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Why San Diego County's Homeless Count Matters

Why The Annual Homeless Count Is Crucial For San Diego County
Why The Annual Homeless Count Is Crucial For San Diego County
Counting On San Diego's Homeless Programs GUESTS: Dolores Diaz, executive director, San Diego Regional Task Force on HomelessBob McElroy, president/CEO, Alpha Project

Maureen Cavanaugh: This is KPBS Midday Edition, I am Maureen Cavanaugh. San Diego’s Regional Task Force on the Homeless is once again assembling volunteers to conduct the annual Point-In-Time Homeless Count. It takes place a week from Friday. This year’s count will come at a time when various agencies and programs have set the ambitious agenda to end homelessness in San Diego. The target for getting homeless veterans off the streets is the end of this year and the San Diego City Plan aims to find housing for 1500 homeless people in the next three years. Homelessness is now a primary issue in San Diego, but how committed and coordinated are the plans to put an end to the problem? I would like to welcome my guests. Dolores Diaz is Executive Director of the San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless. Dolores welcome back to the show. Dolores Diaz: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here. Maureen Cavanaugh: Bob McElroy is President and CEO of the Alpha Project. It’s good to see you Bob. Bob McElroy: Good to be seen, thank you. Maureen Cavanaugh: Now Dolores remind us how the Point-In-Time Count is conducted. Dolores Diaz: The Point-In-Time Count is conducted by volunteers region wide. It’s a mandated project by the federal government. We are mandated to count the unsheltered every two years but our community has decided to do that annually. Volunteers come out in droves, we organized them and we do all of our efforts to try to count as many census tracts in the entire regions as possible. Maureen Cavanaugh: And where do you guys go? Where are the areas that you concentrate on, where do you proliferate around? Dolores Diaz: There’s over 600 census tracts and it takes approximately 1300 volunteers to cover our region. Much of our regions is rural obviously that we don’t count, but we do cover over 500 census tracts and send out folks to each and every census tract and if they count zero it is zero, it still counts. Maureen Cavanaugh: So what does the count mean for San Diego in terms of resources for the homelessness? Dolores Diaz: What we do with that information is we submit it to the Department of Housing and Urban Development in the spring. And we along with communities across the nation that do the count the last 10 days of January and this information is rolled up to HUD and they prepare an Annual Homeless Assessment Report that goes to Congress. And that’s how Congress gets their head, tries to wrap their head around how severe the problem is across the country. Maureen Cavanaugh: Bob, how difficult do you think it is to get an accurate count on the number of homeless people in San Diego County? Bob McElroy: In a given day there is different number of folks on the street. When Dolores talks about the census tracts in these areas we are talking about riverbeds and freeways, underpasses and just folks got right out in the middle, nooks and crannies all over the county. And like I said I think I would do at the end months that’s when more people are on the streets than the beginning of the month, a lot of people do get checks, we have lot of fixed income seniors who only get $600 a month, you can’t rent any place in $600 a month and so they find themselves homeless midmonth, but there is just a whole bunch of people out there. Maureen Cavanaugh: What was the count last year Dolores? Dolores Diaz: We counted 8,506 folks sheltered and unsheltered last year. The count really casts three pieces to it– it’s the sheltered we actually the night of the count, they are in shelters programs like Alpha Project they count their folks that are sheltered the night of the count. We also have the unsheltered where we go out between 4:00 and 7:00 AM and we always get asked why do you do it so early in the morning, we do that before people start moving around. And there is a survey where we go out from the point of the count to for a few days after we talked to homeless persons and we asked them questions that HUD wants to know about their homelessness and that we want to know locally so we can craft the programs to eliminate the problems. Maureen Cavanaugh: What are those questions and what kind of answers have you been getting? Dolores Diaz: There’s a lot of demographic questions, but one of the things that we are focusing on is how chronic is someone’s homelessness, they are in and out of homelessness, how many times have they been homeless, we also ask questions about their disability for example does it impede their ability to stay in housing, veterans we want to know if our homeless person is a veteran what era did they serve in, those kind of question along with just general demographics. Maureen Cavanaugh: Bob, you and the Alpha Project have been dealing with the homeless issue for many years. And lately we’ve seen a lot of new projects a lot of new attention being given to the issue of homelessness and a lot of programs aimed at ending homelessness in San Diego. What is your assessment of those programs and those efforts? Bob McElroy: That’s the new trend lately in the last couple of years is Housing First model and that’s taking people instead of putting them in shelters or in transitional housing they actually placed people in permanent housing. We placed over 120 since November. We only have four people drop out which is a tremendous example of success. And the plan of work I believe will definitely work we have two missing components and that’s the inventory of low income housing permanent support HA low income housing it has such a stereotype of stigma to it and then had the funding to continue. We got some funds from Housing Mission, Funders [indiscernible] [00:05:51] Foundation has given us some money, but I think as we prove the model will work those funds will be coming down the road. Maureen Cavanaugh: As Bob mentioned, Dolores we’ve heard from the veterans department their mission to end homelessness we refer from Mayor Faulconer from the City Council that the county has a project to end homelessness. How is the Regional Task Force involved in those efforts? Dolores Diaz: The way decisions are made and should be made is through data. The Regional Task Force on the Homeless is the data center where we keep the information from the region and we provide data and reports for them to be able to make informed data driven decisions. Ending veteran homelessness in San Diego is doable it really is doable and the federal government has put significant resources. And locally the San Diego Housing Commission has really taken aggressive actions to provide as much resources that programs such as Alpha and many of the programs in the continuum of care that addresses homelessness that they need. But again it takes a while before this permanent support of housing units really comes to fruition and that’s how we help. We help with data, we help them make decisions based on data. Maureen Cavanaugh: Now last November the City of San Diego put up an emergency winter shelter in Barrio Logan the way it usually does. But this year it was intended to have more supportive services sort of a triage of different agencies telling them who were the most at risk homeless people that needed a support and a place to go. Bob, how would you say that’s worked out? Bob McElroy: I think it’s worked out well. These are the most infirmed, we used the data that’s called [indiscernible] [00:07:49] interview process that we have with the folks and those who are the most infirmed, the most at risk, the most in need and the most frequent users of emergency rooms and these types of things, the first ones who got in this year. And I will tell you I’ve always proud of myself on knowing just about everybody on the streets and there is probably half of the 200 people down that I have never seen before. So there’s people who’ve come in that are being program resistant, they haven’t gone into other programs, they’ve had bad experiences, they kind of hit on the margins of the periphery of downtown that are coming in now with the expectation that they’re going to get housing at some point in time and they are so enthusiastic to be part of this process. And most folks downtown like me are trapped in some form of mental illness and it’s a tremendous challenge to get these folks to trust us