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Unsheltered: Solving homelessness in San Diego

 April 25, 2022 at 1:38 PM PDT

S1: A conversation about one of San Diego's most pressing problems.
S2: All homelessness means is you've lost housing. We need to talk about our challenges as a society.
S1: I'm Maureen CAVANAUGH. This is KPBS Midday Edition. We're presenting the latest KPBS community conversation featuring experts , advocates and people with lived experience of homelessness.
S3: It's really changing the stereotypes and stigmas related to our brothers and sisters under this banner of homelessness. Because you're just folks and sometimes we take the humanity out of the conversation.
S1: Join us for an hour long special conversation unsheltered solving homelessness in San Diego. That's ahead on Midday Edition. As San Diego continues to grapple with how to connect its unsheltered population with services and housing , complex questions have to be asked. What role should conservatorship laws play in helping the hardest to reach homeless individuals ? What are the best strategies for reducing the number of people living on the street ? How can you find permanent housing for so many people in one of the least affordable places in the country ? KPBS posed these questions and more to a number of experts on the issue last week in a community forum called Unsheltered Solving Homelessness in San Diego. KPBS metro reporter Andrew Bowen and guests discuss the state of homelessness in the region and what has to be done to make a difference for so many in need. Joining the panel discussion are Lisa Jones , executive vice president of the San Diego Housing Commission , which oversees homeless services and affordable housing for the city of San Diego. Bob McElroy , founder and CEO of Alpha Project , a nonprofit service provider that operates both temporary shelters and affordable and permanent supportive housing. Tamara Koehler , CEO of the Regional Task Force on the Homeless , a countywide agency that distributes state and federal resources and collects data on homelessness. And Jesse Gray , a veteran who experienced homelessness and has since become an advocate for the unsheltered. Andrew Bowe and started the conversation by playing a now viral video clip of city workers discarding bicycles from a homeless encampment into the back of a trash truck. Formerly homeless veteran Jesse Gray shared his reaction to the video.
S4: What I see there is maybe there was one or two bikes I was outside of that frame that were inoperable , and they kind of use that as blanket justification for depriving these people of things they may have needed to continue out there. It's a little frustrating to see that.
S5: Tamara , we know that San Diego has increasingly relied on police and the enforcement of encroachment laws and abandoned property laws to manage homelessness. They say , of course , they're responding to illegal activity or maybe complaints about encampments. But we also know that enforcement of crimes related to homelessness can trap people in this death spiral of increasing fines. And enforcement also isn't cheap. Officers are often earning overtime while they're doing this work.
S2: We really have a strong process and practice around addressing our unsheltered population that really should lead with our outreach teams and strong engagement. Really having our officers respond when there is a call of need or a crime that is happening is the best use of law enforcement and a community. We've worked really hard to have outreach at the front lines of this work and there's actually some strong practices and policies around engagement , around when an encampment may need to be moved for hygiene or cleaning or even abatement to protect personal property. So I think , you know , we we have some strong practices in this community that we should adhere to and follow that are understood by individuals experiencing homelessness as well.
S5: Bob , you also experienced homelessness at a time in your life. I'm wondering if you have any thoughts as you watch that video.
S3: Well , I was bummed out because I recognize some of those bikes. You know , we had our bikes all the time. We have donors that come down the shelters. And , you know , that's that's one of the only modes of transportation. All our folks have to go back and forth to work on those things. On the other hand , there's other folks that have stolen property. So , you know , enforcement is a dicey issue. You know , I'm pro enforcement in certain instances. You know , certain cases. We're doing 50 Narcan interventions every two weeks. You know , we jump in my outreach to jump out and somebody is blue in a tent. We pull them out and shove Narcan up and bring them back to life. I see little kids walk into Perkins and Monarch School walking in the street because the sidewalks are blocked by tents. So the reality is there's got to be a place for everybody to go. You can't enforce encroachment of the things unless there's an opportunity for somebody to have an alternative to being homeless. And until we get to that point , you know , it's continue to be the way it is.
