San Diego City, County Team Up On Latest Homeless Initiative
Speaker 1: 00:00 For a short time last year, it was thought that the effort to protect homeless San Diego from COVID-19 would have long-term effects on solving the region's homeless crisis. That does not seem to be the case. According to the downtown San Diego partnership, the number of homeless people living on the streets and downtown and surrounding areas has increased dramatically with hundreds of tents set up across the area. A joint city county outreach effort is set to begin next week, which will include the reopening of some city funded shelter beds closed during the pandemic. And joining me is San Diego county supervisor Nathan Fletcher, supervisor Fletcher. Welcome. Thank you for having, what is your understanding about why there's been such an increase in homelessness in recent months? Well, Speaker 2: 00:48 Homelessness is a multifactorial faceted really com complex issue that at its root Maureen really is about poverty. Uh, ultimately people don't make enough money to be able to afford to live. And then it is compounded by issues of substance abuse, uh, of mental illness of trauma. And it really requires a multifaceted approach. And there's no just easy, just do this one thing and it all goes away. It takes really intentional, dedicated effort, uh, over a sustained amount of time to, to see progress. And it, it is very challenging is Speaker 1: 01:20 The increase in people living on the streets due to people who are newly homeless, or is it, uh, that we're not helping people who are chronically homeless? I Speaker 2: 01:29 Think it's both. Uh, you know, I think it's both the old adage of, you know, in social services is, you know, if you stop someone who's heading into the river, when they're ankle deep, then you don't have to save them from drowning. And I don't think we do enough of that preventive work. Um, but I also think that we have decades on end of not treating mental health and substance abuse in the way it ought to be treated. Uh, I think we have a multi-decade failed war on drugs and at its underlying point, we still have significant issues of poverty that while you may have a raging stock market and creating more millionaires and billionaires, your average person out there working, uh, is, is barely making enough to make ends meet because wages remain very low. And, and I think all of these worlds together to do a situation we face today that compels us to act and really compels us to try to do things differently than just the way they've always been done in the past. Uh, and that's what we're really trying to do is recognize the severity of the situation, the impact on the lives of those who are in shelters, but also the impact on our neighborhoods and our small businesses, uh, and our residents, uh, to, to really try and try and significantly improve the situation. What Speaker 1: 02:36 Is this new outreach approach that the city and county is going to launch next week? Well, Speaker 2: 02:41 There's two parts to it. The first part is the immediate next week, which is we're going to have increased shelter capacity, uh, because a lot of the shelters, pretty much all of them operated under physical distancing or social distancing rules of COVID. Those roles have now been lifted, which gives us increased capacity. But in order to fill that capacity, you've got to have dedicated, uh, outreach workers to really blanket an area, offer services, engage with individuals and get them comfortable moving in. And that's the immediate step one, uh, that, that is, that is going to be taking place here in gym. Step two is a program we're launching, uh, again, the county funded, but in partnership with the city, but also doing it county-wide, which will launch in August. And that'll be what we call our C heart team, our community harm reduction teams. These are uniquely trained outreach workers, particularly to reach those with the most chronic substance abuse and mental health issues and engage them in a unique way. Speaker 2: 03:33 And for a lot of those books, there is nowhere for them to go because of the condition they're in and we will be opening new, safe Haven locations that will give them an open door, no questions asked let's facilitate getting them indoors and build that trust and then get them connected with some of the services they need in that program. We'll launch in August. That is a change from, from what is historically been done. Um, but again, focused on those most difficult cases. And we hope the combination of both of these plus everything else we're doing, uh, can, can begin to yield some positive results, Speaker 1: 04:08 Talking about the teams that will be reaching out and providing services to people who have chronic substance use issues, um, who will be on those teams. What types of services are they going to be offered? Well, it's Speaker 2: 04:21 Really going to be a team effort. They're going to have peer support individuals with lived experience. That's very vital for someone to say, Hey, I've been in your path and you've got to trust me. It gets better going