Virtual Mayoral Forum – Part 6: What About the Homeless in San Diego?

by on October 30, 2013 · 5 comments

in Editor's Picks, Politics, Voter Guide Special Election

Homeless-Veteran-Sign1

Welcome to Day 6 of the SDFP Virtual Mayoral Forum. (See Day 1, Asking about managed competition, here , Day 2, Looking back on the Plaza de Panama controversy, here, Day 3, The Building Permit Process is a Hot Mess and Plans for the Planning Department, here. Day 4.  Walkable/Bikeable Neighborhoods and Public Transit, here. Day 5, Fixing the Infrastructure, here.)

With input from our many contributors, editors put together a series of eight questions we felt were unique, not too open ended and not trite. We’re publishing one response from the candidates per day (Monday-Friday) so readers can see the verbatim responses side by side.

We emailed the questions to the addresses listed with the City Clerk’s office as contact points, knowing most of the minor candidates wouldn’t respond. Kevin Faulconer’s campaign is refusing to participate. We can only assume–and, believe me we’ve tried to get them involved– their non-response sends a message about their openness to the citizens in this city. You can decide what that message is.

The complete questionnaire can be found here.

SDFP editor Brent Beltrán provides insight into why we asked this question: What about the homeless in San Diego?

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ftr_muralHomelessness is an issue that impacts most communities in San Diego, some neighborhoods more than others. There are thousands of people living on the streets of San Diego. How does a city alleviate the issues that cause homelessness and lessen the negative impact homelessness has on certain communities?

San Diego neighborhoods such as Barrio Logan, East Village, Downtown, Ocean Beach and Pacific Beach are heavily impacted by the homeless population. The East Village and Barrio Logan share a disproportionate number of homeless shelters and organizations that provide services to them. Thus impacting these neighborhoods more than others. How does the city help distribute equally the necessary burden of caring for the homeless population so that communities such as Barrio Logan don’t bear the brunt of services and shelters?

There are a myriad of reasons why people end up on the streets: lack of economic opportunities, mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, abusive relationships, greed by banking and mortgage companies, among others. Dealing with these issues is at the root of helping lower the amount of homeless people on the streets.

In a society such as ours there will always be a certain segment of the population that is homeless. The issue is how do we lesson the amount of people living on the streets and the disproportionate impact those individuals, and the services provided to them, have on particular communities.

6.  Homelessness/ Community Impacts

The annual homeless census for 2012 estimates that there are 8,900 people sleeping in the streets or shelters in the County of San Diego. (Source: http://voiceofsandiego.org/2013/04/18/annual-homeless-census-shows-fewer-sleeping-on-streets/)  Close to two thirds of those people were counted in the City of San Diego.  A few of San Diego’s communities are disproportionately impacted by our inability to successfully address this issue.

What is your strategy to alleviate homelessness and the impact it has on specific communities?

Mike Aguirre______________________________

SDFP Aguirre  LogoMost communities plan how to manage homelessness – not how to end it. New data has shown that most localities could help homeless people much more effectively by changing the mix of assistance they provide. A first step in accomplishing this is to collect much better data at the local level. A second step is to create a planning process that focuses on the outcome of ending homelessness – and then brings to the table not just the homeless assistance providers, but the mainstream state and local agencies and organizations whose clients are homeless.
No matter how effective services are to help people leave homelessness, reducing homelessness or ending it completely requires stopping families and individuals from becoming homeless in the first place. Policies and activities capable of preventing new homeless cases, often described as “closing the front door” to homelessness, are as important to ending homelessness as services that help those who are already homeless to reenter housing.

Studies have identified five effective prevention activities that may be implemented at all levels of prevention: primary, secondary, and tertiary. These activities are most effective when used in combination as part of a coherent community-wide strategy.

1) Housing subsidies. Studies have documented the effectiveness of housing subsidies at keeping at least 80% of first-time homeless families housed for a minimum of two years. Furthermore, subsidizing housing costs for extremely low-income people has the strongest effect on lowering homelessness rates compared to several other interventions tested.

2) Supportive services coupled with permanent housing. For people with serious mental illness, with or without co-occurring substance abuse, permanent supportive housing works to prevent initial homelessness, to re-house people quickly if they become homeless, and to help chronically homeless people leave the streets

3) Mediation in Housing Courts. The effectiveness of mediation through Housing Courts shows an ability to preserve tenancy, even after the landlord has filed for eviction. Mediation preserved housing for up to 85% of people with serious mental illness facing eviction in the Western Massachusetts Tenancy Preservation Project and cut the proportion becoming homeless by at least one-third.

