Mayor Kevin Faulconer says homelessness will be a priority in 2017. It will be a focus of his Jan. 12 state of the city address, and he plans to roll out a housing affordability initiative this month.

Homelessness “is one of the biggest issues we’re going to be tackling in the coming year,” he said in a recent interview, “because we have to.”

It’s something homeless advocates, who’ve long criticized the mayor for not doing enough on the issue, have been waiting to hear.

“There’s no doubt that the mayor’s not stepped up to the level we need him to step up to,” said Michael McConnell, who runs the Homelessness News San Diego Facebook page and has been active in local initiatives to address homelessness.

In 2016 alone, bad news on homelessness in the city piled up: A mid-year count revealed a 70 percent increase in San Diego’s downtown homeless population, while a January 2016 count showed the number of homeless senior citizens doubled from 2015 to 2016. Recent data showed that between October 2015 and September 2016, more people became homeless than were helped off the street. And the San Diego Police Department continues to draw criticism for aggressive ticketing of people sleeping on the street.

And while San Diego elected leaders spent 2016 debating a new Chargers stadium, their counterparts in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and Alameda, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties all passed ballot measures that will provide funding to house the homeless. In March, L.A. County voters will weigh in on a quarter-cent sales tax increase to boost homeless services and provide rent subsidies.


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

If there’s been a key theme among successful efforts to address homelessness, it’s strong political leadership and the accountability that comes with it, said Tom Theisen, chair of the Regional Task Force on the Homeless.

“Unless you have a very prominent political leader who is willing to take ownership of efforts to end homelessness — and accept responsibility for the success or failure of those efforts — it is going to be extremely difficult to end homelessness,” he said.

Faulconer seems to agree — at least in theory.

“In the past people would say, ‘Oh, it’s a county issue,’ or ‘Let’s let the Housing Commission handle it,’” he said. “I’ve said, ‘No, this has to come directly from me and my office to give the strength, the support, the finances, the political support sometimes to push policy initiatives through.’”

It sounds good. And for some longtime homelessness advocates, there’s even hope that those words will turn into real leadership in 2017.

♦♦♦

On homelessness, Mayor Faulconer’s come a long way from Councilman Faulconer.

As a Council member, Faulconer was the reluctant leader of a district that included downtown and was home to the city’s highest concentration of homeless people. He opposed locating a temporary emergency shelter in East Village and, in 2010, as chair of the city’s Permanent Homeless Facility task force, tied his support of the project that would ultimately become Connections Housing to lifting a court-ordered ban on police ticketing or arresting people for sleeping in public overnight.

But as mayor, Faulconer has evolved. He extended and enhanced a homelessness-services funding plan introduced by interim mayor Todd Gloria. And at his 2016 State of the City address, Faulconer announced Housing Our Heroes, a plan to get 1,000 military vets off the streets by March 2017. The crux of the program is for city leadership to persuade reluctant landlords to accept housing vouchers or formerly homeless tenants.

“He is a long way from where he was when he was on the City Council, voting against the winter tents or bottling up the Connections Housing project,” Gloria said.

Faulconer agreed that he’s evolved on homelessness since his Council days.

“As mayor, you have a much more acute window into so many different issues than you had as a Council member,” he said. “That’s just reality.”

Still, as Gloria heads to Sacramento as an assemblyman, he wants to see more from Faulconer. He says greater involvement by the mayor could be “transformative.”

“He could bring the business community and law enforcement to the table in a more meaningful way,” Gloria said. “He could expand services beyond downtown to places like Mission Valley and the beaches where there’s so much need. He could urge his fellow local mayors to act in their own cities. What are Chula Vista, El Cajon, etc., doing on homelessness?”

Both Gloria and McConnell praised Falconer’s recent hiring of Stacie Spector as his senior adviser on housing solutions. Though Spector comes from a PR background, she’s proven adept at “bureaucratic untangling,” as Gloria put it.

Spector praised Faulconer’s leadership on homelessness and touted the need for a “nimble” system that can respond to individual needs, rather than pushing homeless folks through a one-size-fits-all system.

“I don’t think we’re short on plans,” she said. “I think we’re a little short on what are the most nimble moves we can make to help people as quickly as possible.”

Faulconer’s Housing Our Heroes program underscores the challenges the city faces when it comes to housing folks quickly: Despite homeless vets being a relatively sympathetic population, as of Dec. 20, only 450 had found housing. San Diego’s tight rental market has left roughly 250 other vets with a voucher but no apartment.

Still, McConnell, one of the mayor’s toughest critics on homelessness, considers the program a success.

“Not that this is perfect by any means,” he said, “but it’s a really aggressive program that in the face of a really tough rental market has actually succeeded pretty well in bringing landlords into the system.”

More attention to homelessness from the mayor, better data collection and an overhaul to the regional group that oversees efforts to reduce homelessness have left McConnell hopeful.

“You’re never going to get a city that does exactly what they really need to do, because that’s really hard,” he said. “But you’ve got to do more of the right stuff than the wrong stuff. If we jump off [in 2017] and start doing more of the right stuff and less of the wrong stuff, then I’m going to feel pretty positive about it.”

Correction: An earlier version of this post said Los Angeles and San Francisco, and Alameda, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties all passed bond measures that will provide funding to house the homeless. Voters in Santa Clara and Alameda counties and the city of Los Angeles passed bond measures. San Mateo County voters approved a sales-tax increase and San Francisco voters approved a measure that will funnel additional general-fund money to homelessness services.

