Nearly 15 years ago, a tour of St. Vincent de Paul Village and a look at its transitional housing programs convinced the Department of Housing and Urban Development secretary at the time that there was a path to end chronic homelessness.
“Until today, I didn’t know if we could make our goal,” then-HUD Secretary Mel Martinez said after the 2002 visit. “But if I could energize the rest of the country with Father Joe’s enthusiasm and success then it probably can be done.”
But transitional housing programs didn’t end chronic homelessness. That fight continues and Father Joe’s Villages, the nonprofit that runs St. Vincent de Paul Village, is in the midst of a substantial move away from models that once brought it national accolades.
By next year, Father Joe’s executives project their transitional programs – which focus on providing the homeless with months of support to prepare them for permanent housing – could make up less than a quarter of their offerings. More than 85 percent of Father Joe’s beds were tied to transitional housing programs when Martinez visited in 2002.
The overhaul reflects changes in how experts believe homelessness should be addressed. Now they say agencies should generally start by housing the homeless first and then worry about providing services.
Research showing those programs are more effective and the federal funding changes that have resulted helped inspire San Diego’s largest homeless services agency to begin a rapid shift.