include substance use counselors that are really designed to walk people through, you know, kind of this stages of coming to terms with the addiction and the options available to you. Uh, mental health clinicians, along with psychiatric consultation with nurse practitioners, it really is a team effort. You know, some of these individuals, Maureen are 10, 15, 20 plus years, uh, into addiction and mental illness. And, and it, it, it takes a considerable engagement. And, you know, as a county, we just wiped away decades of failed approaches to substance abuse. We just adopted things like embracing syringe services, uh, Naloxone harm reduction strategies. Uh, and it really does take a different approach, uh, with these folks, one of compassion and empathy, uh, and one of opening a door and building trust to just facilitate, Hey, let's get you in a better place. And then let's work on a long-term path, uh, to try and get you well. But these are very challenging cases. They are very, very, very hard and difficult Speaker 1: 05:29 People. If they don't agree to stop drinking or stop using drugs, there are virtually no shelters available to them. Now, how would that change under this new outreach? Well, Speaker 2: 05:38 That's right. I mean, right now most shelters and housing options for, for the unsheltered require you to be sober or actively committed to sobriety. That's obviously a preference, but for a lot of individuals, that's not a reality. You've got to build trust. Um, and so we've got to look for creative ways to get people off the streets and into shelters, um, in order to facilitate a pathway to recovery, when someone's suffering with addiction and mental health issues, you know, the standard promise of a hot meal, a Cod, a roof over their head that may not be appealing enough. And if we're being honest, some of these individuals just don't have that level of trust. And so a safe Haven will simply provide you a housing and shelter and opportunity with no questions asked, it's going to be unconditional. It's going to be non-judgemental. But we also know based on evidence, it is the key to unlocking rusty and getting people on a pathway to recovery. And so sometimes we have to do things that may be a little controversial or a little unconventional in order to get an outcome different than what we've been doing urine in your out. As Speaker 1: 06:40 I understand it, police officers will be involved in the first phase of this outreach effort. Are you concerned that it may put people off and prevent people from engaging? Speaker 2: 06:50 Oh, that is a concern that that's a very valid and legitimate concern. Um, you know, a lot of these individuals have been justice involved in the past and just the presence of law enforcement, not law enforcement, not doing anything wrong at all, but their presence, uh, can escalate the situation and create some trust issues. Um, and so that's why as a county we've really moved now more than $20 million to build out our mobile crisis response teams. These will be coming online late summer, uh, countywide, and we think this can help and assist. Um, you know, I think generally the, the, the best engagement is going to be those, those lived experienced peer support specialists to kind of work with these individuals, build some trust, engage with them and try and get them into help and services. I think that's the probably preferable path. Speaker 1: 07:33 The fundamental problem San Diego has with homelessness is there are not enough low income housing units for people to live in. Where will that resource come from? Well, I think Speaker 2: 07:44 It's twofold. I think you're right there. There's not enough, uh, affordable housing that's out there. Uh, you know, I'm moving, I've got hundreds, if not thousands of units that are under construction in my district, taking county owned land and building a hundred percent affordable projects. But the other problem that we still face Maureen is, you know, I see this, my wife and I and our family. We live in city Heights. You know, if I go for a run in the morning and I see people who live in their car, and these are folks who work full-time. And so we have two problems and that people who work full-time still do not make enough money. We have not seen a wages track with the stock market and track with, you know, income, inequality, and differences. And so increase in wages will help deal with half of the problem. The other part of the problem is ensuring that that rent remains affordable and there's affordable housing options. And I think we have to push on both of those recognizing again, that homelessness at its root is about poverty. Uh, and, and if we tackle poverty, uh, then we can begin to see some structural change as opposed to just back-filling that, that, that poverty with helping assistance to bridge it over. And so I think we, we have to really keep pushing on the issue of surrounding wages and pushing on issues surrounding affordability of housing. Okay. Speaker 1: 08:54 Then I've been speaking San Diego county supervisor, Nathan Fletcher, always. Thank you. So thank you, Maureen.