S5: Shelters like the ones that you operate provide people a place to not just to sleep , but also to store their belongings. And the city also has a storage facility to keep their stuff.
S3: But I've never seen a concentration of folks in my 35 years that I see today. I mean , there's folks everywhere. So it's telling me that we certainly need more of the first , you know , first step in recovery are the shelters. And then through those shelter , those people into , you know , the housing and jobs and other other forms of of treatment and service. But I drive the streets every day and I've talked to people over day. And I'm you know , for the first time in my 35 years , I don't know what to do. We just don't have a place for everybody. And then we have to have people that are also willing to take the services that we offer , you know , and that's that's the biggest challenge right now. You'll see these outreach teams that go out and make two or 300 contacts and 15 people take them up on the offer for help. So we really I think all of the stakeholders in this need to sit around a table instead of just talking and having endless meetings to actually come up with a comprehensive plan that we are working with some of the housing commission for sure.
S5: I think Tamara alluded to the city cannot issue a citation for somebody who is maybe blocking a sidewalk or hasn't complied with an order to move their property only if there is a shelter bed available for them.
S2: The Housing Commission runs coordinated intake for every city funded shelter across the system and actually a few shelters that participate that the city doesn't fund. As an example , there were 71 beds available for single adults this morning. As of this morning , we actually collect that data on a daily basis so that we also collect data on what type of shelter bed is available because people have different needs. And so that sometimes is that sometimes is a challenge. We may have shelter beds available , but we don't have a shelter bed available that meets someone's specific needs , which is why continued investment that you're seeing with the new women's shelter that came online recently , with the new shelter that is coming online in the coming months , is is trying to create , I would call it , a continuum of interventions , because for the first thing , people have different needs. They also have different preferences. Right ? So we need to understand that choice in those options is really critical. Someone who may not get engaged in this type of environment might engage in another. And really looking at building out a continuum of interventions to meet unique needs is going to help people make that choice.
S5: San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria just released his proposed budget.
S2: The harm reduction shelter that you saw come up last December , which is continuing funding obviously into this next fiscal year. The new structure that chair of the County Board of Supervisors , Nathan Fletcher , mentioned at his state of the county address. I can't speak too much to that , but we're looking up to another hundred and 50 beds there. The women's shelter , which is a great new project because it meets folks needs with folks with higher needs , right. With mobility issues , higher mental health or behavioral health issues. So really trying to plug the gaps in some of the existing system. So those crisis intervention , harm reduction , safe haven is another project we're working on with the county through city and county funding , really to do a better job of meeting some of those more , those greatest challenges. You know , speaking to what we've heard some folks share about the concerns around fentanyl and and substance abuse.
S4: When funds got really tight , I just had the money for the gas in the vehicle and I was showering at different gyms around the city. I never went to a shelter and it's kind of for the reason why at least said mention of just that situation was not going to help me get back on my feet like I wanted to. The density was the density was a mess. And the staffing , they looked like they were stressed and not knowledgeable. So that wasn't something I wanted to turn to. So it was mostly in my vehicle. And it's a it was a traumatic time. But being a veteran , I was leaning on some of that resourcefulness at the time. And then also , Lisa , you were speaking about bridging the gaps. What I found even here when I was looking for houses is finding that in. There's tons of resources in the city and I'm really thankful for that here , especially compared to San Francisco. But finding where they were was amazing. So having it is one thing , but getting that information out is another.
S5: What kind of shelter would have been a place that you could have seen yourself actually turning to or feeling safe and comfortable going to , you know , on those nights when maybe you didn't feel like you could sleep in your car or you , for whatever reason , you couldn't do that.
S4: I was in and out of jail briefly back in 2018 , and to me the shelters looked no different. The quality was being humanizing. So just something that makes the people feel like they're still human.
