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San Diego Homeless Tent Shelters To Stay Open Through June

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 Homeless Tent Shelters To Stay Open Through June
San Diego Homeless Tent Shelters To Stay Open Through June GUEST: Andrew Bowen, reporter, KPBS News

Our top story on Midday edition. The San Diego City Council has added an additional one million dollars to funding for the city's homeless tent shelters. That brings the allocated cost for this fiscal year to almost 14 million dollars. The new funding is mainly for additional staffing to help the shelters reach revised goals instead of having the majority of the tents residents move into permanent housing. Now the city council wants to see a percentage of occupants move into a variety of housing alternatives. Joining me with more on Tuesday's City Council vote is Kate PBS metro reporter Andrew Boland. Andrew welcome. Thanks Maureen. The City Council sitting as the city's housing authority heard from several supporters of the three downtown tents before yesterday's vote. What did they say the tents were doing for San Diego. I think first and foremost the argument was that they're keeping people off of the streets. They're providing a safe humane and clean place for many people hundreds of people to stay. We heard from the service providers we heard from people who were residents in the street in the tents a handful of them have actually made it out of homelessness and into permanent housing although that is a pretty small minority of all the residents. They also say that these tents are connecting folks who were previously on the streets to other services like job training addiction counseling if they may need that you know they have a place to shower or a place to wash their clothes and those can be real barriers to people actually moving on with their lives and getting out of homelessness. Now a report released earlier this year found that the tents had missed the target goal of moving 65 percent of residents into permanent housing. Is that now seen as non reasonable goal. Quite frankly yes. That sixty five percent goal or target was based on essentially bad data that was coming. That was in the coordinated entry system. This is the county wide database essentially of people who are experiencing homelessness. They take a survey and the service provider evaluates whether or not they qualify for any housing subsidies or how long they should expect to wait to actually receive one of those. A lot of the data was really old. The contact info for people was was outdated and there were far fewer people who are ready for those permanent housing subsidies than the housing commissioner originally thought. The new goal is 30 percent of exits from the shelters should be to either permanent housing or as you mentioned to what's called longer term housing. This is a term that's defined by the federal government. It includes things like transitional housing which is only for two years about foster care others sort of less permanent housing situations and in those counts they're also going to exclude people who stay in the tents for fewer than 30 days because there have been a lot of exits and entries into these tents. It's also important to note that goal of 30 percent the terror that under these sort of watered down expectations the tents are currently performing at 28 percent and so that has led to some criticism that well the city failed to meet these tents failed to meet their expectations so the city's essentially lowering those expectations to the current performance so they can kind of you know create a success out of thin air and another way to get that goal as it's essentially acknowledging that about 70 percent or potentially more of the tent residents have little to no hope of getting out of homelessness anytime soon. So how is this new funding going to help reach this new target. On a consistent basis yes. The total amount of funding that was approved yesterday was eight point five million. And that's the funding to keep them open. From October through the end of June and as you mentioned the overall budget for the current fiscal year has increased about by about a million dollars. Mostly that's because they're hiring higher level staff with more expertise in case management and housing specialists to kind of create more of a housing focused environment in these tents. And this was one of the recommendations that came from a third party evaluation of the tents that was conducted in the spring and summer. Now this council vote assures that the homeless shelters as you say will be open until at least the end of next June. But not every council member voted in favor of extra money for the shelters. Tell us about that. Yeah. So it's important to note no one is arguing that these tents are not helping people. That's pretty clear that they are. The disputes surrounding them is where the money to fund them is coming from it's coming from the housing Commission's low and moderate income housing funds. These dollars typically go toward building new low income housing projects preserving the affordability of low income housing that would otherwise be converting to market rate housing. David Alvarez was again the only no vote on this program. He said that the city has more than 1000 low income homes that are just waiting to be built there in the pipeline and all they need is funding. And if we keep using the funds that are meant to build this housing we're actually never going to be able to fund these projects. And so this has to be incorporated into that holistic approach. And we also heard some skepticism from another council member Georgette Gomez who sounds like she's kind of losing patience with this funding model. She said this would be her last yes vote to extend the funding for these shelters until she sees more of a comprehensive strategy to actually end homelessness. And when is the debate over continued funding for the tent shelters expected to be taken up again next year. Yes. The funding is through the end of June the current fiscal year so it will come back into debate during the city's regular budget season which is in April and May. And that's a time when you know the city has many different priorities and unfunded needs. There's police the police department there's infrastructure there's you know tree trimming libraries rec center all these different things that different constituencies in the city are fighting to get funded. And so it's always a very difficult balancing act. You know of course we can't shouldn't forget the unfunded pension liabilities. That's something that the city is dealing with. So you know there's there's going to be a fierce debate I expect in the next budget season over whether the city can actually afford these shelters and whether it's a sustainable model. I've been speaking with PBS metro reporter Andrew Boe and Andrew thank you. Thank you Maureen.

San Diego City Council members Tuesday voted to continue funding the city's three homeless tent shelters for another nine months, at a cost of $8.5 million.

Some on the council expressed concern about the fact that the funding was coming from the San Diego Housing Commission's low- and moderate-income housing fund, which typically is reserved for affordable housing projects. Some also voiced disappointment that the tents have fallen far short of the goals set out for them late last year: that 65 percent of residents leaving the shelters be exiting to permanent housing.

But ultimately most on the council balked at the possibility of having to close the shelters and potentially force their roughly 700 residents back onto the streets.

"Tonight, nearly 700 people will be sleeping under a roof at the shelters rather than under a tarp on the street," said Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who has made the tents a central component of his strategy to address homelessness.

Councilman David Alvarez cast the only "no" vote on the funding extension, saying that the city had more than a thousand affordable housing projects in the pipeline that simply need money to get built.

"If we keep using the funds that were meant to build this housing, we're actually never going to be able to fund these projects," he said.

Councilwoman Georgette Gomez said she would not support any additional extensions of funding for the tent program without seeing a more comprehensive strategy for homelessness. Councilwoman Barbara Bry said last May the city's funding of the tents was "not a sustainable model," but she did not make any comments Tuesday. A spokeswoman said Bry was not in contact with her staff because she was observing Yom Kippur.

RELATED: Housing Commission Budget Reflects Shift Away From Housing

The council also agreed to lower the goals for the tents in several ways. The new standards broaden the definition of a "successful exit" to include longer term — but not permanent — housing, such as transitional housing, long-term nursing care and foster care. They also expect only 30 percent of residents to make a successful exit, and they exclude from those counts any resident who stays in the tents for fewer than 30 days.

Lisa Jones, a staff member at the Housing Commission, said under those metrics the tents were currently performing with 28 percent success — just shy of their new 30 percent goal.

Michael McConnell, an advocate for the homeless who has sharply criticized the tent program, said the council was "watering down the outcomes" expected of the program.

"When we just take people from a short-term shelter to a longer-term shelter, (then) back to the street, did that actually help anybody other than shelter them for a short period of time?" he said.

The extension of the tent program's funding through June means the debate over how, or whether, to keep the tents open will likely kick back into gear in the spring during the city's budget season. That is when homeless services compete against other city services such as libraries, police and road repair for the city's limited dollars.

San Diego Homeless Tent Shelters To Stay Open Through June
San Diego City Council members have agreed to keep funding three homeless tent shelters for another nine months. But some are growing concerned that the funding of the tents is not sustainable.