Street homelessness is up in San Diego County – and, counterintuitively, so are the number of efforts meant to combat it.

Local leaders have announced a handful of initiatives this year aimed at reducing San Diego’s homeless population. But the latest point in time count, which tallied people sleeping on the streets and in shelters one morning in January, revealed a slight decrease in the homeless population and a 19 percent spike in those that are unsheltered since last year’s count. Volunteers found fewer people were in shelters during this year’s count and more on the streets.

Yet the head of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, a federal agency charged with coordinating the national response to homelessness, said there’s some reason for optimism in San Diego.

Matthew Doherty, a onetime San Diegan who now leads the Interagency Council, said he’s impressed with the increased political will and coordination in San Diego.

“We have been seeing steps forward in San Diego as laying the groundwork for the kind of progress in reducing and ending homelessness that we need to see,” Doherty said.

Note that he said laying the groundwork. Doherty and local officials such as City Councilman Todd Gloria, who chairs the countywide group that coordinates efforts to fight homelessness, acknowledge there’s much work to be done.

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

They believe a recent rush of initiatives and increased cooperation, if properly scaled and organized, can eventually put a significant dent in homelessness.

It just won’t happen overnight, Gloria said.

“Ongoing regionalization, prioritization, reduction in duplication of efforts still needs to come,” Gloria said. “I think some of that’s happening but it’s gonna take a while to see it fully realized.”

Here’s a guide to the latest regional strategies to help the homeless.

Housing Our Heroes: The 1,000 Homeless Veterans Initiative

The city and the Housing Commission are taking a multi-pronged approach to try to effectively end veteran homelessness, a federal goal San Diego’s taken longer to achieve than other communities. They want to house 1,000 veterans by next March.

San Diego’s low apartment vacancy rate and rising rents give landlords little incentive to rent to homeless veterans who may have past evictions or convictions.

So officials plan to throw more than $4.4 million at inducements to encourage landlords to make that leap. That will include lump-sum payments for rentals to veterans, contingency funds for expenses and assistance with security deposits and utilities. The Housing Commission’s also agreed to speed up apartment inspections and dedicate housing specialists to assist landlords and homeless veterans.

The Housing Commission plans to help connect veterans with housing vouchers to help them pay for housing, too. The lion’s share – up to 600 – will receive temporary rental assistance. Another 300 veterans who qualify for assistance from the local Veterans Affairs health care system will receive more substantial, permanent housing vouchers through the federal Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program. The commission plans to dole out an additional 100 federal housing vouchers through nonprofit providers that can serve veterans who don’t qualify for other vouchers.

The Housing Commission reported it had placed 40 veterans into housing and secured another 37 units for others as of Thursday. The agency’s also doled out about $26,000 in landlord incentives.

Housing Commission CEO Rick Gentry acknowledged the program still needs to ramp up significantly. The city needs to house 83 veterans a month to hit its goal.

“We figure that the numbers will catch up over time,” Gentry said.

Six staffers have been hired to help with the program.

Gentry said the 1,000 veterans initiative is the latest piece of the commission’s homelessness action plan, which focuses on creating more affordable housing.

“We are hitting the issue from every angle we can think of,” Gentry said.

Project One for All

The Regional Task Force on the Homeless, a nonprofit that oversees the annual homeless count, last year estimated 19 percent of the county’s homeless population suffers from a serious mental illness. Those patients can be especially challenging for agencies to house.

In February, county supervisors approved an initiative known as Project One for All, which promises to put more resources toward comprehensive, 24-hour assistance for homeless people who are seriously mental ill. It’ll also allow the county to forge more partnerships with nonprofits and cities to provide housing along with the increased services.

There’s been much talk of Project 25, a government and nonprofit partnership that pulled some of San Diego’s most vulnerable homeless off the streets, as a model. But the county’s still nailing down how its program will work.

What is clear, county behavioral health officials say, is their new mandate. The goal is now to help all who qualify under the federal definition of seriously mentally ill, which means opening up more treatment slots and doing more outreach.

The county’s proposed budget for next year pencils in an additional $10.7 million to expand services and serve up to an additional 824 homeless San Diegans.

