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Homelessness Drops In San Diego County

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The point-in-time count conducted Jan 23-25 determined there were 7,619 people in San Diego County, 3,971 unsheltered and 3,648 sheltered. The unsheltered population includes 17% who are chronically homeless, 8% who are youth and 8% who are veterans.

Speaker 1: 00:00 Last January, which sometimes feels like a lifetime ago. San Diego conducted its annual point in time, homeless count volunteers surveyed how many people were living in shelters living in their cars are completely unsheltered around the County. The results are in and the number of homeless individuals is down from last year by about 6%. It's good news for San Diego and its efforts to address the problem of homelessness. But now in the midst of the Corona virus pandemic, we find ourselves in a whole different situation. Homeless people are now being housed in the convention center and in vacant hotels as a precaution against the virus, but it's unclear what the next step will be and the region's response to homelessness. Joining me is San Diego city Councilman Chris ward, who is chair of the San Diego regional task force on the homeless. And Chris, welcome to the program. Thank you, Maureen. Good to be with you. First, tell us more about the decreases in the homeless population were fewer people homeless all over the County.

Speaker 2: 00:59 So that is not really the ultimate, uh, the message of what the point in time County is. A snapshot in time that tells us basically on the same point in time every January how many people we are counting. It is helpful for us to see trends over time if we hold our methodology constant as we did, uh, compared to our 2019 methodology. And yes, the numbers were down 6% overall, 11% for those who were unsheltered. Um, it helps inform us, uh, and ties into some of the funding decisions that we see from both state and federal resources. So it's just one metric that we use in our toolbox to be able to understand the complexities around homelessness,

Speaker 1: 01:38 about how many homeless people were counted overall.

Speaker 2: 01:41 So overall, this year we counted just a little over 7,600 homeless individuals just under 4,000 of those were unsheltered with about 36 50, who were sheltered. And so that both of, uh, the, the unsheltered number was down from about 4,500. In 2019 that was an 11% decrease.

Speaker 1: 02:03 Now the city of San Diego had a 12% drop in unsheltered population. I know that you're saying that's only one point. That's only one metric in a, and doesn't necessarily create a trend, but are you able to attribute any of that drop in the homeless population to any programs or efforts by San Diego to find housing for the homeless?

Speaker 2: 02:25 Sure. We have continued every year to ramp up our programs and efforts, looking to see where things are effective and applying new funding to really double down on some of those efforts. So for example, our family reunification program, which specifically allows people in the downtown partnership who are out there on the streets to connect with individuals who came from another area outside of San Diego County to connect them back home. That was incredibly effective. I think more than 2000 individuals over the last 24 months have been reunited. And those are 2000 individuals that are not stuck here on San Diego streets. So we applied more budget efforts last year when we had better budget times, um, to be able to double the impact and expand the reach beyond downtown. So that's just one example. We could talk about the bridge shelters and state parking lots and all of these other investments that are all oriented around housing solutions and getting people connected. Uh, once they are stabilized to uh, you know, not be homeless anymore.

Speaker 1: 03:22 How has this point in time count helped with the region's response to the Corona virus outbreak?

Speaker 2: 03:27 Great question. So while we were continuing to make sure that we were deduplicating and totally understanding the data before this week's release, we actually have been using some of the information already to identify individuals who were of frail health or older age that might be able to come into some of the motel units that the County had provided to the RT FH to protect them from Kobe. We wanted to make sure that we knew about densities of encampments or other hard to reach areas. So when our outreach professionals are out there trying to tell people what the challenges and the dangers of Corona virus were and that they really should want to come in and seek shelter and some of the services, we were able to have GIS mapping to be able to tell our outreach teams where to go and have maximum impact with every day that they were out there. So yes, so the data is very helpful for both understanding individuals but also maximizing our resources and our outreach.

Speaker 1: 04:23 Now there are about a thousand homeless individuals at the convention center now and most of those individuals were moved from shelters like the bridge shelters where social distancing was impossible to homeless individuals staying at the convention center who were asymptomatic, tested positive for covert 19. Will everyone at the convention center be tested for Covin?

Speaker 2: 04:45 Yes. So the team that is really responsible, the collaboration's responsible between the County and the city, uh, our housing commission and the [inaudible] really guiding a lot of the day to day operations and, and protocols there does want to see everybody tested there. And so, uh, we want to make sure that we are using um, uh, testing and tracing and tracking methods, uh, for this population to keep everybody safe. And if retesting is necessary as well, we'll certainly make ourselves, um, uh, able to do that too.

Speaker 1: 05:16 Conversations are underway about how and when to reopen the economy, lift, stay at home orders, what will happen to the homeless individuals in the convention center. Once the convention center returns to business as usual, we'll our housing

Speaker 2: 05:31 commission and our city staff and everybody else on the site are already underway to try to, to know that we need to really ramp up our housing connection and, and efforts, uh, to get more people that are there through the pipeline faster and connected with a known housing opportunities. At the same time we are using, uh, the chances of having maybe some new motel, a acquisition that housing commission is looking at some potentially I'm interested properties right now that are distressed and are willing to sell at a, at a good deal, um, to be able to expand the total capacities

Speaker 1: 06:05 given that we are in a pandemic now. And the unemployment rate is rising. Is it possible that this crisis is actually going to increase San Diego's homelessness problem?

Speaker 2: 06:17 Thank you. It's a, it's a very, very salient point. Um, homelessness is as if root cause economic where people are not making enough to make ends meet. Um, or costs got too high and uh, on their, on their, on their lowest low salary and they were pushed into homelessness. That's how most people, uh, sadly begin a state of homelessness. So we have been very diligent as the city council, uh, to make sure that we were protecting individuals from evictions and really putting a pause that we were not introducing more individuals into a state of homelessness. We are obviously, you're going to have continued pressures as you mentioned, with, uh, economic challenges going on to be able to make sure that people can stay housed. Uh, I'm interested in a, uh, housing preservation study to make sure that the housing commission was able to do recently and will soon be presenting to the city council, uh, about longterm strategies to increase both our, uh, D restricted and naturally affordable housing, uh, supplies. So that we can actually keep a stock reserve and able and accessible to low income individuals and families. Um, so that is definitely something that I'm mindful of and we need to monitor closely so that more people do not fall into homelessness and that we have rapid response and, and diversion programs that are healthy enough to meet that population's needs.

Speaker 1: 07:35 I've been speaking with San Diego city council member Chris ward, and thank you so much for your time. Thank you. Maureen.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.