Several cities have recently announced they’ve put an effective end to veteran homelessness in keeping with federal goals set by the Obama administration.

San Diego didn’t meet the challenge.

“Right now we’re leaving too much money on the table and too many veterans on the street to continue in the way that we have been,” said City Councilman Todd Gloria, who leads the regional group that coordinates efforts and funding for programs meant to fight homelessness.

Over the past four years, San Diego saw just a 16 percent decline in veteran homelessness according to regional data reported annually to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.


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Metros such as Phoenix, Houston, New York City and Las Vegas reported drops of at least 40 percent each during the same period.

Leaders in three of those regions have hailed even more dramatic progress in recent months. San Diego officials, meanwhile, say they can’t be certain they’ve seen any further decline in the homeless veteran population until after an annual count that’ll take place later this month.

San Diego’s performance isn’t simply about a lack of local resources. Several homeless advocates told me the region already has many of the tools necessary to end veteran homelessness despite its status as the region with the third-highest population of homeless veterans in the nation. Indeed, other regions with similarly sized veteran populations have boasted that they’ve essentially ended the problem.

Gloria and others are adamant that San Diego’s making improvements that will get more homeless veterans off the streets in coming months.

But to do so, local leaders will have to overcome three big problems that have doomed their efforts before: a lack of leadership and coordination, steep housing costs and an inefficient deployment of resources.

San Diego hasn’t displayed the same coordination and leadership as other regions that’ve seen big success.

Collaboration has been a hallmark of successful efforts to reduce veteran homelessness.

Houston leaders held weekly coordination meetings with stakeholders. Las Vegas enlisted local groups to help identify all homeless veterans in the region and connect them with help. And New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu publicly called on volunteers and local agencies to bring their resources to the table.

Those success stories all included vocal champions and community-wide commitments.

Keith Harris, who oversees the federal Veterans Health Administration’s national efforts to fight veteran homelessness, said he hasn’t seen that same engagement in San Diego.

“All-hands-on-deck efforts seem to have characterized some of the cities that have made the formal claim (of ending veteran homelessness),” Harris said. “That strikes me as a difference with San Diego.”

San Diego’s approach to address veteran homelessness is telling. There hasn’t been an umbrella strategy or oversight group focused on ending veteran homelessness in San Diego.

“I think we have a lot of people in San Diego interested in doing something but you have lots of stakeholders rowing in different directions,” said Michael McConnell, a business owner and homeless advocate who serves as local team leader for the national 25 Cities initiative, which promote coordination systems to end veteran and chronic homelessness.

McConnell and others are pushing for change.

Gloria recently called a meeting to discuss how the regional Continuum of Care Council, the organization he leads, could oversee efforts to end veteran homelessness.

Advocates and agency leaders are also heartened by more recent work.

The council, once made up mostly of nonprofit heads, now also includes business and government leaders, which ensures a broader group discusses strategy and funding for homeless initiatives.

San Diego is one of many U.S. metros implementing a coordinated assessment tool that allows providers across the region to assess the needs of a homeless person they encounter and connect her with the agency or services best suited for her, whether it’s at the facility she walked into or not.

Nonprofit leaders say that’s already ensuring better monitoring of homeless people in that system.

Efforts are also under way to create a shared list of all of San Diego’s homeless veterans to ensure they’re being reached by nonprofits and government resources.

Yet concerns remain about a dearth of regional leadership.

“I have had various high-up people in national organizations tell me it will be difficult, if not impossible, to effectively address the homeless problem unless we have high-level civic leaders involved in and taking the lead in this project,” said Tom Theisen, board president of the Regional Task Force on the Homeless. “I’ve been told that repeatedly at national conferences.”

In Houston, Phoenix and New Orleans, mayors were crucial players.

A spokesman for Mayor Kevin Faulconer said he will redouble his efforts on veteran homelessness in 2016 and plans to announce plans to do so early this year.

San Diego’s got an expensive housing market.

Ending veteran homelessness will require scores of affordable apartments and San Diego’s got few vacant ones to offer.

