San Diego nonprofits running federally subsidized transitional housing programs for the homeless are getting a clear message: Switch to a new model or risk losing cash.

Now many nonprofits are rushing to create programs so they don’t lose money as the federal government moves toward funding permanent housing efforts that experts have declared most effective.

Other nonprofits have already gotten bad news. One is Interfaith Community Services, which learned earlier this year that 11 apartments that have housed homeless families for more than two decades were cut from the region’s funding wish list.

Instead, the region’s latest application for federal Department of Housing and Urban Development money proposes reallocating more than $2 million from transitional housing projects across San Diego County to new approaches garnering more federal support. Another $2 million proposed to bankroll similar programs isn’t guaranteed to come in.

The shift places about a dozen local nonprofits at a crossroads. The increased emphasis on the so-called housing first model, which prioritizes getting homeless people housed quickly rather than focusing on months- or years-long interventions first, is forcing both large agencies such as Father Joe’s Villages and smaller ones like El Cajon-based Crisis House to try new approaches.

This year’s HUD funding application demands that regions nationwide give funding priority to permanent supportive housing, which focus on getting chronically homeless people quickly housed and then provide continuous support,and rapid rehousing projects that help clients find housing, assist with moving costs and provide other temporary services.

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New transitional housing proposals aren’t allowed in the latest HUD solicitation, and HUD’s funding formula means many existing ones don’t fare as well.

San Diego’s Regional Continuum of Care Council, the countywide group that decides on local programs that’ll compete for federal funds, turned in an application last month that nixed seven current projects and proposed reduced funding for another. It expects to learn early next year which new and existing programs will get federal backing.

City Councilman Todd Gloria, who chairs the regional council, said HUD’s latest application requirements and federal goals to end homelessness forced the group to grade nonprofits’ programs and decide whether they could effectively compete for HUD funding.

The HUD dollars San Diego’s historically received don’t match its need and the region must use the dollars it does get as efficiently as possible, Gloria said.

“The focus has to be on needing this program,” Gloria said. “It can’t be on continuing legacy programs because that’s the way it’s always been.”

Some of the nonprofits suggested changes themselves.

Father Joe’s Villages walked away from two transitional housing consortiums that included more than a half-dozen other nonprofits, leading the others to grapple with the future of their programs, too.

Bill Bolstad, chief development officer for Father Joe’s Villages, said the decision came down to numbers: Only 42 percent to 49 percent of participants who left the Father Joe’s programs tied to the consortiums ended up in permanent housing in 2014, figures the nonprofit expected would be scrutinized in a new grant application.

“We were not happy with these results so were eager to make a change when we had the opportunity,” Bolstad said.

Many of the groups are now seeking cash for new projects that better match the federal agenda. Most, including Father Joe’s, are pitching rapid rehousing programs.

Funders Together to End Homelessness San Diego, a regional group of philanthropists focused on the cause, has agreed to provide about $150,000 in grant funding to help two of the nonprofits – Volunteers of America and Crisis House – make the switch.

Another nonprofit, Interfaith Community Services, is weighing whether private dollars can sustain 11 apartments that have temporarily housed homeless families for about 25 years.

“One of the tough realities of reallocating resources and creating system change is that tough choices are being made,” said Greg Anglea, Interfaith’s executive director.

Interfaith, which also operates two HUD-funded permanent housing projects, isn’t among the groups proposing new programs in the latest funding application.

But even some of those who are proposing new projects worry certain populations could fall through the cracks without their current ones.

Martha Ranson, who oversees efforts to aid homeless women at Catholic Charities, said the end of the group’s formal work with the Father Joe’s Villages-led consortiums will translate into the loss of 20 transitional housing beds for women. Catholic Charities expects to add 10 new rapid rehousing units for women through a new program it’s proposing.

Ranson doesn’t think that’s enough. Many homeless women, particularly those over 50, have unique needs sometimes best served with transitional housing such as experience with domestic violence  or long-term addiction that make them more likely to fall in and out of programs, she said.

For that reason, Ranson said, it’s unfair to expect the same percentage of successful housing placements from programs that serve especially difficult populations. She believes women who struggle in her programs would also struggle in permanent housing.

“It’s somewhat devastating to think we’re all being lopped off because we haven’t been high-performing, because of this whole push to, ‘everyone should go to (permanent supportive) housing,’” Ranson said. “There is a place for transitional housing.”

Several homeless providers who spoke with Voice of San Diego believed some transitional housing programs remain vital.

The Salvation Army, which is set to lose funding for a 42-bed employment and housing program for single men, is committed to maintaining that project without HUD money, said Jessyca Carr, social service director for the group’s work in San Diego County.

“We want to be able to help people in the way that best suits their particular needs,” Carr said. “Everyone comes with a different challenge. Everyone comes with a different set of a needs.”

