San Diego got a call-out on the first day of the new legislative session this week when Senate president pro tem Kevin de Leon announced a $2 billion plan to pay for housing for mentally-ill homeless people.
At press conferences in L.A. and Sacramento, Project 25 – funded by the United Way of San Diego and led by St. Vincent de Paul – was highlighted as the kind of “housing first” model the new funds would go toward, using money raised by Prop. 63, the 2004 act that put a 1 percent tax on state millionaires to fund mental health services.
The Project 25 pilot program started with 36 chronically homeless who were costing San Diego about $120,000 each annually through emergency medical care and hospitalizations, according to KPBS. By getting them into housing and then providing “wrap-around” psychiatric and social services, many have been stabilized and remained off the streets and out of emergency rooms. Assemblyman Brian Maienschein helped start the program.
It’s “paying dividends for the taxpayers,” notes the release. “In two years the annual public costs related to participants of Project 25 were reduced nearly 63 percent, to $1.6 million from $4.3 million.”
Sen. Marty Block, who backs the legislation and was at the press event, said he expected programs like that one to receive additional funding if the proposal passes and pointed out that San Diego has one of the highest populations of homeless veterans – many with service-related mental issues – that need help and could benefit if the funding materializes. “People have mixed feelings about the homeless,” he said. But “feelings are much more sympathetic towards veterans.”
The Legislature’s focus on the housing first model mirrors federal agencies’ embrace of that strategy, which aims to house people right away, as opposed to other models that focus on first providing services like counseling and job training. San Diego nonprofits have been making a slow pivot toward housing-first approaches.
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