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San Diego County supervisors declare homelessness a public health crisis

homeless downtown san diego
Carlos Castillos
/
KPBS
A man riding his bike through a homeless encampment in downtown San Diego, May 31, 2022.

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to declare homelessness a public health crisis, directing the county chief administrative officer to work with city governments and the Regional Task Force on Homelessness on a regional approach to tackling the issue.

Some of CAO Helen Robbins-Meyer's other responsibilities will include:

  • updating the board on regional efforts and recommendations to the county's Framework for Ending Homelessness in the first quarter of 2023, including a comprehensive review of services and housing offered to those experiencing homelessness;
  • identifying potential economic impacts to the county and investments needed to reduce homelessness significantly;
  • finding housing opportunities and services, and making recommendations based on an assessment by Homebase, a non-profit group;
  • developing a plan for enhanced data collection, evaluating the county's homeless services and programs, and establishing other methods, including 24-hour access to social workers or trained professionals; and
  • allowing the Health and Human Services Agency director to research and apply for other funding opportunities.

Officials have discussed the lack of affordable housing for decades, and they say the crisis has been exacerbated in recent years by the COVID-19 pandemic and continuing low wages relative to inflation.
Board Vice Chairwoman Nora Vargas, who proposed the declaration with Chairman Nathan Fletcher, said she did so with "a really heavy heart" and said it was "really something I wish we didn't have to do."

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Vargas added that as a Southwestern College trustee, she knew of students sleeping in their cars.

"When we as a county come together and offer resources, people take advantage of them," she said.

Making homelessness a top priority will allow the county to review its existing programs and "really think about solutions that impact our communities," she said.

Fletcher said public officials know that homelessness "cannot be ignored" and everyone has to work toward reducing it, including the 18 cities located in San Diego County.

Supervisor Jim Desmond said he was glad to see a region-wide approach but said much work is needed to tackle the crisis.

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"If we don't deal with it, there's going to be greater cost in the future," Desmond added.

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