San Diego’s homeless population was fifth largest among major American cities last year, but its federal funding from a key source was dramatically less than cities with a fraction of the homeless population.
San Diego’s homeless population numbered around 8,500 last year, according to a one-day census taken in January 2014.1 But Miami, which counted fewer than half as many homeless people, won double the $16.2 million in federal funds San Diego was awarded.
Chicago also received nearly four times as much homeless funding despite counting 2,000 fewer homeless people than San Diego.
The funding disparity from the federal Housing and Urban Development department lingers two years after a Voice of San Diego analysis highlighted the disconnect, prompting local, county and federal officials to lobby for updates to decades-old formulas that disadvantage San Diego among other western cities.
The pace of reform is slow. But HUD officials said they are working on changing the way it distributes the money.
Despite HUD’s delay, San Diego’s anti-homelessness crusaders have more spring in their step than they have for years. It’s been about a decade since the region began seriously considering novel, research-based approaches like “housing first,” which places people in apartments even if they have larger issues like mental illness or substance abuse, and “rapid rehousing,” which tries to patch the gaps that cause a person to lose his or her housing before weeks, months or years pass.
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I'm so glad Voice of San Diego keeps tugging at this issue. I could actually see an argument to be made for seasonal variation, though that sounds like an administrative nightmare. But for a place like Miami to get $40MM more than San Diego despite having a much smaller amount of homeless persons to serve is hard to take. It's no fun pitting one region's needy against another's, though if the federal government is going to allocate a fixed pot of money it ought to do it more equitably.
I've got to point out that there are going to be discrepancies regardless. For example, someone who's without shelter in Boston, New York, or Chicago right now is in serious danger of dying from the cold and snow, but not here in San Diego. If worst comes to worst, this is about the best place to be homeless in the winter, weather-wise. Right now, I'd rather see more money going to house the homeless in northeast winters, as a matter of simple humanitarianism.
That's not to say that we couldn't use more money and services, but it is to say that there's some logic behind giving more money per homeless person to certain other cities.
As for the article, it would have been great to see how much money per homeless person was being spent, and how the cities compare on that. With the graphics presented, we can't know whether we're being asked to do more with less, or whether cold cities on average get more per homeless person than sun-belt cities do.