Expert: 4 key things San Diego can do to help prevent homelessness

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A tent set up by a person experiencing homelessness in San Diego is seen on June 28, 2021.

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – Mayor Todd Gloria Thursday released a comprehensive report by the former executive director for the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness that includes key findings and recommendations to strengthen the city’s capacity to prevent and end homelessness.

“After taking office as mayor, I wasted no time in bringing on Mr. (Matthew) Doherty to give me a warts-and-all assessment of the city’s current homelessness efforts,” Gloria said. “His analysis is already guiding our administration’s new approach on homelessness and helps ensure we are set up for success to achieve our ultimate goal: ending chronic homelessness in San Diego.”

Gloria retained Doherty’s consulting services in January, soon after announcing in his Jan. 13 “State of the City” address that he would be doing so.

“Mayor Gloria and his team have been extremely open to my assessment of how the City of San Diego has approached its work through the years and my identification of gaps in current capacity and expertise,” Doherty said in a statement.

“I am confident that by addressing these findings and implementing these recommendations, the city can, right now, seize its leadership responsibilities in more purposeful and proactive ways and deliver greater progress for the community and, most importantly, people experiencing homelessness in San Diego,” he said.

Here are the four main findings of his report:

  • Internal Capacity and Expertise: The Mayor’s Office and the Homelessness Strategies and Solutions Department currently lack adequate capacity, documentation of activities and expertise to achieve a vision of driving progress on homelessness through best practices, proactive leadership by the city, and purposeful and strategic partnerships with regional partners. There is a need to create and recruit for additional, senior-level positions to both expand capacity in key strategic areas and to increase the city’s in-house expertise on homelessness policies, strategies, and solutions;
  • Clarity of Vision, Strategies, Roles, and Decision-Making: The city lacks a clearly communicated narrative or vision that expresses Gloria and the city’s strategic approaches and priorities that differentiates those approaches from prior administrations, that delineates roles and responsibilities alongside key partners, and that drives action across the full range of necessary responses to homelessness;
  • Internal and External Partnerships and Collaboration: The city needs to strengthen internal partnerships, across departments and teams, and external partnerships with key organizations, housing and service providers, and with people with lived expertise from current and past experiences of homelessness; and
  • Strengths and Opportunities: There is an openness and eagerness for Gloria’s leadership and expertise on homelessness and for more engagement of the city among partners and stakeholders. There are also several important and current opportunities right now, including resources being made available through the American Rescue Plan, resources that will be included within the state budget and multiple options for providing leadership and support to key efforts and initiatives in San Diego.

To address those findings, Doherty makes 16 recommendations for actions Gloria and his team can take. Some have already been implemented.

For example, Gloria included in his city budget for the new fiscal year — which began Thursday — the creation of a Department of Homelessness Strategies and Solutions. A national search for the first director to lead the new department is nearing conclusion. The director will be supported with three new senior-level staff positions.

The city, in collaboration with the county and nonprofit providers, launched an outreach effort on Monday to connect people living unsheltered on downtown streets with housing, shelter and services.

Much of Doherty’s report focuses on the need to better align the city’s efforts with the Community Action Plan on Homelessness, which was adopted in 2019.

Doherty has nearly 30 years of leadership experience focused on ending homelessness and the implementation of housing, services programs and economic opportunities. He served from 2015 to 2019 as executive director for the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, the agency charged with coordinating the federal response to homelessness.

Doherty has connections to the San Diego region. While living in La Mesa, he worked on homelessness and housing issues in the community for more than 14 years, working with the San Diego Housing Commission, the Corporation for Supportive Housing and USICH.

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