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About Inside America’s Finest City: In this series, FOX 5 highlights some of San Diego’s nagging issues and what’s being done about them.

SAN DIEGO — The homeless crisis has reached a boiling point in San Diego, which now has the 5th highest homeless population in the country.

While the numbers from the latest annual homeless count conducted in February have not come in yet, the growing increase of homelessness can be felt across San Diego, not only in just the downtown area.

“It’s the biggest issue in our city, period,” San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria told FOX 5. “Every neighborhood in the city now sees some level of homelessness, varying degrees, but where there used to just be in portions of downtown, it’s truly everywhere.”

The pandemic has overshadowed many of the issues homeless residents face, including a growing epidemic of fentanyl abuse, according to Lisa Jones, executive vice president of strategic initiatives with San Diego Housing Commission.

“We have a housing crisis — we had that first,” Jones told FOX 5. “We had a homelessness crisis before the pandemic. Now we have the pandemic. And to a large degree, the pandemic has covered up an epidemic — an epidemic of fentanyl.”

That’s the front that Tara Stamos-Buesig, executive director of the Harm Reduction Coalition of San Diego, is fighting. She hands out Narcan and tests street drugs for traces of the often-deadly fentanyl for San Diego’s homeless, including 22-year-old Rose, who is currently living on the streets of North Park.

Rose said she has struggled with substance abuse since she got evicted.

“I didn’t ever think I was going to be out here but I am and I am just struggling to make ends meet every day,” Rose told FOX 5. “It’d be nice if they didn’t act like we were invisible.”

Ironically, because of the growing visibility of the homeless population on the streets, all levels of government to grassroots organizations are looking for innovative solutions to address the crisis.

In partnership with City of San Diego, San Diego City College is now offering an 8-week course designed to train a new workforce that specializes in the unique challenges of homelessness. It also provides training for those who have lived on the streets themselves.

“We worked on building out a curriculum at the San Diego City College during the early months of COVID and actually launched the first class October 2020,” Jones said.

Stamos-Buesig, who was formerly homeless, is a product of the first graduating class of the program. She went on to start her own nonprofit and now works on the very streets she once lived.

“I come out here and I remind them on a daily basis to not lose hope,” Stamos-Buesig said. “‘Cause we build rapport people and three or five minutes, we are sitting in their tents with them, we are on the side of the road, we are eating with them.”

For the first time, the city has created an entire department focused solely on addressing homelessness for the first time. But Gloria warns not to expect a quick fix.

“Every time we are successful in moving someone off the streets, someone else falls into homelessness,” Gloria said. “Someone gets divorced, loses a job, has a run of bad luck, falls into addiction or illness. It’s hard to close the door.”

But with record levels of funding from COVID-19 relief and a new army of social workers in the pipeline, there is a real chance for change.