4) Cash assistance for rent or mortgage arrears. This commonly used primary prevention activity for households still in housing but threatened with housing loss can be effective, but the challenge is to administer it in a way that makes it well-targeted and, therefore, efficient. Two to five percent of families receiving assistance became homeless during the following year, which is an improvement over the 20% that might have become homeless when facing eviction without the intervention.

5) Rapid exit from shelter. A secondary prevention activity directed toward families just entering shelter ensures that they quickly leave shelter and stay housed thereafter. Using this strategy, Hennepin County, Minnesota halved the average length of shelter stay (from 60 to 30 days) and achieved an 88% success rate in keeping formerly homeless families from returning to shelter over the next year.

People who become homeless are overwhelmingly clients of public systems of care and assistance, including the mental health system, the public health system, the welfare system, and the veterans system, as well as the criminal justice and the child protective service systems – including foster care. The more effective the homeless assistance system is in caring for people, the less incentive other systems have to deal with the most troubled people – and the more incentive they have to shift the cost of serving them to the homeless assistance system.

This situation must be reversed. The flow of incentives can favor helping the people with the most complex problems. As in many other social areas, investment in prevention holds the promise of saving money on expensive systems of remedial care.

Most people who become homeless enter and exit homelessness relatively quickly. A much smaller group spends more time in the system. The latter group – the majority of who are chronically homeless and chronically ill – often live in the shelter system and are heavy users of other expensive public systems such as hospitals and jails. People should be helped to exit homelessness as quickly as possible through a housing first approach. For the chronically homeless, this means permanent supportive housing – a solution that will save money as it reduces the use of other public systems. For families and less disabled single adults, it means getting people very quickly into permanent housing and linking them with services. People should not spend years in homeless systems, either in a shelter or in transitional housing.

While the systems can be changed to prevent homelessness and shorten the experience of homelessness, ultimately people will continue to be threatened with instability until the supply of affordable housing is increased; incomes of the poor are adequate to pay for necessities such as food, shelter and health care; and disadvantaged people can receive the services they need. Attempts to change the homeless assistance system must take place with the context of larger efforts to help very poor people.

David Alvarez________________________________

SDFP Alvarez  LogoHomelessness is a complex issue that requires concerted efforts from the city, regional, state and federal levels to fully address over the long term. During my time on the City Council, San Diego has invested in a year-round homeless shelter and improved services to help the homeless transition safely and successfully off the streets over time. That’s an achievement, but it isn’t the whole story.

Ultimately, to address homelessness we must get more serious about addressing the many root causes of homelessness. We must improve mental health services, improve resources to help victims of domestic violence, we must invest in better transition support for veterans in our region, and we must ensure that there are enough quality jobs to keep people off the streets in the first place or help them get back on their feet when circumstances cause them to stumble. As our economy continues to recover, resources must be invested in these critical areas of prevention and alleviation.

What we can’t afford to do anymore is hope that the problem will go away simply because we ignore it. During my time on Council, we’ve made important strides to pushing this issue to the forefront. Our support of those who are struggling is at the core of our civic morality, and as mayor I will continue working with community groups and government stakeholders to improve wraparound support and prevention services.

Hud Collins__________________________________

SDFP Collins  LogoWithout money (finances & pension problem), then it’s all nonsense to discuss.

 

 

 

Nathan Fletcher______________________________

SDFP Fletcher LogoMore  than  half  of  San  Diego’s  street  homeless  are  chronically  homeless.  Many  of  these  individuals  are   older,  very  often  veterans,  and have  lived  on  the  street  for  a  year  or  longer  -­‐-­‐  sometimes  decades.  Very   frequently  they  have  substantial  health  problems,  addictions and/or  mental  illnesses.  San  Diego  is  not   effectively  addressing  chronic  homelessness  in  our  community.    “Winter  shelters”,  “emergency shelters”   and  “transitional  housing”  may  get  some  people  off  the  street  for  a  while,  but  are  not  effective  solutions   for  the  chronic homeless  in  our  community.