    This article relates to: Corrections, Government, Homelessness

    Written by Kelly Davis

    Kelly Davis is a freelance journalist focusing on criminal justice and social issues. Follow her on Twitter @kellylynndavis or send an email to kellydaviswrites@gmail.com

    11 comments
    Don Wood
    Don Wood subscriber

    So we've discovered that the mayor is willing to address homelessness and provide leadership "because we have to"!!!

    The mayor will tackle this issue now that his most wealthy constituency group, the local hotel owners, have complained.

    Way to go, mayor...

    Joan Lockwood
    Joan Lockwood

    Finally- lets try not to fund the same old programs but come up with some more creative solutions that tie work to housing.  Intentional Communities have a purpose as well as housing...stretch a little.  Doing more of the same with the same players will produce more of the same just larger and more.


    Start thinking out of the box for 2017 on the homelessness plight.  Drop the drug and alcohol/HIV positive paradigm or double diagnosis for mental health...There are plenty of San Diegans working minimum wage jobs, senior citizens, mothers and children, that are not using illegal substances or alcoholics.



    Jeeni Criscenzo
    Jeeni Criscenzo subscriber

    At the same time dozens of community activists were at his office delivering 1100 signatures imploring him to stop criminalizing homeless people, and no one from his office would even come out to acknowledge their concerns, out on the sidewalks only a few blocks away, the weekly exercise in cruelty was being played out, giving people who have no place to go, tickets they have no means to pay and tossing their few meager belongings into garbage trucks. This is how he leads? 

    La Playa Heritage
    La Playa Heritage subscribermember

    Solutions are easy.  According to the Draft FY-2016 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), there is +$41.16 Million Cash Reserve Fund Balance siting in the Low Moderate Income Housing Asset Fund (LMIHAF) since July 1, 2013 plus another $215 million in Successor Agency (SA) Debt to the CDBG Program Income for poor Neighborhoods, Affordable Housing, and Emergency Homeless Solutions.  


    Great news that after 3.5 Years Mayor Faulconer will finally be admitting that Cash Reserves Fund Balances of the LMIHAF/SA controlled and Hoarded by Civic San Diego staff will be available immediately to stop the violations of Federal Civil Rights, Fair Housing, and HEARTH ACT by the City and County of San Diego against the Homeless.  


    How many San Diegans have died since the Winter Tents were Unfunded by Mayor Faulconer and Council Member Gloria in 2014?  How many have died due to City Attorney Jan Goldsmith's legal opinion that outlawed the use of former Redevelopment Agency (RDA) funds for Homeless solutions, and stated that RDA can only be used for Bricks and Mortar project, not for people or emergency situations.  


    The only thing that matters is Cash siting in the bank for immediate use. 

    Omar Passons
    Omar Passons subscribermember

    <<<The best way to measure commitment in government is to follow the money allocated to solve the problem. >>>

    Yes. This.

    lorisaldana
    lorisaldana subscriber

    The best way to measure commitment in government is to follow the money allocated to solve the problem. 

    How much will the Mayor commit to investing in these programs when he speaks next week at the SOTC? 


    He could also immediately demonstrate leadership on some basic steps that are needed today, e.g. stop citing people who have no chance of paying $130 fines or defending themselves in court.


    Or ensure people living on the streets have the basic safety and dignity of a pubic restroom available when shelters are full or closed. 


    On this final point- Faulconer could immediately request that the public restrooms at Faultline Park be made available to everyone who needs them, and maintained safely. He could follow the lead of Sacramento and other cities and hire homeless people seeking employment to monitor and clean them. http://bit.ly/SacBathrooms2


    At the least, he could request the City Attorney to investigate why Civic San Diego is failing to enforce the contract the city has with Pinnacle Development. They received $5 million in development credit to provide pubic facilities at Faultline Park.


    Hold them accountable, and keep these facilities open as they agreed. http://bit.ly/PublicPrivateBathrooms1

    Belinda Smith
    Belinda Smith subscriber

    @lorisaldana Yes, I agree that these citations given to the Homeless are particularly offensive. This should end immediately.  All of your other suggestions make sense too. 



    philip piel
    philip piel subscriber

    Wow! La. & SF did something, really? Look closely at the "Homeless" Bonds (J,K), no, closer still! Transportation projects are priority AND of course the pay off to organized labor through a union only construction Project Labor Agreement. I guess hypocrisy knows no bounds. Help the homeless, get them on their feet AND THEN replace them with contractors / construction workers who chose to work non - union.

    There is little accountability with the "homeless" bond measures you refer to, just another income stream for government to use under a vague description. I wish our elected leaders practiced what they preach, fairness and equality for the homeless while forbidding otherwise qualified companies and workers the ability to work on tax payer funded projects for the sole reason the workers don't have a union card. Of course the "homeless" bond will contain language at some point that discriminates against local state approved construction apprentices who are non-union, local state approved non - union journeyman construction workers and significant road blocks for non - union contractors, just like our idols LA. & SF.

    I will wait for the community leaders, elected officials, Democrats and Republicans who've lost their way to cement their backroom union only Project Labor Agreement with Teflon Tommy of the Building Trades Union before standing in front of us smoking cigars and back slapping at the wonderful job they're doing for the homeless before expressing my gratitude.

    Si, se puede! (Yes, we can.... become LA. & SF!)

    Don Wood
    Don Wood subscriber

    Left to their own devices, developers will continue to build new single family housing and condos whose price starts at half a million buck and up. They can make bigger profits by building larger homes and condos and selling them to snowbirds coming here from colder climes and upward mobile yuppies. Why would they builder smaller units and charge less for them when the market rewards them for building larger units at higher prices?  If local politicians ever get serious about creating more affordable housing here, they will have to use their land use planning and zoning powers to require some developers to build smaller, more affordable housing units. Given that local politicians thrive on campaign contributions from those same developers, I won't hold my breath.