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Supervisors Push For Changes To Homeless Funding Formulas
March 20, 2013 1:13 p.m.
David Estrella, Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, San Diego County
Pat Leslie, Director of Social Work Point Loma Nazarene University, Facilitator Regional Continuum of Care
Related Story: Supervisors Push For Changes To Homeless Funding Formulas
CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. San Diego County has the 3rd largest homeless population in the country. But we rank about 18th in the amount of federal dollars we get for homeless services. Yesterday the San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted to push for a change. HUD is based on outdated formulas that actually favor older cities in the east. Joining me to talk about what a boost in federal funds would mean for homeless people in San Diego are my guests, David Estrella is deputy chief administrative officer for San Diego County. Welcome to the program.
ESTRELLA: Thank you very much for having me.
CAVANAUGH: Pat Leslie is professor of social work at Point Loma Nazarene university. Sheep coordinates the regional continuum of care for the homeless. Welcome to the program.
LESLIE: Thank you for the invitation.
CAVANAUGH: David, you got the job now from the Board of Supervisors to oversee their efforts to push for changes in homeless funding. How is the money now dispersed by HUD? What's the criteria it's based on?
ESTRELLA: Well, actually that's the crux of the discussion. The criteria isn't perfectly transparent to us at this point. We know of course across the nation, each of our regions tries to identify a need and tries to adjust and provide the best possible service with the money that's available to us from the federal government. So really our interest is in identifying how we can best serve our population through our partners in the region, of course. And making sure that our region is properly represented funding-wise, that the need correlates the amount of federal funding that's available.
CAVANAUGH: Pat, you grapple with this every year in trying to put together a package through the continuum of care, assessing when the needs are here and seeing what the federal dollars are.
LESLIE: The formula is based on a geographic distribution. And we really want to take advantage of some of the things that are happening in our community right now. We have an unprecedented opportunity to move ahead. Some of the issues are that as we look at the situation in Southern California, we see some factors that we're not sure are being taken into consideration. For example California is home to about 1/5 of the entire nation's homeless population. Southern California has two of the largest cities in terms of homeless population, L.A. and San Diego, 2nd only to New York City. We also know that San Diego is the place where a number of returning veterans are coming home. Probably the highest or 2nd highest in the nation. And so when we take a look at those factors and we take a look at our point in time count, how many persons are on the street in one night and compare it to the dollars coming in, we say what's happening here!
CAVANAUGH: Right. You use the term geocode. What does that mean?
LESLIE: It's a geographic information systems label for certain geography. It's predominantly based on population style and region.
CAVANAUGH: Why would that favor older cities or cities in the east?
LESLIE: The geocode itself would not. Some of the occurrences across the nation is to take a look at some of the formula and question rather the inclusion of the age of housing, whether those should continue --
CAVANAUGH: The age of housing stocks. What would that have to do with anything?
LESLIE: If you look at housing and urban development, their first name is housing and urban development, right? So their job is to help ensure that there's housing and resources in the community. And the age of housing stock means that rehabilitation housing or accusation or development of new housing might be more prominent.
CAVANAUGH: And it's my understanding, David, that the county has already sort of mailed an initial letter or is drafting an initial letter asking HUD to try to explain all of this? ; is that right?
ESTRELLA: Oh, absolutely. And the letter has been sent. And really I want to emphasize that this is a spirit of partnership. Of course HUD has made various efforts throughout -- through many years and throughout our region to try to address this issue. But at the same time we also would like to see that stronger correlation in the funding to our express need here that's been identified. So our efforts are ongoing to make sure that we represent -- in fact this board is very dedicated to representing our residents and making sure that our needs are being met along with everyone else's.
CAVANAUGH: Pat, for the longest time, we've heard that the county's annual homeless count is significant because it helps determine how much money the region gets from the federal government. Is that not the case?
LESLIE: No, it is the case. I think sometimes citizens think that for each homeless person we find, we get a dollar. And that's not the case. It is a requirement of every continuum of care to count and track its homeless persons. So in order to even put in our application and be competitive for getting the dollars that we do get, we need to conduct that count, and we need every person out there who can help us to join us in that effort.
CAVANAUGH: And remind us if you would, what is the extent of San Diego County's homeless population in terms of numbers?
LESLIE: On a given night in 2012 which was the last reported data, we'll have one soon from 2013, was just over 10,000. And in terms of our annual reports from those that are housed, sheltered, is about 15,000 a year.
CAVANAUGH: Considering those numbers, because I guess partly of these outdated formulas, San Diego is not getting as much money as say, Philadelphia, which has almost half the population of the homeless that we have. Now, I want to ask you both, what do you think that actually means in terms of the services that we can provide for the homeless? Let me go to you first, David.
ESTRELLA: Well, definitely we try to first identify our need, and then adjust our services based on what's happening, for example veteran homelessness. And it's not just that particular special needs population Burk it's women veterans and children, for our region, it's coupling services that are available through HHSA, and housing services provided through our regional affordable housing partners and services partners to make sure that as that money is reduced, we lose the ability to adjust to our needs. And we have a growing population of homeless individuals with mental health need, so on and so forth. And we don't have the capability to adjust that if we're losing funding. It's very difficult to address growing needs when you're very static in your level of funding.