The  common  approach  of  denying  housing  to  people  until  they  “clean  up  their  problems”  is  not  helping   the thousands  of  chronically homeless  in  our  community.  This  problem  belongs  to  all  of  us.  Not  only  is  it   a  moral  imperative  to  do  our best to  help  the  many  ill people  who  live  on  the  streets,  it  also  burdens   taxpayers  with  added  costs  in  police,  court,  jail,  EMT  and emergency room  services.

Other  communities  across  the  nation  have  made  substantial  progress  in  reducing  the  number  of  chronic   homeless  through  a  “Housing First”  model,  where  the  chronically  homeless  are  first  housed  and  then   their  other  challenges  (e.g.,  physical  health,  mental  health, addictions,  employment,  basic  living  skills) are  addressed.    I  will  work  with  the  many  groups  that  work  with  the  homeless  to  explore  that  approach,   because  clearly,  the  current  model  is  not  working.

Kevin Faulconer___________________________

SDFP Faulconer Logo

 

SDFP Chair

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar bob dorn October 30, 2013 at 9:30 am

San Diego’s climate attracts local, national and international investors in housing, which drives sales and rental prices up. Our housing is famously expensive, and its costs are driving down the percentage of middle class ownership, and even sending former owners into homelessness. The same climate attracts incoming homeless; isn’t San Diego’s homeless population the fifth largest in the nation?
Tweaking the system will not change this dynamic. Real money will have to be spent on providing affordable housing and real money will have to be spent on creating jobs, else we are going to become a model of inequality on the scale previously evident in what used to be called The Third World.

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avatar Jack October 30, 2013 at 11:50 am

What a bunch of…rhetoric. In other words, none of you have a plan. That is all I need to know. It appears regardless of who of you is elected, it is going to remain up to the “us” who have been working directly with the houseless and near houseless to continue to work with one hand extended in an attempt to fund our endeavors to feed, clothe and house those who society has cast aside. In other words, the status will be quo.

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avatar John Lawrence October 30, 2013 at 7:30 pm

The root problem is not the lack of the house; it is usually something else like lack of a job (hence the inability to pay rent) or mental health problems including drug and alcohol addiction. There needs to be more social workers to evaluate the problem in each individual case and determine if the problem is primarily economic or primarily mental health related. In the former case it’s just a problem of helping with a job or with rent; in the latter I like Mike Aguirre’s solution of “supportive housing,” i.e. help with mental health problems including drug and alcohol addiction.

Providing shelters is just a short term solution. The city needs to make the resources available to provide long term solutions. Of course, this is the major problem. The city doesn’t want to allocate the necessary resources to solve the problem. In fact the resources allocated aren’t even sufficient to solve the short term problem. More social workers who specialize in helping homeless people would cost a ton of money. The Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) is a good first step in identifying the homeless as individuals with individual problems and finding help. It should be expanded.

As far as the impact on neighborhoods, the homeless could be dispersed out of downtown, but then additional resources would have to be provided like free bus passes, free safe and secure campgrounds, free tents, free bathroom, laundry and storage facilities and free meals. Right now the homeless have major problems finding a place to urinate and defecate and that impacts neighborhoods more than anything else. No one wants to walk down the street and step in a pile of shit.

Providing decent shower and laundry facilities would tend to ameliorate the disheveled appearances and body odor that identifies someone as homeless. Providing free storage lockers would tend to diminish shopping cart theft and the necessity to carry all their worldly belongings with them everywhere they go. Providing some simple public amenities would tend to make the homeless blend in with the rest of society like many of them strive to do and not to stick out like a sore thumb, and it wouldn’t really cost that much compared to all the porta-potties provided at most middle class events.

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avatar Susie October 30, 2013 at 10:12 pm

As usual, Kevin F. Is uninvolved & is just a Yes Man for all of the others that run the city and ran the city.
Be careful who you vote for, You just may get them!
Buyer. Beware.
No For Kevin Falconer. Not good for All of SD

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avatar Katydid October 31, 2013 at 10:13 am

There’s a movie called, “Lost Angels: Skid Row is my Home“.

Aid should always be available to those who will accept it. Some do not want help and do not want to live in a house and do not want a job. As a man in this movie says, “I’ll go in when I’m ready”. Meaning, be in a house instead of on the street. He says this about others on the street, that they are not ready to be inside.

Where is the line of forcing people off the street because you don’t want them to live like that?

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