'Housing First' program criticized by group of local elected officials
The numbers are not what anyone wants to see; data from both the city of San Diego and the county show rising numbers, month after month, of people on the streets and in shelters.
Both the city and county have been using a "Housing First" approach to deal with those numbers, prioritizing getting people off the streets and into housing.
But that method has detractors, who gathered at the county complex in Kearny Mesa Friday to say Housing First is not the way to go.
“Even though Housing First works for some, it’s not the panacea that everyone expects it to be," said County Supervisor Jim Desmond.
“They’ve got to deal with the demon of drug and alcohol abuse in their lives and until they do that, they’re not going to progress," said El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells.
That is the crux of the complaint against Housing First; that the program is not mandating that they deal with problems suffered by many people experiencing homelessness, that is substance abuse and mental health challenges.
“You ask any cop, any firefighter, any paramedic, any ER doc, they will tell you that homelessness is almost entirely due to drug and alcohol abuses," Wells said.
Representatives from both the San Diego Housing Commission and PATH (People Assisting The Homeless) were onlookers at Friday's news conference, and afterwards, took issue with what the elected leaders said.
“Almost everything was wrong with what we heard here today," said Ryan Clumpner, Vice Chair of the San Diego Housing Commission.
Clumpner said the message from the opponents of Housing First was all political.
“These were not statements based on facts, statistics, best practices," he said.
Clumpner agreed that it’s important for those struggling with addictions to get help, but he said opponents of Housing First are basically putting the cart before the horse.
“Housing First is a concept that basically says that somebody will not resolve their mental health or their substance use if they are required to do so while they are not housed, while they are on the street. That’s it," he said.
Tyler Renner with PATH said people helped by Housing First have access to services to help with addiction.
“They have onsite support, case management and they have connections to health care, they have connections to substance use treatment if they want. I think what’s really missing from the conversation is, 'Where’s the funding for said programs?'” Renner said.