New report fails to find correlation between spending, homelessness decreases

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SAN DIEGO –While government spending on local homeless services has dramatically increased throughout the county over the last decade, the effect of that spending is difficult to quantify, according to a report released Tuesday by the San Diego Taxpayers Educational Foundation.

Each of the county’s jurisdictions does a poor job of tracking homelessness data points such as use of homeless services, according to the SDTEF, the research arm of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association.

Because of the poor data collection, it is difficult to determine just how much homeless spending affects local homelessness populations, according to the report, which notes that countywide spending on homelessness services increased by more than 2,000 percent between 2009 and 2018.

“As long as cities within San Diego County continue to use different methods to measure the impact of homelessness services, we don’t know what we don’t know,” said SDCTA President and CEO Haney Hong. “Government spending on homelessness reduction efforts has steadily increased over the past decade, but our research shows that homelessness has not steadily decreased.”

The SDTEF analyzed public records from the county and all 18 cities within the county. One of the foundation’s biggest obstacles was inconsistent tracking of homeless residents throughout the county.

The county’s homeless population was higher in 2015 and 2017 than it was in both 2014 and 2016, according to the report. Meanwhile, countywide expenditures on homeless services increased from just over $10 million in 2014 to nearly $70 million in 2018.

To more definitively state whether a correlation exists between spending and homelessness population decreases, SDTEF researchers recommended that city leaders streamline and standardize the methods used to track homeless populations and use of homeless services.

The researchers also suggested that local jurisdictions regularly track whether homeless services and programs are working as efficiently as possible and develop a 10-year plan to decrease homelessness around the county.

Helen Robbins-Meyer, the county’s chief administrative officer, said the county intends to invest in a more standardized system of collecting and analyzing data on homeless populations.

“This is a smart path forward for local government and our regional partners, and one that will allow all of us to accurately document both raw numbers and outcomes so we can most effectively leverage public funds and regional resources,” Robbins-Meyer said.

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