Last month, the San Diego County Apartment Association reported a 2.6 percent vacancy rate for the county. Rents are also on the rise – and already among the steepest in the nation.

San Diego and other cities across the state lost their top source of affordable housing funding with the death of redevelopment in 2011, which advocates say has complicated efforts to build apartments for the low-income or formerly homeless.

At the same time, more nonprofits are shifting to models that focus on moving the homeless into apartments rather than providing supportive services first.

That means landlords and developers increasingly hold the keys to help end San Diego’s homelessness problem.

“More and more there’s a need for landlords to work in partnership with us,” said Greg Anglea, who leads North County-based Interfaith Community Services.

Anglea and others say that hasn’t always gone smoothly.

Landlords can be reluctant to lease to homeless veterans who often have evictions, poor credit or past jail stays on their records. Property owners also fear damage to apartments or troubles that might crop up when temporary rental assistance ends.

The vouchers veterans receive don’t always match the rents San Diego landlords seek. Housing agencies also must inspect properties before voucher-holders move in, a process that can mean an apartment temporarily sits vacant and doesn’t generate income for the property owner.

Those factors mean it can take weeks or even months to secure an apartment for a homeless veteran.

San Diego Veterans Affairs officials said last year it took local case workers about two weeks longer than the national average to find housing for homeless San Diego veterans.

Nonprofits and local officials are increasingly focused on pushing landlords to help. The Apartment Association recently got on board, too.

The organization is encouraging members to rent at least 200 apartments to homeless veterans and their families in 2016.

The San Diego Housing Commission has received $366,000 from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to create a landlord engagement program.

The Housing Commission and other local groups want to sweeten the deal for San Diego landlords who rent to homeless veterans. Funds that cover security deposits upfront or potential apartment damages beyond those initial deposits are among the ideas. They’re also working to reassure landlords that most homeless veterans will end up being stable renters.

Agencies are looking to provide the units themselves, too.

The San Diego Housing Commission is renovating the historic Hotel Churchill, a facility that will primarily house homeless veterans, and Alpha Project’s new downtown space, Alpha Square, recently welcomed more than two dozen veterans.

Alpha  and Interfaith Community Services both say they’d like to build or purchase more permanent housing for veterans.

San Diego has struggled to deploy resources.

The Department of Veterans Affairs considers its supportive housing vouchers one of its most powerful tools in the fight against veteran homelessness.

But last year the San Diego Veterans Affairs Office struggled to use those vouchers. Just 78 percent of the Veteran Affairs Supportive Housing vouchers the region has received were used last year, according to the national Veterans Affairs office.

Harris, the national Veterans Health Administration official, said both the local and national veteran agencies were frustrated with that result.

“This is problematic,” he said. “They know it. We know it.”

Local leaders including Gloria raised concerns after learning of the local success rate.

“As we’ve been pushing for more resources, I don’t know that I can credibly go out and say that we’re using all the resources as efficiently and effectively as possible,” Gloria said.

Harris said months-long staffing shortages at the San Diego Veterans Affairs office were behind last year’s challenges.

The San Diego Veterans Affairs office says it’s since added 19 new case workers and filled four vacancies to connect more homeless veterans with housing.

The national Veterans Affairs office acknowledged San Diego administrators were reluctant to hire unlicensed case workers some other Veteran Affairs offices brought on to help swiftly respond to a rush of new vouchers.

Harris said the San Diego Veteran Affairs office decided it was important to hire case managers best qualified to serve the region’s most vulnerable homeless veterans. The agency is now more confident about its performance in San Diego and a county housing official said her agency has seen an uptick in voucher referrals from Veterans Affairs in recent months. But statistics provided to Voice of San Diego show it’s too early to tell if there’s been dramatic improvement yet.

Dozens of homeless San Diego veterans are awaiting vouchers from public housing agencies. More than 150, though, now have vouchers and are looking for new homes.

Harris said those numbers show the focus should now be incentivizing landlords to rent to veterans.

    This article relates to: Government, Homelessness, Must Reads, Nonprofits/Community

    Written by Lisa Halverstadt

    Lisa Halverstadt is a reporter at Voice of San Diego. Know of something she should check out? You can contact her directly at lisa@vosd.org or 619.325.0528.