S3: Ladies , dumpster over panhandler. You know , we dehumanized people with labels and the shelters have been the same way. We don't call our shelters shelters. We call them communities. In fact , we've had many , many people and Lisa can attest to this have the mass , the housing. They can actually move out. We have a place to go. They don't want to go because all their friends are at the shelter. We try and make it as accommodating as possible. Yeah , it's tough. You know , we are 28 inches , you know , away from each other. And it's amazing to me. It's really a testament to the folks that we have them in our facilities , that they can live in a communal setting like that , but we make it as comfortable as possible , as accommodating and humane as possible. When we tell people , when they come through the gate , you're no longer homeless. Your mom , dad , brother , sister , grandma , grandpa , really ? We're run by the by the folks that live there. They have a vested interest in making that making our facilities as accommodating and as safe and pleasant as possible. So I invite people to come down and actually see what we do. I can't speak to other facilities , but , you know , we have 20 folks a day that go out in the community on wheels of change and cleanup. We started in just an East Village , but they they they go for 4 hours and they have a they have a two hour commitment to being a social worker and mentoring their brothers and sisters that they've camped with for 20 plus years. They brought many people who are shelter resistance in the facilities. And they just we're trying to change the negative perception of what homeless folks are. They're just like everybody else. And so our really our philosophy is bringing the humanity back to folks. There's no humanity living on the street , believe me. People are pushed from one corner the other. And we know all the the issues that are out there. And I'm not speaking to the 15% or more of the population that are severely mentally ill , that can't access any facility simply because of their mental health challenges. I mean , that's just despicable. I felt like John the Baptist , the one crying in the wilderness for 35 years to do something for these folks because they're there for no choice of their own. And and I'm hearing now maybe from the state that we are going to start addressing that issue.
S5: Lisa , I'm thinking back to 2017 when the hepatitis A outbreak tore through the homeless community in San Diego , and that was when the then mayor , Kevin Faulconer , created the bridge shelters , which the Housing Commission oversees. And they were meant to be a temporary place for people to stay while they waited for permanent housing. What I was thinking at the time this was being announced is , you know , we don't have hundreds or thousands of vacant , affordable housing units that all of our unsheltered population is. You know , all they need is to be connected with the services. They actually don't have that housing because it doesn't exist.
S2: And I remember in spring of 2018 , I was trying to if you go back and look at city council recordings , trying to explain that the premise of assuming everybody's going to exit to permanent housing was a little lacking , right ? And we needed to really think about what that means. And we have really gone towards a housing focused case management that looks at any opportunity to exit to longer term or more permanent housing , because not everybody is going to exit with a housing subsidy. We do not have those types of resources in our community , even with the additional resources that have come because of the impact of the pandemic. We can't , as many people say , necessarily build our way out of this. And a lot of folks can action other options. Some folks actually need independent living care. Some folks can reunify with families. Some folks can end up in shared housing when they're going through job fairs and they have the ability to work. Right. You want to align the housing resource with that person's individual needs and they not everyone needs. The same things and we don't have enough resources to go around. So what we don't want to do is create an environment and an approach that we're just waiting for housing to happen. We have to have conversations between case managers , between people who are ready to move forward about what the variety of those interventions , those opportunities can be. So to talk about sort of positive exits , we look at positive exits when we see someone exiting to transitional housing , someone exiting two adult independent living care , nursing home , shared housing , family reunification , permanent supportive housing , which is that deep subsidy and ongoing case management and wraparound services , rapid rehousing , which is , you know , anywhere between 6 to 24 months of housing subsidy and services. I think that that's critically important to align the resource with that person's needs and not set an expectation that everybody's going to exit with a permanent supportive housing voucher because they're not right. So on average , anywhere between 25 to 30% exits to permanent supportive housing and long term housing , then , of course , we have a small percentage in our shelters where people sort of turn over again and again. People come in seven or eight times in a four month period getting some basic needs rent and exiting back out again. And oftentimes that is really paired with co-occurring conditions , whether it's substance use disorder or behavioral health issues. So having additional resources coming into our system and into our shelters that have those behavioral health assessments , those substance use resources connected to them , like the harm reduction shelter is really important to figure out a way to better engage with those folks when they're in shelter , to try to create an environment that feels stabilized , that feels like there's opportunities so that we slow down that turnover and provide stabilization opportunities for folks.