that we’re actually going to follow through what we say we are going to do. And so far it has been very successful. Maureen Cavanaugh: And as you say when you put people who have been on the streets for a long time who maybe have mental illness in housing in supportive housing that takes a lot of work, that takes a lot of efforts, a lot of support. Is that where you’re seeing a gap perhaps in the financing? Bob McElroy: Yes, and because you have to have qualified people that are our housing navigators or case managers that don’t see people as a number or a label, that see them as a human beings and unique human beings and individuals. And they take the time and have the gift to be able to establish the trust and relationships with people. They know that we are going to be there through the whole process we are not going to leave them alone even those we have in support of housing or just found permanent housing for we still do follow-ups. And the biggest thing and one thing about this Point-In-Time Count by volunteers not only it is fun for the folks that are volunteering and going out there, but it has a tremendous medicinal effect on the folks that they talk to, they have someone that they don’t know, just a volunteer to come down and acknowledge that they exists and that they are human being, many times is that that hand the extended hand that gets people to come into facilities of programs. Maureen Cavanaugh: I want to ask both of you how you feel about this because I remember us talking a while ago and one of the problems I think that we were talking about is that there wasn’t enough coordination between the various homeless agencies in San Diego City County that everybody was sort of doing their own thing and there wasn’t the kind of a coordinated effort that would just to intensify and enhance everybody’s effort, has that changed Dolores? Dolores Diaz: We are undergoing major systems change in San Diego. There are a couple of initiatives that the 25 Cities Initiative and Zero: 2016 that this continuum has signed in for and it’s challenged itself to get down the functional zero on homelessness. It’s tough where we know it’s something that we may not be able to achieve, but we aggressively are changing our system and looking at programs, re-allocating funds when necessary and making program adjustments to that addressed homelessness in a manner that research tells us that Housing First works, but to get there we have to make adjustments and those systems changes are happening now. It does take a lot of coordination, it’s not going to happen overnight. The continuum of care has a brand new governance structure. Council Member Todd Gloria is a chair of that and we have some very, very powerful, I am going to say, change agents at that table that are going to help us move along. Maureen Cavanaugh: Would you concur with that the coordination is improving between the agencies, Bob? Bob McElroy: Yeah, I do. But that is also funding driven and people are saying that train has left the station. The old rule of transitional housing doesn’t work anymore I mean the feds don’t believe in that research and data that show that doesn’t work and that the Housing First model is where you are going to have be if you want to stay in this business. Maureen Cavanaugh: Dolores? Dolores Diaz: I think it’s really important to point out that transitional housing works for certain populations. Maureen Cavanaugh: And tell me the difference. What is transitional as opposed to Housing First? Dolores Diaz: Transitional could be a housing program that someone could stay in for up to 24 months. We know that that might work for transitional homeless youth for example that the transitional housing may work for them maybe for survivors of domestic violence for certain populations, but for the population that we see out in the street that Bob’s organization serves Housing First is what works for them. Maureen Cavanaugh: I see. Okay I sort of interrupted you and you were saying that we know now that Housing First works, Bob. Bob McElroy: Yes. Transitional housing worked years ago, when I started we had people that were job ready, people they just fell through the cracks maybe they just lost their job through drug addiction or whatever they hit the streets, but we could redeem those people through a transition period maybe a year or so, get them working on our crews and then transition back in the private sector. As I said most of the folks downtown are trapped in some form of mental illness and dual diagnosed. Maureen Cavanaugh: As downtown San Diego where most of San Diego’s homeless are as the different programs coordinate downtown, I want to get an idea Bob of where we are right now in terms of housing for the homeless people in downtown San Diego. I remember former mayor Bob Filner he wanted to open that emergency winter shelter he wanted to make it a year round shelter. That didn’t happen for a lot of reasons and I am wondering if you think that we have enough resources being directed at homelessness now that we don’t need a year round emergency shelter. Bob McElroy: You have to have an entry point. And the beauty of the winter shelter was in fact that we got people, it was the front door for people, many of the folks had been through the big institution the St. Vincent Paul, the Salvation Army, Catholic Church these types of things and falling through the cracks failed for whatever reason. The winter shelter is less intrusive, less rules and regulations on people just basic of people get people respite to detox literally from the street survival mode and in a transition mode, so gave us time to establish those relationships with people to move them forward. Without that without a place where you have an entry point it’s difficult because you have to have time with people. Just to go out and find somebody on the streets and just pick them by hand and put them into apartment complex that’s not going to work either. So you still have to have that point where the people can distil through. [indiscernible] [00:14:47] great transition points the only place they can have meal, massage and showers and these types of things, but you have to that first point of reference. Maureen Cavanaugh: Dolores, the Point-In-Time Count of homeless people in San Diego County has been going down last couple of years. What do you think the reasons are for that? Dolores Diaz: I can say that I think that for example I think that the count has gone down on veterans and it’s gone down because the federal government has put significant resources in permanent housing for veterans and that has helped the number go down. The count in 2015 is a mandated year. We really want to get our– I want to remind everyone that it is simply a snapshot, a point in time snapshot of where we are like Bob mentioned we can take the count on another day and we are going to get a different number, but it is a snapshot across the country. And in San Diego we have– I am pleased to report we’ve got approximately a thousand volunteers, thank you thousand volunteers from San Diego that are going to be getting up very early in the morning to enumerate their homeless neighbors. Maureen Cavanaugh: You still need some more though? Dolores Diaz: We do, we need a couple of hundred more in North County specifically to cover and Encinitas, Oceanside, Escondido, Vista, North County Inland. So if there is anyone interested they need to go on our website and click on ‘Volunteer Now.’ Maureen Cavanaugh: Just if someone’s listening to this and thinking about volunteering is there any special instruction that they need to have, will they be going out in pairs, what’s going to be the environment that will be in? Dolores Diaz: Those are the excellent questions. Once they register they will be– they can assign on to deploy from a particular deployment center that still has openings. They will take a very simple online training, they do go out in pairs, we do care about our volunteers’ safety and simply enumerate using the maps that are given to them at the deployment center where they have been assigned. Maureen Cavanaugh: And that website once again? Dolores Diaz: right on the homepage they will see ‘Volunteer Now’ they can click on that and that will give them the instructions. Maureen Cavanaugh: And if you didn’t quite get that we have that on our website as well I want to thank my guests very much. Dolores Diaz, Bob McElroy, thank you both. Bob McElroy: Thank you. Dolores Diaz: Thank you. Maureen Cavanaugh: Our pleasure. Coming up – there’s new hope that a vaccine can be developed to prevent nicotine addiction. That is KPBS Midday Edition continues.

