Community Care Plan for Reducing Homelessness
Homelessness in San Diego is not just a policy issue, and the statistics do not convey the urgency we should all feel when discussing the problem. It is a daily struggle of life or death, sickness or recovery, suffering or relief.
In my conversations on this topic, one story in particular stood out to me as an example of what homelessness means, both to the individuals directly affected and also their families and loved ones.
I met a father of a young man I will call “Andrew.” Andrew was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in high school and he struggled to stick with his treatment. Shortly after graduating, he became addicted to heroin. Gerry, Andrew’s father, got him into rehab a total of six times over the course of two years. Eventually, Andrew refused any further treatment. For the past three years, Andrew has been living on the street. His friends from high school tell Gerry when they run into Andrew. Gerry checks jail and hospital records often. He has no choice but to trust that there is a system in place that will rescue Andrew before it’s too late.
Each person living on the street has a unique story. The commonality is that they are each in a state of crisis. They depend upon the community to be there with the right support at the right moment.
As San Diego’s economy grows, it is even more critical to meet the needs of San Diego’s most vulnerable. The City Attorney plays a critical role in solving homelessness and building a stronger quality of life for all. Here are three steps the City Attorney’s office can take to begin addressing homelessness in San Diego:
Renewed Focus on National Best Practices to Solve Homelessness
Implement data-driven solutions through coordinated intake assessment. Further implementation of the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) will ensure service providers are working together on systemic solutions and more effectively directing scarce resources to better serve San Diego homeless.
Increase outreach with local landlords to identify housing units for chronically homeless veterans with VASH Vouchers. The Department of Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing joined efforts to move Veterans and their families out of homelessness and into permanent housing.
Close the Gaps in the Justice System to Stop the Cycle of Addiction
The voter approved Prop. 47 reduced certain felonies to misdemeanors including possession of methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, and concentrated cannabis. As a consequence, the effectiveness of Drug Court and other rehabilitation options has been reduced since many would-be participants now choose to face minimal jail time rather than undergo intensive monitoring and rehabilitation treatments.
The City Attorney must work collaboratively with local law enforcement, the San Diego Housing Commission, the San Diego City Council, and the Mayor’s Office to find systemic solutions that incentivize drug offenders to seek treatment and find permanent and transformative solutions.
Expand successful recovery programs like the City of San Diego, Serial Inebriate Program (SIP). A nationally recognized program, SIP allows individuals who have multiple misdemeanor offenses for public intoxication to receive supportive transitional housing and mental healthcare services in lieu of incarceration. Successful programs like these that are managed through law enforcement can reduce levels of incarceration while empowering individuals to change their lives. This program should expand to include those repeatedly arrested for being under the influence of controlled substances such as cocaine, methamphetamine and heroine.
Dedicate a position in the City Attorney’s Office to work exclusively on homeless issues. A dedicated position will help increase collaboration between the City and other public agencies and will help deliver must needed systemic solutions faster.
Expand Community Court to include treatment programs as a condition for case dismissal. Community Court is a diversion program for first-time misdemeanor offenders. The program offers individuals the option to complete 16 hours of community service through Alpha Project or Urban Corps in exchange for a dismissal of their case. The Community Court should expand to offer individuals the option to receive medical and psychiatric evaluations followed by relevant treatment programs in exchange for a case dismissal.
Improve communication between service providers and law enforcement to improve enforcement of City ordinances while more effectively providing recovery services. There must be enhanced collaboration between law enforcement, service providers, and the City Attorney’s office to increase outreach and better connect our community’s most vulnerable to needed recover services.
Reaching the chronically homeless
In 2015, the San Diego Regional Task Force reported that San Diego has over 5,700 homeless individuals living within City limits and 36% of unsheltered homeless were determined to be chronically homeless – individuals who have been homeless for more than one year or who have been homeless more than four times in the last three years. Research has shown that chronically homeless individuals use a disproportionately larger share of public resources.
According to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, chronically homeless people represent 10% of the total homeless population nationally and consume an estimated 50% of available resources, including: emergency medical services, shelters, mental health support, law enforcement services, and detox facilities. This makes it even more critical to find permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless.
Continued Investment in Rapid-Rehousing and Transitional Housing for Specific Populations. In addition to permanent supportive solutions for chronically homeless, it increases investment in Rapid-Rehousing resources, a proven method to assist individuals and families who have found themselves homeless due to unexpected circumstances including job loss, domestic violence, or medical problems.
Continue Efforts to Build Coordinated Intake Assessment and the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) for Data-Driven Solutions. Currently, the homeless service providers in San Diego use the Coordinated Assessment and Housing Placement System (CAHP) to share information with each other. This shared data allows providers to see when an individual last entered a facility and which facility they entered. This system helps identify how long the homeless individual has been on the streets and makes note of any physical or mental health needs. It also assists providers determine the most appropriate housing to meet those individual’s needs. The HMIS ensures that all providers are using compatible software and provides them with real-time data to enable the delivery of housing and critical services to the homeless. It also meets the recommendation of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to use a single system as a best practice.