S1: Coming up , the KPBS Community Forum on Solving Homelessness continues with a firsthand story of how one formerly unhoused veteran made his journey out of homelessness. You're listening to KPBS Midday Edition. This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen CAVANAUGH. Our discussion about solutions for the unhoused living in the region continues in the KPBS Community Forum. Unsheltered. Solving Homelessness in San Diego. KPBS reporter Andrew Bowen is joined in this discussion by Lisa Jones , executive vice president of the San Diego Housing Commission. Bob McElroy , founder and CEO of Alpha Project. Tamara Koehler , CEO of the Regional Task Force on the Homeless. And Jesse Gray , a formerly homeless veteran. In this part of the discussion , Andrew asks panelist Jesse Gray how he was able to exit out of homelessness and how that experience led him to become an advocate for those in a similar situation.
S4: Going back to what I was saying about how I was applying for housing here in San Diego and exploring all the different resources. I also was reaching out to the different churches in the city and making notes of the issues I was running into when I was reaching out to different numbers. And there is an advocate that's a member of Uplift , a monica ball , and she said that there was a group of people that addresses issues like that. She referred me to John Brady , the director of Lived Experience Advisors , where they are , as everybody on this line knows , is a group of people that have experienced homelessness and also provide input into the system at different processes. For instance , on Monday we were at City Hall when the budget was gone , being gone over. So I see that it's a catalyst for change and I want to help make a change and help people kind of avoid the issues and the hang ups that I ran into.
S4: But because of my accounts going to collections for San Francisco 2018 , I wasn't going to get approved for housing without assistance. So the fact that I was a veteran helped in that process , but without a voucher or something of the equivalent , landlords aren't going to really work with me. And there was a gap with that. The communication between the people that have the houses and the programs that will provide support is there's a disconnect there. So and then some of the shelters like Vista and San Diego , the quality was not going to be conducive to help me continue moving forward. Waitlists. Some of the waitlists that I heard were out to half a decade , so I was on a tight timeline to avoid being back out on the street. There's a 28 day legal limit in the hotel , and I still remember what it was like in San Francisco , and I know that I didn't want to repeat those issues. The stability was what it was when I was looking for it , and that led me to lived experience advisory. Since then , I've joined a run residence United Network , and they just had a bill passed through housing this morning that would kind of consolidate a place for people to apply for assistance , not have to drive all over the city or try and coordinate with all these different schedules.
S5: Tamara We know that permanent supportive housing is really the gold standard for ending chronic homelessness , especially for people with underlying issues like disabilities , addiction , mental illness.
S2: It's really for those chronic high needs that need the level of support. I think Jesse's experience is really a clear picture of not everyone experiencing homelessness. Looks like we think they do or having the challenges that we expect there. It is a really complex and diverse population. So the permanent supportive housing is a little bit higher need and needs that level of support from behavioral health tenant supports and many of those need a level of housing vouchers as well. And I think , Lisa , what did we say about 10,000 units or that were needed long , long term ? And I think that's been right , not just permanent supportive housing. So it looked at affordable housing , permanent supportive housing , rapid rehousing , prevention , diversion , and it ended up being 1.9 billion over dollars dollar investment over ten years. This modeling was done , though , in 2019. Right. A lot has changed since then. Our rental market itself has really seen big increases just over the last several months. And we know that as we get data from the point in time count that Tamara was just , you know , is coming out of leads and some of the other homeless inventory count data that we will probably be doing a record. Celebration of those community action plan goals and and numbers.
S5: Bob Alpha Project owns affordable housing and operates affordable housing. Those units that you know can solve homelessness for someone who is simply poor or too poor to afford housing.
