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Officials Survey Homeless In Effort To Provide Support

More than one-third of the 738 homeless people surveyed on the streets of downtown San Diego over the past three days have a high risk of mortality, officials said today.

The goal of the survey, spearheaded by the Downtown San Diego Partnership and Centre City Development Corp., is to create a registry of the downtown homeless and get them into supportive housing and shelters.

"The data has been sorted so that we can identify the homeless population that is most vulnerable and subject to die prematurely on our streets," said Robin Munro, director of the project for the Downtown Partnership.

Over the three days, volunteers made contact with 1,040 homeless people and 738 agreed to be surveyed.

The data collected showed that 37 percent of respondents were found to have health conditions associated with a high mortality risk; 25 percent were over 55; and 25 percent were veterans.

Seventy-six percent of the homeless surveyed reported at least one behavioral health issue.

The oldest person surveyed was 84 and the youngest was 15, according to the Downtown Partnership.

Inpatient and emergency room costs combined for 134 homeless people in San Diego totals more than $25 million annually. According to the study, $12 million in hospital costs could be saved if those 134 people were housed.

"For downtown San Diego, homelessness is a humanitarian and economic issue,'' Munro said.

About 240 volunteers conducted the survey. Among them were a number of elected officials, including county Supervisor Ron Roberts and San Diego City Council members Todd Gloria and Kevin Faulconer.

"By providing targeted services to the most vulnerable homeless, we can save money at the same time that we are mending lives,'' Roberts said at a news conference to discuss the study results.

Gloria said there is a need for more supportive housing in San Diego.

"We as a city have a responsibility to step up and help them to live out their full human potential, and I am confident today's efforts are a step in that direction," Gloria said.

He said San Diego's large homeless problem is "imminently solvable with focus and leadership."

Faulconer touted the need to get people off the street and into permanent housing. He said there are now 293 units of permanent supportive housing and 259 more units approved.

"This has been a team effort from the very beginning to help identify those that are most vulnerable ... to get them off the street into permanent supportive housing," Faulconer said.

A proposal is now making its way through City Hall to establish a permanent homeless center in downtown San Diego's financial district, but the site at the World Trade Center is opposed by local businesses. Faulconer has also expressed reservations and wants conditions placed on the center before it is approved.

The facility, touted as a one-stop homeless service center, would include an on-site medical clinic, mental health screening, drug and alcohol treatment, counseling and living space for up to 225 people.

Backers hope to have the center open by December 2012. The proposal has been forwarded to the City Council for consideration, but a date for a hearing has not been set.

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