An annual San Diego County count of the homeless will help the federal government determine how much money should be allocated to programs aimed at helping those who live on the streets.

Known as WeALLCount, it is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and requires nearly 1,300 volunteers in San Diego County.

"We're mandated to count the unsheltered every two years but our community has decided to do that annually," Dolores Diaz, executive director of the Regional Task Force on the Homeless, told KPBS Midday Edition on Tuesday. "Volunteers come out in droves. We organize them, and we do all of our efforts to count as many census tracks in the region as possible."


Diaz said the information collected will educate lawmakers on homelessness while helping them determine how much money to give to programs. Last year's count showed 8,506 people living on the streets in the region.


Time: 4 a.m. to 7 a.m.

Date: Friday, Jan. 23

Where: Throughout San Diego County

For more information, visit

This year's count, which will take place on Jan. 23, comes as various agencies and programs have set ambitious goals to end homelessness in San Diego. The target for getting homeless veterans off the streets is the end of this year, and a city of San Diego plan aims to find housing for 1,500 homeless people in the next three years.

Bob McElroy, president of the Alpha Project, told KPBS the Housing First model has helped. It places homeless people into homes before offering them services. McElroy said Alpha Project has found homes for 120 people since November and hopes that more funding will be available.

"I think as we prove the model will work those funds will be coming down the road," McElroy said.