Nearly 60 percent of San Diegans who came in contact with an agency that serves the homeless are new to the streets – and that number is throwing a harsh spotlight on the lack of programs to help those people.

Last year, nearly 10,300 new clients accessed homeless services. Just 664 people on the verge of homelessness received aid to try to help them avoid becoming homeless, according to new data that will be presented at a Monday City Council town hall on homelessness. The data reflects the number of folks who hadn’t accessed homeless services the previous five years.

Members of the Regional Task Force on the Homeless, a group that oversees regional efforts to battle homelessness, zeroed in on the discrepancy between the need for aid and what’s available when they reviewed the numbers at their meeting last Thursday.

“We need prevention and diversion in this town, and we need it now,” said Sue Lindsay, who leads San Diego State University’s Institute for Public Health and was hired to help the task force analyze the data.

For years, federal agencies have prioritized funding to help homeless veterans and those who’ve spent years on the streets. San Diego nonprofits have responded by stepping up their programs for those populations.

There’s been far less focus on San Diego’s newly homeless folks.

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

There’s a dearth of funding for programs that might help reconnect newly homeless folks with their families or help them with a couple months of assistance to avoid eviction, leaders of homeless-serving agencies said Thursday.

Joel John Roberts, CEO of PATH, which runs a homeless-serving facility downtown, said federal and local priorities have incentivized efforts on housing folks who’ve been homeless for years.

The problem, Roberts said, is that newly homeless people can end up homeless for years without quick help.

“If we don’t divert others in a few more years, they become chronically homeless,” Roberts said.

Greg Anglea, who leads Escondido-based Interfaith Community Services, said it’s often easier to help a newly homeless person than one hardened by years on the street, though his organization aims to serve both populations.

“For less investment, we can help a lot of individuals who have lesser needs,” Anglea said.

Carla, a newly homeless woman I met last summer in East Village, told me at the time she was worried about exactly what Roberts and Anglea described.

She’d become homeless a month earlier after temporarily moving to Los Angeles to help family members.

When that didn’t play out as planned, Carla said, she ended up homeless in downtown San Diego and confronted a nightmare. She was told she could wait two months for a shelter bed.

“You have to wait too long,” said Carla, who feared she’d be forced to become comfortable living on the street. She didn’t want to become comfortable. She wanted to get off the street.

Task force data shows there were many newly homeless San Diegans like Carla last year.

More than 10,000 of the 17,600 homeless folks served by local agencies last year hadn’t accessed homeless services in the last five years.

Nearly 20 percent of them had been living with friends or family before they sought help from a homeless-serving agency and 40 percent were living on the streets, according to the regional data.

Another 11 percent were previously staying in an institution such as a jail or hospital.

This volume of newly homeless San Diegans has inspired the San Diego Housing Commission to propose a $1.9 million homelessness prevention and diversion program it hopes can help hundreds of individuals and families over the next three years. The agency’s expected to offer more details at the Monday town hall.

Communities that have put a serious dent in homelessness have found ways to more quickly help these newly homeless people.

Regions that want to declare a functional end to veteran or chronic homelessness, for example, must prove to federal officials that they have the resources to ensure homelessness is “rare, brief and non-recurring.”

Advocate Tom Theisen noted Thursday that cities like Houston, which saw a 75 percent drop in street homelessness over five years, have taken steps to ensure swift aid.

During her presentation last week, Lindsay doubled down on the need for increased action to stem San Diego’s growing homelessness crisis, citing the total number of San Diegans who sought help last year.

“Somehow we have to figure out what sources of money we can get so 17,599 people are not trying to get into a bed or some kind of service,” she said.

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

    Written by Lisa Halverstadt

    Lisa writes about San Diego city and county governments. She welcomes story tips and questions. Contact her directly at or 619.325.0528.

    john stump
    john stump subscriber

    Here is my thoughts on today’s Street People item.  To call them “Homeless” is about as sensitive as calling the undocumented “illegals” or Elected Officials as just “Politicians”.  San Diego is just as much their home as you and I. 

    I am suggesting two things:

    1.Form AD Hoc Council Action Committee; and

    2.The new proposed City Budget must contain DEPARTMENT DETAIL for Human Health, Housing, & Services

    The current Housing Commission may be a component of that approach but it has demonstrated that it is  incapable of leading the full effort.  You can not force a new mission on a group that views it mission as "Housing First" 

    All the best,

    John W. Stump,

    City Heights, California 92105


    READ  LUKE 16  19-31

    Nathan Wollmann
    Nathan Wollmann

    This is an area where integration of mainstream services like CalWorks and General Relief could help. For families, CalWorks has a homeless assistance program which recently was updated to allow people to use it once a year to pay a deposit or find shelter. General Relief, the program aimed at people without families is 100% funded and established by the County and could be re-worked to, first of all, not be just a loan. Second, it could be used as part of a landlord incentive program. HUD as developed a lot of ideas in this area.

    john stump
    john stump subscriber

    @Nathan Wollmann San Diego Schools should be part of the prevention formula.   

    It is well established that 4th grade reading score predict future dysfunctional citizens.  

    Schools are the first shelters for disaster Why not t now?

    Bruce Higgins
    Bruce Higgins subscriber

    One of the problems seems to be the extremely long time it takes to get any development permitted and built.  It is possible to get an exemption for homeless housing?  Perhaps as others have proposed, a pre-approved set of plans or conditions, that a homeless housing development must meet? If a development met these conditions, then approval would happen in months instead of years.  Lastly, homeless developments should be exempt from Greenmail by the unions.

    We can solve this problem if we work together, that however requires compromise and we seem to have difficult with that.

    bgetzel subscriber

    @Bruce Higgins While speeding up the permitting would help to keep down the cost of building housing for the homeless, the savings from such would be a pittance. The cost of building and operating such housing is enormous, given the fact that there would be little or no rental income coming in from the residents. Supportive services for the homeless are also expensive. If this city wants to make a comittment to housing the homeless, it must come up with the money to do it. Last fall, the City of Los Angeles and 4 other jurisdictions in California approved bond issues specifically geared to housing and sevices for the homeless. The Los Angeles bond measure alone was for $1.2 billion, plus another bond measure for services that ANgelinos approved a few months ago. San Diego elected officials have barely talked about such a fund raising strategy. However, we do have the mayor talking about (again!) a convention center expansion bond measure!

    Bruce Higgins
    Bruce Higgins subscriber

    Politics is the art of the possible.  Speeding up the permitting process is a step along the path we need to go.  It is therefore a worth while thing to do in its own right.  To use a baseball analogy, I will hit a single all day, every day, rather than watch three straight strikes go by waiting for my home run pitch.

    john stump
    john stump subscriber

    @Bruce Higgins What the hell are you talking about?  Do you want us to believe that street people are living in tent because you can't build more development.  These folks have been displaced by cheap, fee free overdevelopment.  Developers have gotten a free ride for too long and caused this crisis.

    Big Yellow Taxi, my friend

    Jennifer Spencer
    Jennifer Spencer subscriber

    How can individuals help stem the tide of homelessness in San Diego?  Where can we, as individuals, apply our shoulders to uplift the homeless?  This is such a tragedy!  The City of San Diego has not stepped up to help these people and that is shameful.  What can we do as individuals to put pressure on the Mayor and City Council?