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San Diego State Report Calls For Homeless Prevention Initiatives

Hundreds gather at Golden Hall to hear about San Diego's homeless crisis, Monday, March 20, 2017.
Susan Murphy
Hundreds gather at Golden Hall to hear about San Diego's homeless crisis, Monday, March 20, 2017.
San Diego State Report Calls For Homeless Prevention Initiatives
Around 2,500 units of housing for the homeless could come on line in San Diego over the next few years, representatives of two organizations said Monday.
San Diego State Report Calls For Homeless Prevention Initiatives
San Diego State Report Calls For Homeless Prevention Initiatives GUEST: Chris Ward, councilman, City of San Diego

New proposals push San Diego to get more engaged in the problem of homelessness. Democrats defeat a proposal to change school board elections. This is KPBS Midday Edition. I am Maureen Cavanaugh it is Wednesday, March 22. Hundreds of people gathered at Golden Hall this week for a foreign -- Forum on San Diego's homeless crisis. We have the forced them -- highest number of homeless people in the nation and the problem continues to grow. Among the problems discussed with the lack of housing that disproportionately low amount of funding for homeless programs that are like a coronation among homeless agencies. Some new programs were also discussed including an additional 125 units of housing for the homeless expected to come online over the next couple of years. Joining me in San Diego city councilmember Chris Ward. Is also vice chair of the regional task force on the homeless and he has released a memo on additional strategies to address homelessness based on the informed discussion. Councilmember Ward thank you for joining us. Thank you for having me. There was a lot discussed during Monday's meeting after listening to the testimony what were some of your key takeaways. I think it was a milestone gave for us -- day for us to get all the people in the room together and we had three hours of testimony sharing ideas that are worthy of our consideration to be able to contribute to the solutions we need to address and helpfully -- hopefully help the homeless community. One of the challenges that was brought up again and again at this challenge is that housing is just so expensive in San Diego and because of that there's not affordable housing available for homeless people. So that -- what do you propose the city due to to address that problem? When they have low income and extremely long commutes it is also a challenge for the rest of us in the middle of -- class to be able to buy office, and be able to make it here in San Diego. Many of the strategies are already underway for the smart growth committee chaired by Scott Sherman but there are additional things that we can do to specifically address affordable housing. One of the things I have in my memo was making sure the city completes a comprehensive review we might be able to underwrite much of the land cost which is a significant part of the total cost and development for new projects. That is one thing that we can do. We can also do what some of the regions have been establishing a community sponsored land trust that will help us retain the asset and retain the land in the public domain but be able to again underwrite that and use it for affordable housing and permanent supportive housing developments. In addition to the reviewer public lands that you are proposing and the establishment of the community land trust you are also suggesting that the city explore using my city owned facilities like Holden home as temporary shelters and taken together that would constitute more city engagement in the homeless issue then we have seen previously why are you proposing that now? I think the crisis is that epic proportions and this is a multipronged approach strategy that we can be doing if we look at temporary facilities like some of our underutilized or abandoned or shattered public facilities to be able to use them temporarily to get people off of the streets I think it helps to contribute to our coordinated entry system and a -- they need the services to get back on their feet and as permanent opportunities become available help these people to a permanent home. In San Diego there seems to be debate over what type of house in the citizen -- should prioritize and it shall be solely on long-term from the house and. And we should be concentrating on both transitional and permanent. This is the right way to go it's a proven model to effects chronic homelessness and we will be doing more of that here in San Diego we will be up to get new buildings constructed and available and if we had $250 million to put into a new facility today and get something running that will not be available for people from 2 to 3 years timeframe. Neighbors business owners and we can provide more immediate relief. He suggested cities -- city stopped to get in homeless encampments and set up zones. Do you think the city's treatment of the homeless has been too harsh? We have city policy and the officers are doing an amazing job getting out and engaging and trying to make sure that we are balancing the health and safety of our neighborhood with the conditions that we have on the ground with people sleeping on the streets and it's a difficult position to put our officers and so I do believe after talking with them and being on the streets myself and talking to people who are living in tents it is humid -- inhumane to continue criminalizing homeless people without providing sufficient places to go. By talking about homeless care zones this is something been explored in other jurisdictions in California. We heard one say he was ticketed for encouragement and illegal encampments which is Balint to $900. How does that person get back on his feet when he is saddled with this fine. We need to readdress our policies and given the landscape an emergency situation we are in. How confident for you is are you that something tangible will come out of the suggestions in the memo. I think that Mayor has made this one of his top priorities to have County supervisors that are at the table and interested in participating. Everybody is just coordinating Mike whatever have four. I am grateful that the Council President as part of our mission on Monday is looking to establish in two weeks at the rules committee a select committee. It's not just a public safety issue or a land-use issue touches many areas of our city's business but we need to have the right players at the table that can look across the jurisdictions within the city and address homelessness from a policy and budget perspective and I'm looking forward to the work that the community can be able to perform. I have been speaking with Chris Ward from the San Diego city Council. Thank you so much. Thank you.

