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Report: City's Expectations Going Into Bridge Shelter Program Were Off The Mark

Bunk beds line a "Bridge Shelter" near downtown San Diego, which is providing a home for 324 people, Feb. 23, 2018.
Susan Murphy
Bunk beds line a "Bridge Shelter" near downtown San Diego, which is providing a home for 324 people, Feb. 23, 2018.

San Diego’s three bridge shelter tents for the homeless are meant to keep people off the streets and help them transition into permanent housing. But so far, the city has fallen short of its goals for the shelters.

Twelve percent of one-time bridge shelter residents have transitioned into permanent housing, as of the end of May. The goal is 65 percent.

A report from Focus Strategies, an outside consulting firm hired by the city, found that many of the expectations going into the program late last year were off the mark. The city thought there were more homeless people ready to make the transition into permanent housing than there were and that there was more permanent housing available than there was.

Now city officials have to figure out how to tailor the program to more accurately reflect reality.

Lisa Jones is the vice president of homeless housing innovations for the San Diego Housing Commission, the organization in charge of overseeing the shelters.

Jones joins Midday Edition on Tuesday to discuss the report's recommendations and what's next for the city's bridge shelters.

Report: City's Expectations Going Into Bridge Shelter Program Were Off The Mark
Report: City's Expectations Going Into Bridge Shelter Program Were Off The Mark GUESTS: Lisa Jones, vice president of homeless housing innovations, San Diego Housing Commission

San Diego's three bridge shelter tents for the homeless are meant to keep people off the streets and help them transition into permanent housing. But so far the shelters have fallen short of their goals. A report from Focus strategies and outside consulting firm hired by the city finds that many of the expectations going into the program late last year were off the mark. The city thought there were more homeless people ready to make the transition into permanent housing than there were and that there was more permanent housing than there was. Now city officials have to figure out how to tailor the program to more accurately reflect reality. Joining me is Lisa Jones vice president of homeless housing innovations at the San Diego Housing Commission. Lisa welcome to the program. Thank you very much happy to join you. One of the most glaring mistakes made going in was the expectation that 65 percent of the tense residents would be transitioned into housing during the first three months of the program. The last report we found was that 12 percent of the bird shelter tents residents have transitioned into housing. Have you found out why that expectation was so high. So I think the expectation being high is really about wanting to set strong goals and these shelters went up really quickly and I think that's an important piece to remember so that kind of programming and development and in-depth analysis that you would do when you had maybe a year to build into a brand new project that you've never really tried before wasn't really available with the hepatitis A CRISIS. Right. So this did a couple of things 1 It got people who are unsheltered off the streets and back into shelter. Increase the number of vaccinations to people experiencing homelessness. And really dealt with the crisis in a very immediate way. But what we didn't have that depth of ability to really dig into was what was available in our system and who in our system was already matched to a housing resource. So the Coordinated Entry System which is essentially the database that people go through to determine their level of vulnerability and what Housing Resource they should be matched to that data has been in the system for a long time and really needed to be refreshed and that hadn't been done. So it showed that there were between maybe 700 to 1000 people that were matched to housing resources but still unsheltered and that just didn't end up being the case many of them had in fact already been sheltered. Had we gone through that process but the data hadn't been updated many were not in our system at all anymore it might have been a few years old. So when you think you're going to have 700 coming in they're matched to a housing resource. I think it's very reasonable to expect that 65 percent will then exit to that resource but they never came in in the first place so that 65 percent goal was just unattainable in those three to four months. Now the consultant advised that expectations like that be revised. Have they been. That's what we're working on right now. We did a presentation on July 31 to the city council and housing authority to give them an update on the evaluation and then the evaluator also did a short video for them so that they can kind of get a straight response from the evaluator about what they saw. Following up from that we're working with the city council members to determine next steps and what how and when we will action some of the recommendations. Now the report also cites that there are fewer permanent housing vacancies available for those at the bridge shelters to move into than first thought. Has there been any progress in finding new properties finding properties or are part of that whether it's through acquisition or whether it's rehabilitation or whether it's through new construction but it's financing those properties to be built or acquired is one side of that piece. The other side of that piece is making sure that we have the ongoing rental subsidies to then provide the subsidies needed for people in very high need to have access to those units on a permanent basis. So I know the city is doing a lot of work around looking at their own city parcels to determine what parcels could potentially be built on and looking at how we leverage gap financing things of that nature to build and acquire more housing. But on the other side of it we really need to work to determine how we're going to subsidize that housing over the long term and that is one of the areas where we do not have enough resources in our system currently to meet that need. So one of the criticisms of the bridge shelter tense is that they are taking millions away from housing commission funds that could be used for permanent housing or other needs. As you just mentioned is the town program draining the housing commission's resources. Well I think we have to look at it as that we have to balance our resources. So the city has brought additional funding into backfill some of the funding that we've spent in the initial year and the city is going to look to continue to do that because we understand that permanent supportive housing has to be at the end of that road in order to have throughput in our system but we're not going to build those units fast enough to meet the growing need and in unsheltered population has something that we've seen increase over the past years between the 2017 and 2018 point in time count. We've seen a 19 percent decrease so that's been great. That represents about 600 persons and coincidentally we have about 674 in the shelters but that's a point in time where we've really had an investment here to create more sheltered housing that we didn't have before we can't bring in enough permanent supportive housing resources to meet the need within the next six to eight months so how do we balance making sure that we mitigate any future health crises create shelter beds so that we can deal with an unsheltered crisis but also figure out how we create throughput in the long term. Now one of the main recommendations of the report by the outside consultant was to create higher level positions such as case managers and housing specialists to serve the population coming into the shelters. Those with higher needs than initially anticipated would need to be done to accomplish that part of the work of recommendation. When we created the staffing around these shelters in the original model the expectation that was people would be coming in matched to Housing Resource already. And what that really means is they're matched to a service provider with a housing resource and a case manager. So the level of case management was expected to be on the end of the housing service provider. Unfortunately that's not what happened. So we really need to look at how we deal with a very highly vulnerable population 48 percent chronically homeless 56 percent with disabilities over 55 percent with no income and 35 percent over the age of 55. So we really need to bring in higher level case management and housing specialists to deal with the population. We are actually sheltering right now and in order to do that it will require additional funds being brought in. We can do some retooling of some of the staffing that's already there and create new staffing positions remove some change others but really we're probably going to need to bring in an investment of resources for that higher level of case management. And right now the housing commission is working with the city council members and focused strategies evaluation team to figure out what that can look like so that the operators can be successful. I've been speaking with Lisa Jones vice president of homeless housing innovations at the San Diego Housing Commission. Lisa thank you. You're very welcome.