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Housing the Homeless in San Diego

How the city is providing housing for displaced locals


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According to the 2017 Point-in-Time count, the City of San Diego needs to find housing for 9,116 displaced locals—a 5 percent increase from 2016.

Numbers don’t lie, and an accurate count is key to freeing up federal dollars for solutions. This year, $20 million was allocated to the city’s Housing First initiative, which aims to provide immediate housing, followed by support services like job counseling and health care.

“The people we really want to help are those most critical, and almost all have a coexisting problem—whether it’s mental health or substance abuse,” says Gordon Walker, CEO of the San Diego County Regional Task Force on the Homeless. “A Housing First model has been shown to be the most effective. It’s less expensive to house people and then help them than it is to leave them on the streets.”

Walker’s nonprofit partners with other homelessness advocacy groups, like Alpha Project and Father Joe’s Villages, as well as city and county government, to develop solutions to the problem—which recently became national news due to the hepatitis A epidemic.

“This is a humanitarian crisis, a public health and safety crisis,” says Councilmember Chris Ward, who represents downtown and many of the affected communities. He also serves as chair of the council’s Select Committee on Homelessness and vice chair of the regional task force. “Like most cities that grapple with this issue, San Diego’s affordable housing crisis is driving its homeless crisis.”

The solution is immediate housing, exemplified by the launch of the Housing Our Heroes Initiative, a collaborative effort between the city and the San Diego Housing Commission. Started in 2016 with a $12.5 million investment, the program partnered with more than 400 landlords to shelter over 1,000 homeless veterans.

The city’s latest move includes three bridge shelters, each separately serving veterans, single adults, and women and children. Constructed over several months thanks to $6.5 million in funding from the local business community, the shelters provide temporary housing for 700 residents and are managed by Alpha Project, Father Joe’s Villages, and Veterans Village of San Diego.

“America’s Finest City will no longer tolerate the use of a sidewalk, riverbed, or tarp for a home,” Mayor Faulconer said in his January 11 State of the City Address, highlighting these programs as well as the creation of the city’s first Housing Navigation Center, located at 14th Street and Imperial Avenue and scheduled to open this year.

“This will serve as the anchor for the entire care network,” Faulconer said. “It’s a ‘housing first’ plan, not a ‘housing only’ plan.”

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