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Politics

Faulconer's Homeless Veterans Program Quietly Misses Deadline

Homeless people crowd a parkway with tents and makeshift housing in San Diego, July 6, 2016.
Associated Press
Homeless people crowd a parkway with tents and makeshift housing in San Diego, July 6, 2016.
Faulconer's Homeless Veterans Program Quietly Misses Deadline

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced his "Housing Our Heroes" program during his State of the City address in January 2016 to much fanfare.

"Our goal is simple," he said. "This year, we will get 1,000 homeless veterans off the streets."

A month and a half later, on March 1, 2016, the City Council authorized $12.5 million to pay for the program. The mayor's office considered this the official start date, making March 1, 2017 its deadline for securing housing for 1,000 homeless veterans.

That deadline passed quietly this week, and the program is still far short of its goal: 554 veterans have secured housing through the program. An additional 311 veterans have received a housing voucher, but have not yet found an apartment that the voucher can pay for.

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Michael McConnell, an advocate for the homeless, said the mayor's focus on the number of 1,000 veterans was a mistake because it now gives the impression that the program failed. He said Housing Our Heroes has actually been very successful, if for no other reason than it has exposed the weaknesses in the system.

"It has done a lot toward getting more veterans off the street into permanent housing (and using) resources that were previously going unused," he said.

One of the biggest challenges to securing housing for homeless veterans has been San Diego's tight rental market. Vacancy rates are low and housing costs are high, meaning it can take months for a homeless veteran to find a landlord who will accept their voucher.

Eric Arundel, an Army veteran who has been living on the streets for 15 months, said homeless service providers are also spread out and lack coordination.

"It's like a job going 10 different places just to get one housing voucher, and then it's slow, if it happens at all," he said. "I know people who tried two years ago to get them, and they just can't find any place that's any good. Or by the time they get (to the apartment), it's already rented."

Mayoral spokesman Craig Gustafson said Faulconer had intervened directly to convince landlords to accept housing vouchers, and that the media should not focus on Faulconer's self-imposed deadline.

"We know we set a high bar and we're going to keep working until we clear it," he said. "We are proud that we have successfully transitioned hundreds of homeless veterans off the street and, in the end, that's all that really matters."