S3: Number two , we don't have workforce housing for , you know , the working folks , you know , teachers and cops and stuff throughout the county. And then it's cost , you know , it's gone. When we start , I think we built out the square. We were about $250,000 per unit. I think it's over $400,000 a unit now for a 360 square foot SRO type type housing or unit. And I mean , it's just that the costs have gone through the roof with the only way we can do this is through tax credits. And tax credits are competitive and , you know , throughout the state and throughout the country. And so from my experience , we're trying to do two and 73 units downtown right now , and it takes 5 to 7 years , you know , from the time you start this process to build the units , you know , Father , Father Joe is going to just open their their their place. And and we all the providers , we have 28 people and 28 days or something like that. And , you know , we set them up right away and but we still got , you know , 6000 people waiting to get into units. And so , you know , housing first , you know , we we agree with it. We practice it. But it's just one piece of a huge puzzle. And , you know , we've got to address all aspects that we've got to. Like I said this I hate to be the fly in the ointment all the time , but we're never going to build our way out of this , even under the best scenario. I think you you asked Andrew if we if if we could do we could have all the money in the world to do it. It's a tough , tough challenge to do. And then also having communities that believe that , you know , low income housing is not going to be a blight on the landscape and we're going to bring crime to the neighborhood and all the stereotypes. You know , if you do anything , I've been burned in effigy , you know , hundreds of times over the decades. You know , we're trying to do we want to do a facility in some of these neighborhoods. We've made a commitment to every neighborhood that we're in is going to be better off because we're there. But that's not always the case provider. So it's really changing the stereotypes and the stigmas related to our brothers and sisters. You know , I hate labeling people under this banner of homelessness. I mean , like , you're just folks and sometimes we take the humanity out of the conversation.
S5: Lisa , you mentioned earlier the Community Action Plan on homelessness approved in by the city of San Diego in 2019. It's a ten year plan and it laid out a number of goals with getting more shelter beds , more permanent housing.
S2: And in some areas , we're seeing challenges. Not surprising. Right. But one of the things that we're looking at right now is waiting for the 20 , 22 point in time count data to come out. So we actually have posted on our website and our dashboards that report out on how we're doing against the goals that were identified in the Community Action Plan.
S5: Bob , you recently co-authored an op ed in Voice of San Diego that says the city needs to increase funding for service providers so that you can raise the wages of the social workers who actually do the outreach to reach out to homeless individuals. These are , of course , very difficult jobs. Of course , there's a very high rate of burnout.
S3: All of our staff were there 24 seven , 365. And , you know , our frontline folks , you know , they they they all got sick. They all got vaccinated. But they still got sick. They took the virus. Their families got sick. In some cases , their grandparents got six. In some cases they passed away , but they showed up for work every day. And I think our work on between 19 and 23 bucks an hour for our frontline staff , our case managers , our security , our outreach folks. And , you know , that's unfortunately , you know , 20 some bucks an hour or 25 bucks an hour , 30 bucks an hour as a living wage in San Diego anymore. And yet our folks just keep showing up. We've been very blessed on the other side of the house. Certainly we saw that at the convention center. We had 700 people , residents on our side of the building. They were there every day. And I just can't say enough for our folks that could have quit. They could have stayed home and sequestered like everybody else , but they just kind of kept coming to work and they deserve to be compensated for that. Nobody complains. They just do their job day in and day out. And so the other agencies are feeling the same way and we can't find we have probably 20 or 30 openings that I'll find. No other agencies are the same way. We can't , you know , we try and get college kids to come down and they come down in 5 minutes and turn burned. They scream , they want to be there and they go out the door. I mean , it's. Tough field. I mean , we're dealing with with human beings and conflicted human beings and folks in need. And our staff , our folks , and they do. And they face the same housing challenges as everyone does.
