SAN DIEGO — “Housing First works for some — it’s not the panacea that everyone expects it to be,” said San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond, who joined local leaders at a news conference Friday, saying the state government’s housing policy has backfired.
In 2016 under Gov. Gavin Newsom, California adopted Housing First, which aims to get anyone experiencing homelessness into government-subsidized housing as quickly as possible, while also removing barriers to access the housing such as requirements for sobriety and no criminal background.
“If you had a loved one or family member that needed drug treatment or needed mental health treatment, would you send them to a facility that did not require programs or treatment? That’s exactly what the government’s doing and that’s exactly what Housing First allows,” said Desmond.
Desmond was joined by El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells, Vista Mayor John Franklin and Oceanside Councilmember Ryan Keim, all saying the Housing First policy is not doing enough to help the homeless in their communities.
Chris Megison is CEO of Solutions For Change, a North County transformational housing and work recovery program for the homeless. That organization and others that require clean and sober living do not get any government funding.
Megison says they lost $600,000 in annual funding when the Housing First policy started in California.
“Housing First has failed. It was set up as a thing to help the severely mentally ill and now it’s a one-size-fits-all for everybody and it’s advancing dependency at record numbers that we’ve never seen,” said Megison.
Ryan Clumpner with the San Diego Housing Commission says Housing First works better without mandatory treatment.
“The reason for that is because we get better outcomes, both in terms of people resolving their mental health or addiction. In terms of getting off the street, when we lower those barriers, when we get people in and stabilized, then we begin working on their problems,” said Clumpner.
North County resident Joe Royos disagrees. He went through a three-year program with Solutions For Change.
“Nothing was working after 38 years of meth — I finally got clean in 2015,” said Royos.
When asked if he thought a Housing First solution would have helped as much, Royos said, “Oh no, no. You put me next to a user, I’m sure I’m gonna be using. Accountability is everything here.”
Desmond says the Housing First policy often wastes money that other recovery programs could put to better use.
“They’re cut out and so we want to make sure that they get the funding they need. Housing First gets the funding they need, but that cannot be the only tool in the toolbox. We need to get people into help, into treatment and that, as a society, is the humane thing to do,” said Desmond.