Supervisors approve new ‘focused’ framework to tackle homelessness

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File – Tents line the street in a portion of downtown San Diego with a high concentration of homelessness.

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – The San Diego County Board of Supervisors Tuesday unanimously approved a long-term plan, including community partnerships, to tackle the growing homelessness crisis.

According to the county’s Health & Human Service Agency, the Framework for Ending Homelessness has five elements:

  • a person-centered approach to ensure “that services and programs are created in culturally sensitive ways to address the needs of vulnerable populations, including the LGBTQ community, older adults, veterans and foster youth”;
  • a data-driven approach to create more effective, equitable and focused outcomes;
  • collaboration with other jurisdictions, services providers, community partners and stakeholders;
  • a sustainable approach to ensure housing stability through a variety of financial investments; and
  • ensuring racial and social equity as part of homeless prevention.

Nick Macchione, HHSA director, said the framework “will allow us to drive a new, focused approach.”

While no immediate cost figures were available, the county will seek funding from the state, and continue to use U.S. American Rescue Plan Act money for services such as eviction counseling and outreach/prevention, and direct cash assistance.

Supervisors also unanimously directed Chief Administrative Officer Helen Robbins-Meyer to submit quarterly reports on how homeless programs are going. They also formally received an update on the Department of Homeless Solutions and Equitable Communities, which was approved in April and began operating in July.

Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer said the framework was long overdue.

“We can’t possibly tackle homelessness without a long-term strategy,” she said, adding recent statistics show that roughly about 40% of those in county jails were homeless at the time of arrest.

“This is an opportunity to turn the corner on that egregious history of criminalizing poverty,” Lawson-Remer said. “It’s really time we got strategic and serious of putting our tax dollars where they need to be spent.”

Her colleague Jim Desmond said he would support the plan, but stressed that unincorporated areas should not be a dumping ground for homeless people. Desmond also called for more effective ways to deliver drug addiction treatment, including incentives for those wanting to recover.

“We’ve kind of gone from one extreme of the war on drugs, to another extreme with addicts living on streets,” Desmond said. “We’ve got to find something in between.”

He said if someone is hit by a car, paramedics come and immediately help that person. But if residents see someone screaming in the bushes or defecating on the street, they either ignore or accept it, “and I think we’re better than that,” Desmond said.

A “housing first” policy allows people to continue their addictions, and shelters shouldn’t be a revolving door, Desmond added.

Board Chairman Nathan Fletcher said he was encouraged by the new framework, but reminded Desmond that in September 2020 the previous board voted down a proposed housing project in La Mesa.

The framework’s programs will be a real test, Fletcher said. “We’re all tired of buzzwords, but the rubber meets the road when you take a vote,” he added.

Desmond countered that he voted against the La Mesa project because it was “crammed down our throats,” and that the board learned a lesson about working with a community.

In a related action, supervisors also approved a policy, introduced by Fletcher and Vice Chairwoman Nora Vargas, to participate in the annual Point in Time homeless count.

Vargas said the data provided by the count “is vitally important to our work to end homelessness. This is necessary to get an accurate reflection of our houseless population, so we can address the issue through a more holistic approach.”

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