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Pushback on housing funding illustrates division on homeless programs 

 May 4, 2022

A housing project that just came to an end just last week seems to be reviving as the San Diego Housing Commission expressed concern that the city was focusing more on temporary homeless solutions, such as shelters rather than housing.

At stake are three city-funded rapid relocation schemes that provide rent subsidies that gradually decrease as individuals or households become self-sufficient. San Diego Housing Commissioners learned last week that the city had planned to end the program, prompting strong criticism from board members.

“This is a situation where there is a conflict with reality,” said Commissioner Eugene “Mitch” Mitchell on the proposal to end the programs, which commissioners said were necessary to help households avoid homelessness.

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The Housing Commission’s interim CEO, Jeff Davis, said he had since been assured by Mayor Todd Gloria that the programs would eventually continue, although this has not been formalized and a source of funding has not yet been identified.

The short-lived controversy could point to a bigger, more complex issue facing San Diego and other cities, as the number of homeless people living outdoors seems to be rising and the public is demanding action. Shelters will quickly remove hundreds of people from the streets, at least temporarily, while housing has a higher rate of long-term success in resolving homelessness.

And when there is only so much money available, sometimes choices have to be made.

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At the May 5 meeting of the Housing Committee, Executive Vice President of Strategic Initiatives Lisa Jones told board members that she had attended a meeting of the City Budget Review Committee the day before and learned that the City Department of Strategies and Solutions for Astegas Crisis beds people off the road.

Staff members also told the commissioners that the city had plans to end its rapid relocation programs through the Salvation Army, Home Start and People Assisting the Homeless. Together, they had found housing for 148 households since 2019, but 63 households still needed help.

The three programs cost about $ 2 million a year, and the commissioners agreed to provide $ 910,000 to continue going beyond June 30 to help the 63 households avoid falling into the homeless again.

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The three rapid relocation programs are among the 10 running in the city, including one run by the Housing Commission and six run by different service providers.

Across the county, most homeless people seem to live outdoors, in tents and makeshift structures. Whether this perception is true can be confirmed next Thursday, when the San Diego Regional Homelessness Working Group will publish the results of the February count of homeless people.

As homelessness becomes a more visible issue, more cities across the county are also discussing how to respond. For the first time, Vista is considering opening its own shelter, and Oceanside plans to open its shelter later this year. The San Diego Rescue Mission set up a new rapprochement team and bought a National City church that it plans to turn into a shelter next year.

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In El Cajon, the non-profit Amikas is building small homes for homeless mothers and their children on church property, and Chula Vista is setting up a shelter with prefabricated structures. The first homeless resource center in Pacific Beach is expected to open by the end of the month.

Law enforcement is still involved in approaching the homeless, but a court ruling banning people from sleeping outdoors if they have no other place has prompted some cities to change their enforcement policies and start offering coupons. hotels to temporarily remove people from the street.

San Diego has also opened its first 50-bed shelter specifically for people with substance use and mental health problems, and the city is expected to announce a safe haven program soon that will provide long-term assistance to these clients.

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In another change, county officials last week offered to provide behavioral and general health services in each shelter city, and supervisors are expected to approve a $ 10 million grant program soon to help cities start their own shelters. In what would be the first for the county, the money could be used for safe camps, such as those already in San Franciscowhich are said to provide a safer environment for the homeless who are reluctant to go to shelters.

With so much focus on expanding services and programs for the homeless, members of the Housing Commissioner’s board expressed disbelief that the city was falling behind on a program that has proven successful.

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“I’m disappointed with the way this is going,” said Stefanie Benvenute, chairman of the board, of the closing news.

Commissioner Ryan Klabner said he was confused by the action and considered it costly in the long run.

“The more people experience homelessness, the harder it is to get them out of it and the more expensive it becomes,” he said.

Jones agreed, saying that the sooner people are housed, the less long-term trauma associated with homelessness occurs.

In a residual result, Jones noted that fewer housing projects would mean fewer places for people to move to shelters, leaving shelters full and unavailable to the homeless and on the street.

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Homelessness lawyer Michael McConnell, who has often criticized the city for seeking shelter for housing, said the issue shows that the city is more interested in appearance than in real solutions.

“Why cut the high performance program and extend the low performance program?” said McConnell. “It does not make sense. You have to have shelters, do not misunderstand me, but they have just lost sight of the real solutions. I do not know how else to put it.”

Housing Commission staff estimated that the three rapid relocation programs could go on for about $ 1.5 million a year or $ 7.5 million over five years and serve about 300 households during that time. By comparison, a shelter operated by Father Joe’s Villages in Golden Hall costs $ 10 million a year and accommodates about 500 people daily.

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Mitchell said the $ 7.5 million cost of running the program was a penny compared to the state budget, and the commissioners agreed to send a letter to Sacramento asking for additional funding.

At the same meeting May 5, the Housing Commission agreed to a $ 4.8 million contract with Alpha Project for the operation of a 150-bed tent shelter that will soon be built at the San Diego County Health Services Complex on Rosecrans Street.

The concerns raised by the commissioners were addressed within days.

“We had some productive talks with the mayor’s office,” Davis told a Budget Review Committee hearing Tuesday. “We expect and are confident that when we get back to you with our final budget in June, we will see these rapid relocation programs funded.”

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The Board of the San Diego Housing Commission contains data showing the long-term effectiveness of programs such as rapid relocation.

According to the scoreboard, 68 percent of those who relocated quickly went into permanent housing, 17 percent left temporary or institutional housing, 8 percent returned to the streets, and 7 percent died or had unknown results.

By comparison, 16 percent of people in shelters went into permanent housing, 10 percent went into temporary housing, 3 percent went to institutions, 20 percent returned to the streets and 50 percent were unknown.

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