Susan Bower, the county’s director of behavioral health operations, said the county historically hasn’t been able to serve everyone qualified for that help. She believes Project One for All will change that.

“It’s a county commitment to expand services to fully meet the need, whereas in the past, due to funding availability and so forth, we have not been able to fully meet the need,” Bower said.

Bower and others on her team are set to present a more detailed plan to the Board of Supervisors in late June.

Opening Doors

Opening Doors is a federal initiative to end veteran homelessness in 2015 and chronic homelessness in 2017, goals San Diego’s behind on meeting. The federal focus on veteran homelessness continues in communities like San Diego, which didn’t meet the 2015 goal.

Homeless advocates have long decried a lack of local accountability and coordination and argued local efforts needed to fall under a single umbrella.

Now they do. The regional Continuum of Care Council, which Gloria leads, now oversees a slew of projects meant to help the region end veteran homelessness, including the Housing Our Heroes program and a new Opening Doors committee.

The San Diego group’s formally set a goal of ending veteran homelessness by the end of 2016 and wants to get longtime homeless off the streets in 2017, in keeping with the national target.

The council tapped Greg Anglea of North County-based Interfaith Community Services to lead the committee. The group keeps tabs on veterans being housed and roadblocks along the way, and discusses ways to overcome them.

“You have people together who were not together in the past, who when they’re in the same room, working on the same goals, it’s just much more effective,” Anglea said.

The committee and the Continuum of Care Council  are overseeing efforts to create a list of all the region’s homeless veterans to ensure they’re being reached by nonprofits and government resources.

The council’s also implementing a coordinated assessment tool that allows providers across the region to gauge the needs of a homeless person and connect her with the agency or services best suited for her, whether it’s at the facility she walked into or not.

The increased coordination is a work in progress, Gloria said.

“I think it’ll be successful eventually,” he said.

    This article relates to: Homelessness, Nonprofits/Community

    Written by Lisa Halverstadt

    Lisa writes about San Diego city and county governments. She welcomes story tips and questions. Contact her directly at or 619.325.0528.

    bgetzel subscriber

    Thanks Lisa, for keeping on top of this issue. As Todd Gloria points out, there is much to be done, but we are on the right track. I am heartened by the progressively changing atitude by the general population toward the homeless. The VOSD has played some part in that.

    Nanson Hwa
    Nanson Hwa

    Joblessness, economic hardships, migration from rural communities to urban centers, mental health issues, domestic violence leads to homelessness. Programs are a band aid to address the issue. The private sector is overwhelmed to develop a comprehensive plan to solve the problem. The federal, state, county and local governments has to do more collaboration in funding and developing programs and services to help the homeless and the poor to make the transition to work, addressing housing needs and stability. Government officials do not need to attend meetings to talk about it, write about it and then forget about it. They need to be proactive and take the required action to achieve results.

    Bryan Borich
    Bryan Borich subscriber

    Bruce Springsteen

    "Streets Of Philadelphia"

    I was bruised and battered, I couldn't tell what I felt. 
    I was unrecognizable to myself. 
    I saw my reflection in a window, I didn't know my own face. 
    Oh brother are you gonna leave me wastin' away 
    On the Streets of Philadelphia. 

    I walked the avenue, 'til my legs felt like stone, 
    I heard the voices of friends vanished and gone, 
    At night I could hear the blood in my veins, 
    Black and whispering as the rain, 
    On the Streets of Philadelphia. 

    Ain't no angel gonna greet me. 
    It's just you and I my friend. 
    My clothes don't fit me no more, 
    I walked a thousand miles 
    Just to slip this skin. 

    The night has fallen, I'm lyin' awake, 
    I can feel myself fading away, 
    So receive me brother with your faithless kiss, 
    Or will we leave each other alone like this 
    On the Streets of Philadelphia

    rhylton subscriber

    Stones would play inside her head

    And where she slept 

    They made her bed

    And she would ache for love 

    And get but stones.

    ...Neil Diamond

    barb graham
    barb graham subscriber

    Where's the part about the wonderful plan to dump rocks under overpasses so homeless people can't shelter under them? That is such a delightfully Christian response from Faulconer to make their lives incrementally worse than they already are.

    So the immediate result, that wasn't thought out very well? Homeless people are easing into nearby neighborhoods to find places to camp.

