Skip to main content

San Diego Gives Another $2.5 Million To Homeless Tents

The inside of the Alpha Project’s East Village shelter is shown in this undat...

Photo by Megan Wood / inewsource

Above: The inside of the Alpha Project’s East Village shelter is shown in this undated photo.

San Diego City Council members Tuesday voted to continue funding three industrial tents currently sheltering hundreds of homeless individuals and families, diverting $2.5 million away from funds that could otherwise go toward permanent affordable housing.

The vote extends contracts with the three nonprofits operating the shelters — Alpha Project, Father Joe's Villages and Veteran's Village of San Diego — through September 2018.

The tents are one of Mayor Kevin Faulconer's most ambitious programs to address homelessness in the city. But they are coming under increasing scrutiny from council members, some of whom see their growing price tag as a threat to longer-term solutions to homelessness.

Councilman David Alvarez again cast the lone vote against continuing to fund the tents, saying data have shown them to be a "tremendous waste of money."

"I think this has been a complete failure," Alvarez said. "Ten percent of people actually having housing at the cost of probably a little over $4 million — that's not a success."

The most recent data from the tents show they are, in fact, failing to achieve their goal of moving most occupants into permanent housing. Only about 10 percent of those exiting the tents have gone into permanent homes, compared to a goal of 65 percent.

RELATED: Housing Commission Budget Reflects Shift Away From Housing

The San Diego Housing Commission, which is executing the tent contracts on behalf of the city, said the lower numbers are attributable to old data kept by the Regional Task Force on the Homeless. That organization manages a countywide system through which all homeless people seeking services are supposed to enter. When the tents opened in December and January, the operators found many people in the database were unreachable or their housing status was outdated.

The data from the three tent shelters also show 279 occupants have exited the tents, then re-entered.

The tents were approved on the premise that they would not become de facto permanent homes for the occupants. Rather, they are meant to provide safe, clean and short-term living conditions for people who had received a housing subsidy but had not yet found a place to live. These "Priority 1" occupants represented about 3 percent of the new intakes in March.

Councilwoman Barbara Bry supported the contract extensions, but said the consultant who is evaluating the tents' effectiveness this summer may also need to consider developing a "wind-down plan."

"As chair of the budget committee, I am concerned about the best way we spend our money on addressing the homeless issue," she said. "Because at the rate we're spending this money, it's not a sustainable model."

RELATED: Moving San Diego Homeless From Tents To Permanent Housing Slow But Steady

City Councilman Chris Ward, whose district includes the highest concentration of street homelessness in the city, agreed the shelters were not performing as hoped.

"Having about 8 to 10 percent successful exit rate to permanent supportive housing is not keeping us on track with our hopeful goal of 65 percent," Ward said. "I think some of us acknowledged that that was definitely on the high end of achievable, but we're far from it."

In fact, Ward himself told KPBS Midday Edition last November that he thought the goal was well within the range of feasibility.

"We do believe based on our experiences at the Housing Commission through other programs that have shown as much as 90 percent exit success that 65 percent is achievable," Ward said after voting to approve the tent contracts. "If we really hunker down and we look at all housing opportunities that are available, we think that we would be able to get 65 percent of the first 750 people out and into permanent housing during the first seven months of operation."

The consultant is due to finish its evaluation of the three tents by the end of this month. It will present the city and Housing Commission with recommendations on potential changes to the programs in June and July.

San Diego City Council members have extended the operating contracts for three tent shelters spearheaded by Mayor Kevin Faulconer. The council is increasingly skeptical of the tents, however, as data shows they are falling far short of their goals.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect funding for the tents through September 2018, not June of 2019 as previously written.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or subscribe to our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.