CAVANAUGH: I'm going to ask you the same question, but let me ask you, David, how does the funding actually reach the providers? Does it come through the county? Or is it sent directly to the providers through these requests in the continuum of care?
ESTRELLA: Well, really the continuum of care rates and ranks their proposals, and the jurisdiction of the 18 cities that are in our county, and that needs to be submitted to the U.S. department of housing and urban development. So through the county housing authority at this point, what happens is that application is prepared, developed, and it's submitted on behalf of the region to HUD. And the money flows back into the region directly to the sponsoring agency.
CAVANAUGH: I see. Okay. Now, pat, let me ask you that question, because we are not getting our fair share, what does that actually mean in terms of the services that we can provide?
LESLIE: Well, I think this year is a very critical year in this issue. Rather than talking about specific number, I want to talk about our opportunity. The federal initiative is to end veteran and chronic homelessness by 2015 and end family homelessness by 2020. We have this year. A special opportunity in that HUD is providing some technical assistance to help us look at new systems and protocols. Right now, we're lacking about 3,000 beds a night to house homeless persons.
CAVANAUGH: That's a lot.
LESLIE: That's a lot. We need to tackle it. We have an opportunity this year that we won't get again. And if we really want to end veteran and chronic homelessness by 2015 and family homelessness by 2020, we need to start right now.
CAVANAUGH: Does that opportunity come with any dollars attached to it?
LESLIE: The technical assistance is paid for by the government, but does not flow to us.
CAVANAUGH: So why is that an opportunity?
LESLIE: Because there are national experts around the country looking at these situations. How many people, what kind of homelessness, what interventions we might have, and they also bring the opportunity to have our very enriched stakeholder community come together and create synergy.
CAVANAUGH: And as David was saying, we get some assistance too from the veteran's administration. And you just mentioned that in this opportunity. Although HUD doesn't fund San Diego adequately, VA recognizes the fact that we have perhaps -- we are one of the centers with the most veterans who find themselves homeless in the country. And so we're at least being recognized that we have this problem here in San Diego by the veterans' administration, right?
ESTRELLA: Well, one example is the veteran administration -- veterans assistive supportive housing program. They're vouchers, and it's a rental assistance portion for veterans where a portion of the rent is paid for by the housing authority directly to the property owner. And we're not the only housing authority in our region, the largest being the San Diego housing commission for the City of San Diego. So what these vouchers do is allow us to address specifically and quickly the needs of our veterans within our region, and of course any increase in those vouchers is desperately needed at this point.
CAVANAUGH: What is your experience, how the VA is contributing to curing homelessness in San Diego?
LESLIE: The VA has been an important partner. And last year we had a 100-day campaign that was phenomenal. HUD, VA, the service providers, housing 103 veterans in 100 days directly off the street. Phenomenal example. We'd like to be able to continue that. To continue, we need those fast resources. And HUD does recognize us as a community. We're trying to help them look at formulas during this change, the needs during the change and say how can we work together in all of this to achieve the national goal and end homelessness in San Diego?
CAVANAUGH: An article I read in voice of San Diego about the fact that even with the money we get from HUD, San Diego needs to be having a very hard time moving homeless people from transitional housing. What are the reasons for that?
LESLIE: That's one of four objective, and we do really well on the others. So this is good. And it is, are in year's number is not one that we expected. There are some shifts in our homeless population in terms of both how -- in terms of dedicated resources to specific groups. When we take a look at transitioning people out of homelessness. Through transitional housing, when we try and brick more people in off the street without assessing them as thoroughly, when we try to move them on, it can look like a failure when it's not. So if someone comes off the street and they go into one of the transitional housing programs and we decide they need mental health treatment or they need to be in a drug/alcohol treatment center. If they leave to those centers, it's a failure. It may be exactly what they person needs, but for the purpose, it's not counted as a positive success.
CAVANAUGH: There is also though on the other end a problem in housing, the number of low-cost houses available to transition homeless people into,; isn't that correct?
ESTRELLA: Definitely. That's our housing stock, of course, there's always a need for the entire spectrum of housing, ending of course with permanent affordable housing. Any increase we could have in that would definitely be helpful.
CAVANAUGH: How many people are on the waysing list for section 8?
ESTRELLA: It's in the neighborhood of 60,000 people waiting. That could extend from 8-10 years at this point.
CAVANAUGH: Wow. Okay. Well, let me ask you then, on that other end, with people waiting to get into housing, do you see that as a problem as well, Pat?
LESLIE: Absolutely. If you think about if you're going to transition someone, for every transitional housing bed, let's say that it -- the average length of stay is six months to a year, for every one of those beds, you need many, many more permanent beds for persons to move to. Once they go to their permanent location, they're going to stay for years, right? So you need far many more permanent housing to match the need of the system.
CAVANAUGH: Final question to you, David, you told me the letter has been sent. What are the kinds of steps that you're preparing now to actually move forward on this and see if you can come to some sort of agreement with HUD to see if those federal dollars can flow to San Diego?
ESTRELLA: Well, the very first step is communication, of course, with our local HUD office, and of course our office in Los Angeles. And in fact us sitting here. The spirit of partnership with the regional continuum of care council has always been a successful strategy for us. We think it makes sense moving into the future. And the closer we work together in the spirit of partnership and communicating with our other housing authorities will be the very best thing we can do to move forward and really conquer this problem.