    10 comments
    Donald Sexton
    Donald Sexton

    To further compound the conditions I've endured ... even when I indicated the financial & other issues (injuries, theft, & other evidence of egregious injustice) imposing disparity, austerity, malnourishment, & hunger but instead of ensuring the programs created for such support & subsistence would provide the means I deserve for self reliance, the present primary treatment person & the social work personnel promoted the use of food banks, charity, & other such unreliable sources not associated or affiliated with them so they could once again avoid responsibility & 'pass the buck' into their own coffers & pockets.

    These conditions further exacerbate fraud, abuse, theft, violations, negligence, & crimes characterizing the corruption of this facility & others in the San Diego, CA area that have enjoyed injuring, exploiting, torturing, & terrorizing me but evade accountability (Dudley Ward #6704, Sarah Calvert #6713, James Weaver #6104, & others involved with injuring & nearly killing me then persecuting me with fraud, fabrication, perjury, abuses, violations, …). Beside not reporting or exposing evidence (suppressed by systemic corruption & conspiracy) the assault & battery, electrocution causing respiratory & cardiac arrest along with other crimes perpetrated by the mentioned terrorists or motor vehicle negligence by a negligent idiot that ran me over while I was bicycling but was also indulged while I was exploited & neglected. I’ve endured life-altering injuries as the kleptocracies allowed & indulged a negligent idiot & three terrorists to evade accountability while I was tortured & persecuted.

    The abhorrent absence of timely & appropriate treatment has contributed further harm & exacerbated neuro-vascular issues, deterioration, deformity, degeneration, excruciating pain, … but this is among other health conditions that are not getting diagnosed much less appropriate treatment as the neglect includes trauma inflicted upon both shoulders, neck, spine, ribs, head, hips, organs & other internal areas along with infection & illnesses.

    Donald Sexton
    Donald Sexton

    The problem is obvious because there is fraud & exploitation involved with the kleptocracies administering these housing & subsistence programs that deliberately perpetrate violations for their own self-interests (so the unused funds default into their own coffers & pockets). As usual, I had another terrible experience at the VASD La Jolla with the VASH-HUD program personnel that belong with the Social Services section. This group in the Social Services department has been irresponsible, fraud-ridden, & abusive yet nobody has been involved to further investigate or resolve the issues … further systemic corruption characterizing San Diego, CA. The on-site police department won't investigate any crimes so once again the only recourse was submitting another report of fraud, negligence, abuse, & violations to Patient Advocacy; they have never been active to resolve any prior issues & accountability has never been imposed as this facility further deteriorates while the misleading propaganda obscures the truth. Here is the complaint submitted to the VASD Patient Advocates.

    This is the same group, with the primary physician & orthopedic department, that neglected their responsibilities when a long overdue surgical procedure on my left shoulder (not confident that they knew what to do since nothing was explained about the procedures while my faith in this facility has been depleted from prior disappointments, fraud, abuse, & negligence) was arranged, yet they would not provide aid & assistance, short-term nursing, or transportation. This facility is as incompetent as it is corrupt & cheap both financially (when it comes to my health needs) & ethically). Soon as the surgery date was arranged, I informed & for months had to continuously remind those supposedly involved that I was single as the records indicated ever since I retired from the USN. Yet they would not make the arrangements for transportation, would not arrange for an inpatient stay (however brief the requirement for appropriate monitoring) & told me that should ask other people to get involved else they would cancel the surgery. For months they ignored the matter & refused to accept any responsibility or make arrangements as I was treated like roadkill yet again while their attitude toward treatment was characterized as ‘fast-food medicine’; whatever they wanted to do upon me was unknown both with procedure & effectiveness, then they could drop me off at the curb still under sedation with sutures along with anything else while the risk was pushed onto somebody else that had no business getting involved much less would know about addressing any complications or other unforeseen but possible circumstances. Much to my great disappointment, no sooner than two weeks away from the date, the orthopedic department surgery-scheduling nurse did cancel the procedure but then I found that they further evaded responsibility & accountability by perpetrating fraud when they indicated that I supposedly canceled & was a no-show. Even though I was indicating the problems to all involved, from Patient Advocacy & a social worker at the Naval Medical Center, immediately expressing my disappointment & criticizing the lack of support & failures of upholding their responsibilities when the nurse indicated they would not be able to provide the surgery.

