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New leader tasked with reducing San Diego’s homelessness

SAN DIEGO — Gordon Walker, who gained national attention for his efforts to reduce homelessness in Utah, is the new chief executive of San Diego’s Regional Task Force on the Homeless, the organization announced Thursday.

Walker, who started with the RTFH on Wednesday, was previously director of Utah’s Division of Housing and Community Development. He has also served as deputy undersecretary for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development during the Reagan administration.

He was a leader in the housing-first model of addressing homelessness, in which those living on the streets are placed in a residence coupled with access to necessary social services. Utah saw a significant drop among the chronically homeless, though the actual numbers have reportedly come into question.

“It is clear from Mr. Walker’s track record that he is the effective leader we need to build this organization,” said county Supervisor Ron Roberts, who also chairs the RTFH. “He has the skills to steer us on a path that delivers both short-term and long-term progress that will be visible to the public and change lives for the better.”

Walker stepped into a situation in San Diego County in which the number of unsheltered homeless has jumped 23 percent over the last five years to around 5,600.

In the task force’s annual count of the homeless in January, the total number of those in shelters or living on the streets was 5 percent higher than 2016’s tally, to more than 9,100.

“I’m excited to join the Regional Task Force on the Homeless and help contribute to developing strategies that will reduce homelessness in San Diego County,” Walker said. “During the interview process, and through my own research, it became clear that the will and energy exists here to house the homeless in greater numbers.”

San Diego city and county officials have recently taken several steps on the twin issues of homelessness and a lack of affordable housing.

On Tuesday, the county Board of Supervisors directed $25 million in reserves to a new affordable housing investment pool.

On Wednesday, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced a dozen steps meant to make it easier for builders to construct more residential units for middle and low-income families, and the City Council held its first meeting of its Select Committee on Homelessness.

The council, however, recently rejected Faulconer’s proposal to raise hotel room taxes to fund an expansion of the San Diego Convention Center — which would have also created a dedicated funding stream for homelessness programs.