S2: A lot of the funding that has come through in the past has been fixed funding. So the needs increase and the cost of living increases , but the funding doesn't. So this is a conversation we've been having with policymakers over the past several years. Last late last year into the spring , we developed a new scope of work with a consultant to work with us , to really look at benchmarking compensation , but not just benchmarking ourselves against ourselves , not social service , against social service sector. Looking at this social service sector against other social service sectors across the country in high cost , high need areas. Also looking at emergency responders , how are emergency responders and public safety staff being compensated compared to the work that some of the shelter and outreach teams are doing every day , which are also responding to people's crisis , trying to be an intervention and a support , trying to bring compassion to the work. How are we benchmarking against those types of positions ? Because that's who we're competing with. Right. So we really need to look at when frontline staff are making 20 to $22 an hour and you can make that at Starbucks. Are we really going to get the people that we need that are compassionate , that provide the expectations that Jesse would have of a case manager or a service provider or an outreach worker to be present , be compassionate , not be stressed , and be something that is a help rather than another barrier that you feel like you can't connect with. We need to we need to compensate people appropriately. So we're working through this consultant right now , having conversations with cities , very interested in this work and is very keen to look at what these needs are. And we're very supportive of these conversations.
S5: Jessie , can you share with us some of your interactions or experiences with outreach workers or social workers ? It sounds like once you got to San Diego. Having one consistent person who you were able to contact and interface with was really helpful. But in your past experience , did you you know , was it was it you were always being passed from one caseworker to another.
S4: So San Francisco , I can't I couldn't even find help out there and out here. I haven't had one consistent person to have contact with. Even on the veterans arm , the turnover is still ridiculous. In the four months I've been here , there's already been five caseworkers for the veterans case that I had , so I still see that. And then on the topic of compensation , I'm in three advocacy groups run and they drafted a bill that went all the way to the House , but there no compensation for that and uplift. That's on a volunteer basis. But I'll be working with the client in the coming weeks , so I'm thankful again for lived experience advisors because they do pay me for my time and they treat this as it's a career. It's part of the reason why I'm even able to be here today to share my experience because of the compensation there. But it's not it's not really as big , ubiquitous as you would think it would be , because these people are where the rubber meets the road. And like Bob said , it's it's rough out there.
S5: And I imagine it's really important to have one person , you know , who can actually gain someone's trust rather than , you know , if somebody has been burned over and over again by a social worker who just didn't come through , or maybe it wasn't their fault , but they were put on a wait list. And , you know , I. I can imagine tell me if I'm right that , you know , being able to build trust and a rapport between a service provider , outreach worker and a person who's experiencing homelessness is really important.
S3: That's key. That's key. It's taking time. And that's the beauty of our facilities is because it takes time. People have to they have been burned so many times by other programs or other workers and stuff. They're just another grain of sand on the beach. And the beauty of our facilities , you know , 90% of my folks have lived experiences. All of our all of our 300 plus employees , 90% of those folks all have lived experiences. And and so they relate to our folks. But it takes time , especially when the folks that we deal with have never have all of their trust has been burned on them a million times. And for them to see consistency is the key consistency. If you say you're going to do something , do it and build those relationships. And that's that's the key to happen. And that's. With their families and a life in general. You know , how many people can you say that you trust ? And so that that was why I was so proud of our folks to continue showing up because they weren't going to leave their people there. Everybody has a team that they work with as residents and they weren't going to leave them there by themselves.
S1: Still ahead , the conclusion of the KPBS Community Forum on Unsheltered Solving Homelessness in San Diego. You're listening to KPBS Midday Edition. This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen CAVANAUGH.