    This is another incident with fraud, abuse, theft, violations, negligence, & crimes characterizing the corruption of this facility & others in the San Diego, CA area that have enjoyed injuring, exploiting, torturing, & terrorizing me but evade accountability. Beside not reporting the assault & battery or motor vehicle negligence by those that caused the injuries I’ve endured & allowing the terrorists to evade accountability while I was persecuted, the abhorrent absence of timely & appropriate treatment has contributed further harm & exacerbated neuro-vascular issues, deterioration, deformity, degeneration, excruciating pain, … but this is among other health conditions that are not getting diagnosed much less appropriate treatment as the neglect includes trauma inflicted upon both shoulders, neck, spine, ribs, head, hips, organs & other internal areas along with infection & illnesses.

    Donald Sexton
    Donald Sexton

    Nobody has ever reached out considering the injuries, injustice, & financial disparities I've endured from shelter, education, medical treatment for injuries, support & protection from injuries, injustice, theft, torture, terrorism, ... it has been exploitation, negligence, & corruption worse than anyplace on Earth.

    Just to add another layer on the type of cake I've been served since honorable USN retirement, I recently visited the San Diego Housing Commission office this past Friday, 20160212 @ 1500 where I was blown off for over an hour with no assistance or consideration. I am qualified for subsidies; I brought the required information, references, & credentials but they could not have shown me out the door any faster. I was merely provided wasteful documents that duplicated the online information.

    Then I spoke with a supposed ombudsman, whom I indicated the lack of assistance along with knowledge about the exorbitant funds for veteran programs that the SDHC & others are promoting (they were actually on their meeting agenda held that very day) but she had no answers or assistance despite the office still operating through 1800 that day.

    There are several programs promoted by the propaganda ironically titled Homeless Veterans Initiative of Housing First & Housing Our Heroes Campaign but some honor, it's all insincerity & hypocrisy along with more corruption & fraud from more San Diego kleptocracy getting indulged while I'm exploited & neglected. Not the only time I've been considered negligible as roadkill.

    This type of treatment & worse has happened for years since I've transitioned from honorable USN retirement & conditions have only deteriorated. I should have been supported over a decade ago but nearly every supposed benefit & entitlement that I earned has been an absolute failure if ever provided while I endure poverty, disparity, injury, & injustice.

    The pithy retirement pension remains meager & has not kept pace with any suitable cost of living measure while others that have never served get indulged & serve their own self-interests, the institutions emplaced that supposedly ensure the funds for programs for my consideration are not distributed but they hoard, misappropriate, & keep the exorbitant indulgences without oversight & accountability. It is a repulsive & disgusting situation that should have been prevented but has exacerbated without due recognition & without resolution. Even when I indicated the financial & other issues (injuries, theft, & other evidence of egregious injustice) imposing disparity, austerity, malnourishment, & hunger but instead of ensuring the programs created for such support & subsistence would provide the means I deserve for self reliance, the present primary treatment person & the social work personnel at the VASD promoted the use of food banks, charity, & other such unreliable sources not associated or affiliated with them so they could once again avoid responsibility & 'pass the buck' into their own coffers & pockets.

    The misleading propaganda fails exposing the chiselers, shysters, shills, & welchers that have been complicit in much corruption especially exploiting & neglecting this retiree along with other veterans deserving much better but such unethical & immoral conduct exemplify the character of San Diego, CA.

    Chris Megison
    Chris Megison

    Why isn't VVSD included in this article? They are San Diego's award winning veterans program yet the staff writer omits them?