Around 2,500 units of housing for the homeless could come on line in San Diego over the next few years, representatives of two organizations said Monday.


At a City Council forum on homeless issues, Deacon Jim Vargas said Father Joe's Villages planned to add 2,000 housing units over the next five years. Vargas, the agency's president and CEO, said he estimates that 2,500 to 2,800 people could be helped.

Some units will be constructed while others will be acquired, Vargas said, who didn't spell out how the units would be paid for.

Richard Gentry, president and CEO of the San Diego Housing Commission, said it would add another 500 units over three years.

For all the causes of San Diego's complex homeless problem, area leaders pointed to a lack of affordable housing as the biggest.

Supervisor Ron Roberts told the council members that a 6-month-old county program that targets severely mentally ill homeless people has found 227 people places to live.


"We still have another 145 on the streets who are already qualified for housing, and have a voucher in hand, and we have no house for them to move into," Roberts said. "We simply have to address the housing issue."

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Nearly 8,700 homeless people were counted in a tally in San Diego County last year, the fourth-highest in the nation. More than half were living on the streets, with the rest in shelters or doubling up with friends or relatives.

The forum included reports from the city's top official on homeless issues, a county representative, San Diego State University and the Housing Commission. Representatives of various social service agencies also spoke, along with members of the public.

"Right now, we do have an opportunity to come together as a region, with this focus, like we haven't done in the past, to address in a meaningful way one of the most vexing and important problems facing our city," Mayor Kevin Faulconer said.

"There is support to do things differently and take decisive action."

Faulconer said later this year, he would begin a push for a ballot measure that would raise the hotel room tax, with some of the new funding to be targeted for infrastructure and more for homeless programs. He first broached the idea in his "State of the City" address in January.

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The SDSU report said, in part, that more than 15,000 people sought assistance from local agencies between Oct. 1, 2015 and Sept. 30, 2016 — and more than half of them were trying to get help for the first time in at least five years.

SDSU population health scientist Sue Lindsay, executive director of the SDSU Institute for Public Health, said the finding made it clear that more prevention and intervention programs were required in the region.

Gentry outlined six proposals the Housing Commission would bring forth this summer — one on the 500 new housing units — and another to tackle the prevention side of the issue.

"So what we're proposing to do is make a significant effort to try to keep people from becoming homeless in the first place," Gentry said. The $1.9 million program would bring together partners to help 1,050 people, he said.

The commission's other proposals are to.

— coordinate outreach efforts by social service agencies.

— expand incentives to landlords to reduce the risk of renting to the homeless.

— grow the rapid re-housing program that provides short-term help to homeless families.

— provide rental assistance to 50 people who are leaving the region's system for helping the homeless.

In total, the six points in the plan would cost an estimated $78.7 million over three years, with funding already identified, Gentry said. He said the money won't be impacted by federal budget proposals that could include major spending reductions.

Of that, around $61 million would be used on the new housing units, he said.

Several members of the public offered suggestions, including building "sleeping cabins" that could be built quickly and inexpensively, and turning the sprawling Qualcomm Stadium property into a homeless village.

A group is also seeking to build a stadium to house a Major League Soccer team on the site, along with offices and other commercial developments.

Councilman Chris Ward, recently named vice chairman of the Regional Task Force on the Homeless, also issued a series of proposals.

Among them were to establish a city-sponsored community land trust to support affordable and permanent supportive housing, update zoning to allow for micro units and tiny homes, and providing areas for the homeless to go about their daily activities without fear of arrest.

"We cannot continue to criminalize homeless people without fulfilling our responsibility to provide them with sufficient places to go," Ward said.

"We'll continue to push aggressively for permanent supportive housing, but in the meantime we need to consider all options to connect homeless individuals with safe places to receive services and get back on their feet."

Ward represents downtown, Hillcrest and North Park, three of the San Diego neighborhoods most impacted by homelessness.