S3: You know , I'm in the emergency room that 15% of the population or more that I talked about who are simply homeless because they're trapped in their mental illness , their primary care physician is the emergency room and they go in there and get stabilized and then they're back on the street and they're just it's day in and day out. I've got here's something that broke my heart years ago. I had actually a couple of ladies tell me that they called when they all got their cell phones , they would call the paramedics. And I said , why what ? Why did you call my producer ? Because they acknowledge I'm a human being and they're nice to me. And the people in emergency room are nice to me. And , you know , remember , we're on the streets most of the time. We're by ourselves and we're alone. That's why we had so many people turn down their housing vouchers because they don't want to be alone again. They want fellowship. But when you see the streets , you walk the streets of Hillcrest specifically. I mean , it's it's it's tragic. We have people are walking biohazards. We had a young man the other day come up to our office seeking some help , obviously , and in stress. And we gave him some water and we tried to have one on the way for our outreach team to come. And he walked down the the landing to the stairs and defecated all over himself. And then he continued to walk down the sidewalk and didn't want to talk to anybody anymore. But he was like that all day. Now , he you didn't sign up for that. He's a human being. And yet we don't have facilities for these folks. And that's that's the tragedy. That's the heartbreak that we see every day. I just had a guy die yesterday on the streets out in front of the Apple Square. So this is the stuff that we see every day. This is not unique to us , but it's tragic. And somebody needs somebody needs to listen to the frontline folks and say , enough , enough already.
S5: Governor Newsom , I think you alluded to this earlier on this program. Governor Gavin Newsom has a proposal to create care courts which would be set up in each county , and they would have the power to compel a person into mental health treatment and the county government would be required to pay for that treatment. But I want to share , as an advocate in this space , what your thoughts are on that proposal. Well.
S3: My experience over the you know , as crazy people , we don't think we're crazy. Right. It's getting folks to recognize the fact that they may have some challenges and and to have once again trust in somebody to get on the medications that they need and have a safe place to say to stay. That is that has wraparound services there. Assisted living facilities were not boarding pairs , but assisted living facilities where we've got clinicians there that deal specifically with mental health issues. Get people trusting you enough to get on the medications that they need so they can have some peace and dignity and quality of life. They get none of that by just allowing them to to die on the streets. So I'm I'm encouraged. I don't know if I'm enthusiastic because I haven't seen it yet. You know , people say a lot of things and do very little. I hope they do this.
S5: Here's another question from a listener Why not convert a commercial office property into a living space ? We should have plenty of empty commercial properties , maybe. Lisa , take this one on. Adaptive reuse of commercial buildings , I think is probably easier said than done in many cases. Have you or has the Housing Commission financed any of those types of projects ? And do we know have we learned any lessons.
S2: We haven't financed in that type of projects specifically ? Certainly that's a conversation that's happening locally and nationally because of the changes in sort of remote working. There are challenges building infrastructures that are built for office use are not built for ongoing day to day use. So some of the infrastructure is around plumbing , sewer and and electrical are things to consider. And as so that that does create a challenge. Unfortunately in our in our particular community even acquisition and rehab is going upwards of 280000 to $400000 , you know , to sorry to $300,000 a unit and that briefly.
S5: So acquisition and rehab as you buy a market rate property , you rehabilitated or renovate it and then the rents low. Yes.
S2: And a market rate property that is likely already in somewhat type in sort of a model that would fit for that like long term resident and things of that nature. Commercial properties are real change. So if you're looking for non congregate living SRO type commercial could definitely be a challenge. But we have to look at everything. We have to be willing to look at every option.
S5: Another audience question here What are some examples of solutions for solving homelessness that are working in San Diego or in other parts of the state or in other states ? Best Practices , Models of success.
S2: One of the things when I referenced are bigger numbers of individuals experiencing homelessness. You're not seeing 30,000 people on the street. So our shelters are outreach teams , are housing programs , all are working. We just need a lot more of it and we need that community to embrace that. We're we're really housing individuals with complex needs , some of them , it's just financial. Some of it's , you know , additional supports that are needed. I think the things that we know work is housing ends , someone's homeless experience and so high cost , high needs. But that's really where we lean in and we're trying to do a better job of getting people quicker through our system to have those housing resources. And , you know , Lisa kind of touched on it. We need a myriad of housing options that meet their needs , everything from boarding care to permanent supportive housing. And that's really the work that we're doing. We're putting resources into all of those areas. We can't wait , as Bob said , to build our way out of it. So we're looking for not just property that we can do , but , you know , small apartments rehabbing some of. Those things as well. So I think it's a full court press on the funding that's available that that is coming to our community to try and get as many housing units as we possibly can to house people in all the different ways that they need. You know , some of them need to be housed with the person that they are comfortable with. They need a roommate , they need community. They need to be embraced by us in our community as we rehouse them. And they bring so much to us. And restoring the dignity and respect of San Diegans is a worthy cause.