    La Playa Heritage
    La Playa Heritage subscribermember

    Last year Mayor Faulconer and Council Member Todd Gloria outlawed the Veterans Tent on Midway that was run by Veterans Village (VVSD) first in winter only.  Then Year-Round starting in 2013. @Chris Megison


    VVSD does not have money to fund the 150-bed Veterans Tents this El Nino Winter itself, so the Veterans Tent is closed down forever. 


    150 Veterans Beds in Tent  x 365 days a year = -54,750 Veterans Bed Nights lost due to a lack of Leadership.  


    The good new is all our Strong Mayor Faulconer has to do to resolve this issue is understand the easy solution of following the lead of the City of San Jose.


    Funding would come from the $51 million in hoarded Cash from Civic San Diego's Low Moderate Income Housing Asset Fund (LMIHAF) Affordable Housing Master Plan (AHMP).


    Or the $3.8 million in HUD OIG Audit Debt into new CDBG Program Income identified in ROPS-9 this year, with no plans to spend the Cash immediately. 

    PtlomaRDT
    PtlomaRDT subscriber

    No doubt , this is the number one issue in our community.  Not only Veterans, but all those sleeping on our streets. The  challenges remain surmountable, but  we as a community are tentative in our  solutions. We don't want urban campers. We don't want "Tiny Houses" .  We do want quality programs  which provide   on going  assistance, and it  isn't cheap. But I believe San Diegans   will step up, as they do when  called upon, to contribute to a comprehensive  homeless  program , which  weaves together charities, government housing, medi-Cal/ medicare and the mental health system.

    If we do not tackle this,  not only are we acting in an immoral fashion, but the visitor to San Diego will report back home that  we live in a dump in which  we allow the homeless to wander and  camp anywhere at anytime. When the tourists stop coming, I bet something  major will finally happen.


    La Playa Heritage
    La Playa Heritage subscribermember

    Today, January 11, 2016. 2 pm. Item 201 Civic San Diego's Low Moderate Income Housing Asset Fund (LMIHAF) Affordable Housing Master Plan (AHMP) documents $51 million Cash hoarded by the City Council until a future FY-2017 to FY-2018 NOFA. 


    http://tinyurl.com/20160111b 


    http://tinyurl.com/20160111c


    The numbers in Civic San Diego LMIHAF AHMP do not match the numbers in the City of San Diego's FY-2015 Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFR). This is troubling.


    Note that the last update to this Special Revenue Fund was in May 2013. 


    At any time, the City Council can approve using all $50+ million Cash to end Homelessness. There is enough money, but no Political Leadership to solve our Homeless problem.  Too bad.



    http://tinyurl.com/20151208a


    In contrast, the City of San Jose is opening up public Libraries and Community Centers for the Homeless.  Plus allow Churches and Non-Profit to house the Homeless during Inclement Weather without the need for Conditional Use Permit (CUP) Modifications.


    Plus the City of San Jose is allowing Tiny Homes and Camping Cabins less than 400 square feet for the Homeless on City Property without the need for CEQA.  Allowing Public Buildings, Shelter, and Churches to open to care for the poor.  


    Just today, Assembly Member Brian Maeinschein is putting forth Assembly Bill AB-1500 Priority Housing Projects Exemption from CEQA to the Assembly on Natural Resources hearing. AB-1500 will get rid of Discretionary CEQA Review for Homeless Emergency Shelters, Housing First, Supportive Housing, and Transitional Housing requirements Statewide. Great news. 


    http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201520160AB1500



    peggyo
    peggyo subscriber

    It looks like, once again, Mayor Faulconer is showing us his fabulous leadership skills. He needs to prioritize this now and not keep pushing it off on others.

    Richard Gardiol
    Richard Gardiol

    Thanks again to Todd Gloria's feckless leadership, homeless veterans are in worse shape this year than last. Todd Gloria has been a complete failure as a District Councilperson; anyone that is thinking about voting for him for any position of responsibility needs to have their head examined.

    Donald Sexton
    Donald Sexton

    @Richard Gardiol Even when he was congresswoman Susan Davis' veterans assistant there was no appropriate involvement when I was injured but fraud, abuses, violations, negligence, & other crimes ensued ... the corruption has exacerbated & festered like cancer.