Homeless Population Undercounted
By Katheryn Rhodes and John Lawrence
The 8700 people identified by the Point-In-Time-Count are not anywhere close to the total number of homeless people in San Diego City and County. They didn’t count all the people sleeping in their cars nor the many that are staying with friends or couch surfing. Nor did they count the many that sleep “off the beaten track” in the many hidden gullies and the river bed. Nor did it count all those who slept in places unlikely to be found by the volunteers who did the counting who, after all, could not be expected to expose themselves to dangerous situations and environments.
Jeeni Crescenzo has come up with a more accurate count by studying the data for homeless children that each school district is required to maintain by the McKinney-Vento Act. There are some 22,000 children by this count and each has at least one parent with them. That’s at least 22,000 families and 44,000 people! The City and the County don’t want to acknowledge these figures. Jeeni said, “They are not being counted because single mothers, who for a myriad of reasons become homeless, will wisely prioritize their personal safety and the safety of their children over anything else. So while their male counterparts will often sleep “rough” on the streets or in the canyons, or compete for the few emergency beds in City and County shelters, 80% of the kids reported as homeless by the schools are spending their nights doubling up with friends and relatives.”
In San Ysidro 29% of the school children are homeless. They are often living in motels and junkyards.
For the last nine years, Medina has been the homeless liaison for approximately 1,408 students, or 29% of the 4,832 total enrolled in the San Ysidro School District, the largest student homeless population percentage-wise in the entire county. Her title has changed over the years— she is now the Student & Family Services Manager—but her work has never changed.
“It’s always trying to get those resources for our children. Getting them enrolled in schools, especially when they don’t have receipts or any proof of residency. I go out and do the home visits so I can see where they actually live and sign the documents at the school sites.”
Medina says she personally reaches out to at least 1,000 homeless students every year. “It’s ironic that I have to do this for our students who sometimes get kicked out, especially if they are in a hotel or they’re couch surfing. I have to vouch for them. It’s so ironic how I am advocating for children who are just like me.”
Thanks to the McKinney-Vento Law, the definition of a homeless student includes more than just kids sleeping on the streets. Medina explains that homeless students are those who have been abandoned by their parents and are staying with extended family members, children who live in motels or abandoned trailers, and children who live in ‘doubled up’ housing.
Medina takes me on a driving tour in her truck, showing me where her students live and the challenges they face: in particular, eviction. San Ysidro has a high number of motels, approximately fifteen, where many homeless families live. With the high cost of rents in the area—a one bedroom averages $1,100 per month—living in a motel for months or even years is often cheaper. Medina knows of twelve families staying permanently at one of the San Ysidro motels.
Families who live in the junkyards, however, aren’t eligible. Located on the Otay Mesa hill where a large number of auto salvage & storage lots contain run down trailers, a few homeless families have found a way to rent them. The roads are unpaved and the trailers often don’t have running water or electricity. Families might use the nearby trucker station to take showers.
David Flores of Casa Familiar explains, “Different motels around San Ysidro are really functioning like some of those last resort shelter places. Very low rents, but very low amenities. Some of them without kitchens. I’m not sure if we can try to figure out a solution by having those private commercial property owners process something so that they can transform their places and have them become official shelters.” …
In 2012 Casa Familiar had a vision to create two affordable housing complexes: Los Abuelitos, a 23-unit building that would serve seniors who are primary caretakers for their grandchildren, and ‘Living Rooms at the Border,’ a 10-unit building with flexible sizes from studios to four bedrooms.
Casa Familiar secured a grant from a New York non-profit called Parc Foundation, which would match any money given by the city one-to-one. When Casa Familiar presented the $3 million project to the City of San Diego’s Housing Commission, they wouldn’t approve the $1.5 million funding necessary, saying it was too expensive.
If you would like to donate to the San Ysidro homeless, contact the San Ysidro School District and ask for Veronica Medina.
And yet as this series of articles has shown, $1.5 million is a paltry amount compared to the amount of funds that are hoarded in various City Funds that they don’t want you to know about and which could be used for this and other projects.
The McKinney-Vento Law
The McKinney-Vento Education of Homeless Children and Youth Assistance Act is a federal law that ensures immediate enrollment and educational stability for homeless children and youth. McKinney-Vento provides federal funding to states for the purpose of supporting district programs that serve homeless students.
Defining Homeless Children
The McKinney-Vento Act defines homeless children as “individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.” The act provides examples of children who would fall under this definition:
- Children and youth sharing housing due to loss of housing, economic hardship or a similar reason
- Children and youth living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camp grounds due to lack of alternative accommodations
- Children and youth living in emergency or transitional shelters
- Children and youth abandoned in hospitals
- Children and youth awaiting foster care placement
- Children and youth whose primary nighttime residence is not ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation (e.g. park benches, etc)
- Children and youth living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations
- Migratory children and youth living in any of the above situations
Homeless with Severe Mental Illness
According to the 2015 Point-In-Time-Count, conducted by the Regional Task Force on the Homeless, more than 18 percent of the 8,500 homeless individuals living throughout San Diego County are estimated to be suffering from a Serious Mental Illness (SMI). At their January 26, 2016, meeting, the Board of Supervisors (BOS) unanimously approved a series of recommendations from our Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) to immediately expand an array of behavioral health contracts to serve a limited number of homeless individuals experiencing a SMI and other co-occurring conditions.
According to a February 2, 2016, report to the Board of Supervisors:
Homeless individuals with a severe mental illness are the least likely among us to be able to secure and maintain housing without intensive assistance. They are also the most expensive, inappropriate users of emergency medical and law enforcement resources as well as often causing the most distress for the community. To change those circumstances, it is imperative that the County offer intensive intervention and complete wraparound services to those homeless individuals with a severe mental illness for whom we can locate acceptable housing through the cooperation of our housing partners.
The County must actively engage and partner with cities, organizations and agencies working with the homeless, as well as with landlords and housing officials to identify housing for these seriously ill people living on the streets, who, with behavioral health services would be able to function with shelter and treatment.
So why isn’t there any “partnering” going on? There is money that’s available that’s not being spent except in “unincorporated areas”! This so-called “Project One for All” is so far a Project One for Not Very Many. They are currently only allowing the $170 million in the Mental Health Service Act (MHSA) Reserve funding to be used to provide housing for homeless in the unincorporated areas, and that is a crime and a shame. It should be used to house ALL Severely Mentally Ill (SMI) homeless. If this is County BOS Policy, then the Policy is discriminatory against urban SMI homeless. Right now only 1,184 SMI are provided housing in the unincorporated areas using the MHSA funds. All other SMI are either living with their families, on their own, living in cars and vehicles or on the streets.
There is a lot of money available to help the homeless that the City of San Diego is hoarding because it hasn’t the will to help the homeless except by token efforts. See Part 1 for details. Stay tuned for Part 3 next week.