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San Diego's Homeless Czar Will Prioritize Assessment Center, IDing Short-Term Solutions

City of San Diego
Jonathan Herrera is pictured in this undated photo.

San Diego's Homeless Czar On His Priorities For His New Role
San Diego's Homeless Czar On His Priorities For His New Role GUEST: Jonathan Herrera, senior adviser on homeless coordination, city of San Diego

When Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced last week the extension of the city's housing first initiative for the homeless, on the podium with him was Jonathan Herrera. Is San Diego's Benny senior adviser on homeless coordination or as it sometimes is called, the city's homeless czar. Although this is Herrera's first job dealing with homeless issues, he has already gotten the support of several the cities longtime homeless advocates. Then Herrera joins me now and welcome to the program. Thank you for having me. The mayor told the Union Tribune that you can quote, relate to the struggles people are going through to turn their lives around. What is it about your life that allows you to relate to that. I got to see firsthand the struggles of poverty, mental illness, drug addiction, alcoholism and the effects it has not only on the family but on the community at large. That is left with a to give empathy and understanding where the individuals are coming from, the adversity they have got to overcome. That will be extremely important and useful in developing programs that will develop person centered care. Those experiences will be valuable moving forward. You, yourself are going down the wrong path for a while because of your background. Yes I was. I struggled with many issues that a lot of the Latinos do growing up. Especially single-family homes and wanting his sense of belonging and a pride of the culture which sometimes, for right or wrong reasons, gets mixed up with having his sense of allegiance to the streets. That is deafly something I struggled with and found myself in aching -- in a gang and living that lifestyle and then found myself incarcerated. Serving time for possession of firearm and narcotics. That open my eyes to where I was going and brought to the forefront the opportunities I was wasting in all of the hard work that my grandparents and parents had done to get me where was that and to provide the lifestyle for me. As difficult as it was they work the hardest to divide me those provisions. I felt it was MA debt of gratitude and Mayday commitment one day in the jail cell to say, I am going to change my life and as much as possible do what I can to serve as an example for other members of my community going to the same type of things that want to be more of a product design their environment. Have you ever experienced homelessness yourself? Is 18 a, yes. I would take off -- as a teenager, yes. I would take off and become. On occasions I slept in the park but I often had a friend. It was not because that was my only option, I was a rebellious teen and wanted to live my life the way wanted to. I did at times find myself living in a car, a Park Ronnie friends catch. A lot of people point take a look at the increase of homelessness in San Diego and say no thanks, I do not want that job. Just since last year there is a reported 64% increase in the number of homeless tends up in the city of San Diego. Why do you want to take on this assignment? I'm passionate about serving my city. I spent a lot of my life making my life harder for the city that I love. I want to use my experiences and my commitment to be able to serve my city. I love the city, love San Diego and then there are a lot of people struggling. If I'm able to use my experiences and use my work history to be able to come up with solutions as a region that we can pursue, that will not only be personally satisfying but an excellent move for my career. A project CEO Bob McElroy is quoted as saying, you have street credit that will help you in this job. How do you intend to use that? One of the things I plan on doing is getting feedback from homeless people themselves. When the process of developing and RFP for a center and one of the key things about that is I want to ensure that will be develop is in corporative of the feedback from the streets. I plan on getting out and having from conversations with homeless individuals and seeing what their priorities and needs are and ensuring that that is incorporated in what we finally develop at the conclusion. We saw the announcement last week of the next phase of the city's housing first initiative. The city literally needs to find or build they couple of thousand use its -- units to house people on streets and in shelters. Should the city expand temporary shelters for homeless people while those units are being located? We are definitely looking at all options. All options on the table because unfortunately the reality is there are over 3000 unsheltered homeless San Diego's throughout the city. That is the reality that is a reality we have to deal with now. Identifying what should short-term solutions we can adopt to provide immediate relief for those administrators those individuals is what we are assessing. Weather that is temperate shelter, tents, that is to be determined. I think they walk around the city you can see the need is there. What will you actually be doing? We you help plan the city's approach to solving homelessness or is this more of a court and aiding effort between agencies? It will be a little bit of both but we will not be moving in a direction that conflicts with where we are moving as a region. I think that is important and reflective in my title as homeless coordinator. There has been a lot of time assessing the situation in developing plans and now is time for action. There really has not been this level of collaboration between the housing commission, county, service providers, housing providers, city Council, we are all on the same page and that will reap -- reveal results. My job is to make sure the city stays active and engaged. You are formally the director of public safety and neighborhood services what did you learn about the city bureaucracy in that role that will help you in this new job? Working in the executive branch definitely let me an opportunity to work with several departments that touch on homelessness in various capacities especially the San Diego Police Department which was one of my primary policy programs. I got familiar with the team, and how they function. Also gave me an opportunity to build relations with these individuals, with the service providers and city Council. That will be extremely helpful as well. What are your top priorities as you take on this rather tremendous new challenge in the city? I think I share the regions pardon the mayor's party and that we continue to take advantage of the momentum that we have and move forward on the region and adopting strategies that have been proven most effective in providing permanent housing solutions. As we spoke of identifying short-term resolutions, getting the assessment center online, scaling up the smart pilot program. Those are initiatives that we are working on and now remain priorities for the city. I really mean what do you do in your first days in this new job? Spending a lot of time doing things like this and getting the job out -- the message out of who I am. Reaching out and making sure that everybody knows I am accessible and open and willing to work with everyone that shares our commitment to serving the most vulnerable Sandy Aikins. I'm speaking with Johnny -- Jonathan Herrera. Thank you.

San Diego has a new homeless czar.

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Jonathan Herrera started in his role as senior adviser on homeless coordination for Mayor Kevin Faulconer on July 3.

He is replacing Stacie Spector who abruptly left after seven months in the role.

Herrera was previously the mayor's director of public safety and neighborhood services.

Between 2016 and 2017 the number of unsheltered homeless individuals has increased 18 percent in the city of San Diego, while the number of tents in the city increased 64 percent, according to the last point-in-time count.

Herrera said that one of his priorities includes identifying short-term solutions, while longer-term permanent housing is coming online.

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"I think just a walk around the city you can tell that the need's there," Herrera said.

He also said his priorities include getting an assessment center for homeless individuals up and running and scaling up the San Diego Misdemeanants At-Risk Track pilot program.

Herrera joined Midday Edition on Tuesday to discuss how his background will help him achieve his priorities in his new role.