort is Speaker Perez’s AB 639 that would ask voters to repurpose $600 million in already existing bond authority to build affordable homes with supportive services for homeless veterans.  Since San Diego has the third most homeless veterans of any city in the nation, the passage of AB 639 is critical to our efforts to end homelessness.  I’m proud that Assemblymember Atkins is a Principal Co-Author of both bills. 

Q: How are you personally connected with San Diego?

It’s a real added bonus to not only be working for the Legislature’s premiere champion for ending homelessness, but for a member whose district I have a lot of connection to.  I attended the University of San Diego for my undergraduate studies and my first job related to homelessness was as a case manager with Father Joe’s Villages in downtown San Diego.  My wife also received her Master’s degree in Social Work from San Diego State.

Q: Please share with us any advice or perspectives pertaining to our Campaign to End Homelessness in Downtown San Diego.

Home is truly foundational for people’s lives…having a safe, affordable place to call home leads to better health outcomes, better educational outcomes for children, and simply makes economic sense.  The bottom line is it is cheaper to end homelessness than to manage it, and continuing efforts like yours in Downtown San Diego are crucial to continue to educate policy makers and citizens on these issues.  People want to direct resources to solving problems, and it’s important to keep demonstrating that solving homelessness is possible.