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Progress of the Community Action Plan on Homelessness in San Diego

Tents line up along the streets of Downtown San Diego. Photo Courtesy of Alicia Long

Homelessness is a growing issue in the city of San Diego as the number of unsheltered persons on Jan. 31 was found to be 1,939 in a monthly count conducted by the Downtown San Diego Partnership. 

“Since March of 2022, we have not had a month where more people exited homelessness than people entered it,” said Jordan Beane, director of policy and communications at the Regional Task Force on Homelessness. “Every day someone’s homelessness ends, but we simply cannot keep up with the number of people who are falling into homelessness and experiencing it for the first time.” 

The Community Action Plan on Homelessness for the City of San Diego is “a comprehensive, 10-year plan that builds on recent progress, lays out short-term achievable goals, and will serve as a guide for long-term success in addressing homelessness,” according to the San Diego Housing Commission (SDHC) website.  

This plan was unanimously accepted in October 2019. The three main goals set in the plan are to decrease unsheltered homelessness by 50%, finish the job of ending veteran homelessness and prevent and end youth homelessness. 

“I have seen fewer veterans,” said Denise Knox, executive director of the Ocean Beach MainStreet Association. “As far as the other ones I feel like the whole plan is catered to being homeless.” 

Three teams are working on the Community Action Plan on Homelessness in San Diego, the leadership council, implementation team and policy liaisons.  

“When the leadership council meets, the implementation provides updates and recommendations for new actions to receive feedback from the leadership council for what to do next,” said Nancy Sa, project manager for the Community Action Plan. 

 The leadership council is primarily made up of policymakers and community leaders, including the mayor of San Diego. The implementation team is composed of the senior staff of the three main agencies that created the plan, the mayor’s office, SDHC and the Regional Task Force on Homelessness. Policy Liaisons are representatives of key members of the leadership council to maintain constant communication between the implementation team and the leadership council. 

 Progress of the goals, strategies and housing goals can be found on the SDHC website; however, the data has not been updated on this website since Apr. 2022.  

 “We usually try to update, but you know last year we had some bandwidth and capacity challenges and so we’re actually working on updating everything right now,” said Sa. 

 These monthly progress reports are compiled by the Downtown San Diego Partnership and conducted with the system created by the Regional Task Force on Homelessness. Previous data shows the lowest monthly unsheltered count was 529 in Downtown San Diego in Mar. 2020; this was less than six months after the creation of the Community Action Plan on Homelessness in San Diego. The SDHC implemented Shelter-to-Home during this time to shelter larger groups of homeless in the San Diego Convention Center. 

 “Shelter-to-Home ended up being a huge success because we had the action plan in place and it allowed us to make better, more informed, and aligned decisions,” said Sa. “The response to COVID-19, along with the ongoing homelessness crisis tested and demonstrated the validity and the value of the action plan.” 

Now, unsheltered homeless numbers are at a high of 1,939, found by the Downtown San Diego Partnership. Several factors might have contributed to this increase.  

 “Factors include the higher cost of living that has happened in the past few years and there is a low vacancy rate in San Diego. We have also seen a rise in substance abuse challenges, all of which contribute to that number,” said Sa.  

The implementation team is responsible for finding different ways to address this increasing number of people experiencing homelessness. 

“This can be from increasing the number of shelter options all the way to the other spectrum of addressing workforce challenges for frontline staff,” said Sa. 

Over the past two years, Mayor Gloria has expanded shelter capacity by more than 60%, making 700 additional beds available, said David Rowland, deputy director of communications at the Mayor’s Office. Gloria expanded the Safe Parking Program by making one of the lots accessible 24 hours a day and will soon add a fourth site to the program. 

“It is important to note that shelters and Safe Parking lots are not just ways to get off the street. They are proven pathways to housing,” said Rolland. 

Considerable progress has been made to end veteran homelessness. According to the SDHC website, “SDHC partners with the VA San Diego Healthcare System to administer VASH vouchers paired with ongoing supportive services to San Diego’s most vulnerable Veterans experiencing homelessness.” 

These vouchers help veterans pay rent and provide services from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. In 2021, 1,235 vouchers were administered and in 2020 veteran homelessness reached an all-time low of 190, based on the SDHC website.  

The point-in-time count of unsheltered youth homelessness decreased from 353 in 2019 to 174 in 2022. “The Family Unification Program (FUP) federal rental housing vouchers help reunite children with their families and assist youth exiting foster care who experience homelessness or are at risk of homelessness,” according to the SDHC.  

Mere-term goals have not been met in the Community Action Plan; however, longer-term goals have had noteworthy progress.  

“We do recognize the importance of recalculating all of our needed goals in light of how things have changed in the weather and after the pandemic… we are working to update all of our goals that are in the action plan,” Sa said. 

There are longer 10-year goals around permanent housing resources, the action plan calls for an additional 5,500 housing resources by the year 2030.  

“On that end, we [SDHC] have reached almost 60% of that goal, we are ahead of schedule and proud of it… We took advantage of added resources during Covid and we count this as a momentous success,” said Sa.

Written By: Becky Rookard