Yet Carr acknowledges homeless-serving nonprofits must place a greater emphasis on programs that follow new housing models if they want federal support. So her organization is seeking HUD money for a rapid rehousing program, too.

    This article relates to: Government, Homelessness, Must Reads, 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.

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    Good to see the federal government leading this change and following evidence of what works.

    bgetzel subscriber

    There has been a move toward permanent housing of the homeless and at-risk-homeless for some years now. It is more than HUD. The federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit program, which is administered through the state, provides anywhere from $20 to $30 million per year to San Diego County affordable housing developers through competitive processes. Those processes have moved more toward favoring supportive housing projects. Secondly, the MHSA program, funded by the state via a 1% tax on the extremely wealthy, has provided some money for such housing. Finally, there have been pilot programs in Los Angeles and San Diego, that aim to provide supportive housing to the 25 to 50 people identified as the most chronically homeless in their respective areas. These programs work, but they are just a drop in the bucket in comparison to the huge need. Furthermore, the supportive housing  approach requires the delivery of extensive services to the clients, to help them successfully stay in a permanent, independent living environment. It, therefore, is expensive on a per client basis, but not near as expensive as the ad hoc provision of public safety and health care to those on the street. Unfortunately, some of the programs mentioned provide little, if any funding, for the required services component. In summary, local, state and federal governments need to step up further, if we are to adequately address the homeless problem.

    Jeeni Criscenzo
    Jeeni Criscenzo subscriber

     I am so fed up with bureaucrats sitting behind their desks, conjuring up new approaches that preclude the continuation of everything that's currently being done. Everyone who wants HUD funding has to jump on their bandwagon and pay unquestioning tribute to the latest buzz-word solutions even when they know from boots on the ground experience that this cannot possibly work in every case. Homelessness is so complex that one approach cannot be appropriate for every situation or population. We need the wiggle room and support to do what needs to be done to reach the ultimate goal - that our clients are housed immediately, and prepared to remain housed in whatever way works for them at this time, and to have the flexibility to adapt to chnages in their situation so that they continue to be housed. In some cases that may be a form of housing that seems unsuitable to us, but works for the client. It has to protect them from the elements, allows them to feel safe and at the very least, does them no harm.
    Efforts to house people who are without housing is complex and has been and made more so by the whole grant application/award/reporting process that tries to shoehorn everyone into the latest trendy program. We need a host of approaches and we need tons of money and we need to encourage innovation and mostly we need to re-direct the thousands of hours and resources put into the whole convoluted grant process. If a fraction of that energy was put into actually creating both innovative and proven housing solutions, the flexibility to try new ideas with sufficient stable funding to give those ideas the chance to actually succeed, and spending time listening to the needs of our clients, we could actually solve homelessness. Instead there is constant competition, confusion and wearing down of the people who really want to make a difference.

    rhylton subscriber

    @Jeeni Criscenzo a person who dislikes buzz-words, resorts to "boots on the ground,"  "wiggle room"  and "shoehorn" in a complaining post. 

    I do not like the rest of what you have written. Perhaps, it is because I can find no fault in having permanent housing units for the homeless and do not see how this new initiative excludes all else that is now being done. I do see that things being done may not "fare as well" with regard to funding. Moreover; aside from saying that you need tons of money there is not much for bureaucrats to measure.  "Wiggle room and support to do what needs to be done to reach the ultimate goal" lacks the concrete specificity for supporting the programs that they conjure up. 

    Bureaucrats may not have boots on the ground, but I also do suspect that they do not have much wiggle room.   Evidence of that need is found in the dreaded convoluted application/award/reporting process.


    Jerry Hall
    Jerry Hall subscribermember

    @Jeeni Criscenzo I'm with you Jeeni and I like every word you wrote. We do need to get away from the one-size-fits-all approach, clearly not working, and invite innovative approaches being tested, proven and either discarded or deployed based on local community metrics. One thing that puzzles me is why the national, annual count in January? Sure, we've got the weather that might include more accurate counts but, in the north where it is usually much colder doesn't that imply that homeless are sheltering better eg. couch-surfing, hidden in myriad of spots counters would never find? I was on a team that counted in a neighborhood that had recycling day that same morning. We believe we had such low numbers because in that area the homeless were canning.

    Why we have to wait 33% of the year just to see the numbers is puzzling as well. Forms should not be manually collected, then tabulated. We have computers no? Smart phones? Why are we resorting to processing paper forms to identify approximations that have likely shifted many months later? This is a crying example of big government not being able to keep their finger on the pulse of the market. Your call for more opportunities for innovative approaches is spot on. And if our federal government had any sense they would create funds specifically for testing initiatives that delivered results > and funded future efforts based on that evidence, not simply collect counts and dole out funds by rote.