October 14, 2019

By Gary Warth

San Diego City Council members embraced an ambitious plan Monday that aims to get half of the city’s homeless people off the street within three years and find permanent homes for thousands more in the next 10 years.

“We can really be an example of leadership in how we address this effort,” said City Councilman Chris Ward, who also is chair of the San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless.

“This is our plan, but the time for planning and studying is over,” he said. “The time to act is now, and we must act together.”

Council members unanimously voted to accept the plan, but Monday’s action did not identify any funding sources for the $1.9 billion strategy. Different components of the multi-tiered plan will go before various city committees for discussion and recommendations, and its progress will be monitored by a leadership council and team aimed at coordinating different agencies, partners and service providers.

San Diego already spends about $117 million on homelessness each year, and providing 5,400 more housing units and services in the new Community Action Plan on Homelessness would require another $194 million in new money annually over the next decade.

Created by the New York-based Corporation for Supportive Housing and funded by the San Diego Housing Commission, the plan calls for aligning resources and policies, focusing on people’s needs and care, and coordinating systems that come in contact with homeless populations including jails and service providers.

Ward said he asked San Diego Housing Commission President and CEO Rick Gentry to enlist housing and homelessness experts to create the plan last year after feeling frustrated that past efforts were not doing enough.

“Despite tactical successes, it was clear to me that as I learned more that our system was cobbled together on the fly, decision-making was fragmented, some decisions were political, and our clients in crisis and the staff to help them were the ones who were suffering,” he said.

Councilman Scott Sherman said he appreciated that the plan stressed cooperation and was non-political.

“Too many times we let the not-in-my-back-yard crowd get in the way doing solutions,” he said. “We need leadership and council members to stand up and say, ‘No this is a citywide problem, this is a citywide solution.’ Every district needs to take part in dealing with this issue.”

A broad range of supporters spoke in favor of the plan during the meeting. They included representatives from the Downtown San Diego Partnership, San Diego Chamber of Commerce, the Alpha Project, the Salvation Army, Father Joe’s Villages, the Lucky Duck Foundation and San Diego Padres general partner Peter Seidler, who pushed for and helped fund the large tented bridge shelters that are keeping almost 700 homeless people off the street.

The plan does not set a timeline for creating permanent housing, but does set a goal of getting half of the city’s unsheltered people off the street within three years, partly by adding 350 to 500 more shelter beds. Parts of that goal are in the works now, with a fourth bridge shelter under construction on 17th Street and Imperial Avenue to take another 150 people off the street.

The $1.9 billion cost would cover housing construction, rental assistance and services, with the single biggest cost being $960 million to build or rehabilitate 2,802 units that come with support to help formerly homeless people remain housed. Those supportive services would include help with addiction and mental health issues often associated with homelessness.

While the plan addresses only the city of San Diego, the Regional Task Force on the Homeless is developing a countywide plan.

Some council members said teams that will help coordinate the plan should include representatives from the county, which handled health services that will be part much of the housing for homeless people.

Omar Passons, director of integrated services for San Diego County, spoke in favor of the plan Monday and said it is a step toward creating a regional solution.

To view the full story, visit https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/homelessness/story/2019-10-14/san-diego-city-council-moves-forward-with-homeless-action-plan