    Way to go Faulconer! Good job!

    Ducraker subscriber

    Sometime I'd like to slap that sappy smile off Faulconer's insincere face.

    Greg Martin
    Greg Martin subscriber

    @Ducraker Howdy Doody's yet another useless, failed San Diego mayor. 

    Nancy Brown
    Nancy Brown

     What I see is a lot of money going out to pay people who are suppose to get things done. Why is it that nothing was started when Section 8 reached a 5+ year waitlist. This should of been a sign to get off their butts as there was already a problem. And how many have been evicted and have little hope of getting a place due to said eviction. Maybe the eviction came about due to illness or just plain having nowhere else to go. And let me tell you I know I am one of those people. when I signed up for Section 8 the waitlist was 10+ years that was over 3 years ago. I understand they are no longer accepting names on the waitlist that is now over12 years to wait. I understand wanting to help the Vets  but there are disabled on the street who are also homeless and I do not mean mental illness but physical disability. Again that is me. People say go to the shelter.           I did and was housed in a large room with no privacy and over 80 other women and where the lights were always on and this was after having to wait longer as I needed a bottom bunk. I have a service dog and we were not treated according to ADA rules we were forced to sit at a table with all the other people they let in with their pets when I tried to inform them that this was wrong as she was not a pet they told me if I do not follow their rules and sit where I am told then they will throw me out. Mind you all the little dogs were growling and barking at my dog. If my dog woofed for any reason even if we were playing I was told we would be tossed out, mind you when I pointed out the little dogs barking they could not here them over the noise in the dining area or where ever we were.           They had rules about threats to the other people in the shelter and to the staff . when one of the ladies threatened another and said she would bomb this place with everyone in it they tossed her for one night then let her back in even though she was still making threats.  Threats of Violence or actual violence was stated in their handouts as immediate and permanent removal.             Finally they say the shelter is there to help but first if you go to school forget it, 2nd if you get SSI you are only allowed 3 months, and 3rd they want a third of the money you get from SSI same with Vets  and they say they will give you back half when you find a place what they do not tell you is it must meet their idea of what counts as housing.  They get aid from the feds for each homeless person they feed and per meal they eat each day and for the homeless they shelter and even more if they are Vets that are sheltered at night so why do they need the money from these people also. the pittance one gets from SSI will not even cover rent anyplace in San Diego let alone food to eat or utilities.  This is also called double dipping.           Oh and here is a fun one the state of California takes away food stamps if you get SSI. What the heck do they really think a person can house themselves pay utilities and get food on $900 a month let me see them do it here in San Diego,  they will starve with in a week. Our homeless rate is still under counted these are the ones they found and were willing to be listed as homeless. Yes I said willing if they are not willing to be counted as homeless they cannot count them; even if they find them sleeping in the riverbed or under a bridge or for those luckier ones in their cars. It is amazing that we let these shelters be revolving doors and that no one sees the train wreck already visible 5 miles ahead with the waitlist of Section 8.          Now they talk about getting new apartments built with housing being 10% for those low income people. wow out of 100 apartments 10 go for low income  but wait the homeless rate grew by almost 20% yeah that is like filling a swimming pool with an eyedropper. Please as a homeless person give me a break and really do something I have seen  empty hotels that are no longer in business even if temporary this would be better than nothing or on some places there are empty barracks or military housing again better than what we are doing now and these could be fixed or altered faster than getting land and then finally building a place. At the speed that things are happening here I think I will get Section 8 before they get actual places for not just vets but for homeless like me disabled and female and living in my car.

    Dean Cunliffe
    Dean Cunliffe

    We can't keep throwing money at this problem, and expect those dollars to be used effectively, with little or no oversight.

    San Diegos investment in this is most likely consumed on clean-up sweeps , police support for any number of issues. I would sure hope that this funding is applied to the problem, and not absorbed in administrative costs..

    Housing, is a huge issue. The past year alone, my rent has gone up 23%..

    How can you manage to get a landlord to take someone in that might expose them to litigation? Damage their property, or its value.

    And there's going to be landlords who will abuse the program,and the tenants as well. Cold hard cash does funny things to people

    I sure do hope, everything I just said is wrong....