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Pilot Project Gets San Diego’s Chronic Homeless Off The Streets

A former frequent flyer to the emergency room has been off the streets of San Diego for more than a year, thanks to a rental assistance voucher program run by the San Diego Housing Commission.

150 Housing Vouchers For Chronic Homeless

"I've got a whole closet full of clothes, I mean nice clothes that I've accumulated since I've been here. And out there, I had a little duffel bag with two pairs of jeans and maybe a couple of shirts and dirty socks," James Marsh said, showing off his one bedroom apartment at the Villa Harvey Mandel complex downtown.

Marsh went from living on the streets of San Diego for nearly 13 years to moving in this permanent affordable housing unit.

"I don't have to worry about someone sneaking up on me and I can come home and say this is my home," he said.

Alcoholism, a joint disease and living on the streets have taken a toll on this 48 year old, once known as a frequent emergency room flyer who put a costly burden on public services. He went from 54 ambulance rides in 2010 to only one last year. And 51 emergency room visits in 2010 to just one last year. He's also cleaned up his frequent contact with police and county jail.

Marsh said he was skeptical of the housing program at first. "I was very skeptical, this is going to be an AA program and all this and it's not about that. I mean I have case management, if they feel I have a problem they try to work with me to eliminate it as much as possible."

Marsh has been off the streets for about a year and a half now thanks to a federal voucher program run by the San Diego Housing Commission. It links resources with people in need and they're located in the heart of downtown.

An estimated 1,122 homeless people live in Central or downtown San Diego and the agency is trying to find permanent housing for at least 150 by the end of the year.

Matt Packard said it's the second year the Housing Commission is overseeing the pilot project. "We want to be able to demonstrate to the community a return on investment for these 150 vouchers. We're very excited about partnering with some sponsors in the community that are going to make real good use and demonstrate real good outcomes," Packard said.

San Diego Housing Commission will begin distributing the vouchers to non-profit organizations in September.

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