S5: We're just about out of time , but I want to ask each of you the same question. I imagine a lot of people are listening and watching and are wondering what they can do to help this situation. What would you say to those folks who want to be a part of the solution to homelessness but just don't know what to do ? Bob , when we start with you.
S3: You know , I say pray for us , number one , but , you know , be more involved in any way you possibly can. I mean , volunteerism is great. We're seeing that come back to life now. We haven't been able to do that for two years. But , you know , you hear stereotypes about homeless folks come down to our facilities and meet our folks one on one. Hopefully we'll be able to get back to congregate meals at some point and have folks come down and serve meals. That's therapeutic for our residents to see somebody other than me and our folks down there to see the community does care. That's been a big that's been a big deal. But not having our volunteers show up and kids come down with socks and sock drives and stuff because it's really an affirmation that , you know , not everybody is against homeless people , that people come down here and spend their time with you and care. So hopefully here in the near future , we'll be able to re-engage with the folks in the community , come down and see what we do and be involved.
S5: Lisa Things folks can do to to help out if they don't know how.
S2: Humanize homelessness. All homelessness means is you've lost housing. We need to talk about our challenges as a society. Everybody knows someone or has had someone they know and love who has either experienced homelessness or experienced drug addiction , substance use disorders , behavioral health challenges. We need to start humanizing our challenges and we need to humanize this work. And part of humanizing it is saying , yes , in my neighborhood. Right ? All that means when you put affordable housing in in a neighborhood , is that it's housing people can afford. And we need a variety of housing resources. We need a variety of housing levels , whether it's middle income housing , affordable housing , permanent supportive housing support , housing in your neighborhood , then you won't have those homelessness challenges. Tamara I'm just going to say ditto to Bob and Lisa. I think , you know , volunteer , get to know the individuals that you have a great concern about. They will humanize it. Say yes to not only housing in your community , but in all communities. Right. It is important to have housing , workforce , housing , housing that someone on a fixed income with people with disabilities that have an income and can't afford it. So I would also say to landlords , you know , it is actually a great option to take someone who has a housing resource with the supports that they need. I think it's a yes , yes , yes. Say yes to solving homelessness by opening up employment , housing , volunteer this and be a part of the conversation. You know , we hear a lot from the no's. Those are the loudest voices in the room. I think a lot of people are more willing and more compassionate in San Diego than show up in our community meetings. So you need to show up and voice. You know that you're one that cares about your neighbors and cares about others. And if we're really honest , we're talking about people in our own families , in our own circles that have these same challenges. And I think we need to we need to just break down those barriers and acknowledge that we're you know , it's tough times and everyone's struggling.
S5: Jesse , I want to give you the last word here.
S4: Volunteering. Definitely. But also just small acts of kindness and compassion. If you encounter somebody that's going through a traumatic time , wherever they're at , just small acts that will help you remember they're still human and help them remember that they still matter. It's just those little acts of kindness that make all the difference , especially in my own experience and also in the age of the Internet. You can also reach out and support bills that will help the processes. Like , for instance , we're runda so you can even go online , reach out to the people that you vote for. That's easier now than it's ever been. So all different levels. You can do whatever works for that individual person.

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As San Diego grapples with how to connect its unsheltered population with services and housing, complex questions have to be asked: What role should conservatorship laws play in helping the hardest-to-reach homeless individuals? What are the best strategies for reducing the number of people living on the street and into housing? How can you find permanent housing for so many people in one of the least affordable places in the country? KPBS posed these questions and more to a panel of experts.