Most policy conversations about homelessness in San Diego focus on long-term solutions. Yet, the challenge is pressing right now.

After all, one count of street homelessness downtown last month showed a 36 percent spike from April to May alone.

Voice of San Diego and Citizens Coordinate for Century 3, a nonprofit focused on civic and planning issues, teamed on Thursday to press leaders focused on reducing homelessness to talk about solutions that could be tried sooner rather than later.

The ideas and reactions offered by City Councilman Todd Gloria, Piedad Garcia of the County’s Health and Human Services Agency, Alpha Project COO Amy Gonyeau and advocate Michael McConnell were revealing.

Even in the debate over short-term solutions, concerns about whether those might pull resources away from long-term efforts played out repeatedly.

Here’s a look at four potential solutions discussed – and some of the complexities and disagreements that come with them.


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A New Shelter

Gonyeau of the Alpha Project believes more shelter beds are necessary to aid the booming homeless population downtown.

She pitched the idea of a 500-bed central intake facility, where those now living on the streets could get connected with case managers and get ready for permanent housing.

Gonyeau is a big proponent of the housing first model, which aims to quickly place the homeless in permanent housing. But San Diego’s still working to build its stock of affordable and permanent supportive housing, and relationships with landlords who will rent to them.

“Until we get the inventory, until we get all this figured out, we need somewhere for them to go,” Gonyeau said. “We need somewhere for them to go to start working on the issues of why they’re homeless.”

Gloria and McConnell were skeptical.

Gloria doubled down on the idea that the region must focus its resources on permanent housing instead of more temporary solutions.

“(Shelters are) the emergency room of our system and we have to get them into more permanent, stable situations,” said Gloria, who chairs a regional group charged with overseeing local efforts to end homelessness.

McConnell argued San Diego could get a bigger bang for its buck by lowering barriers to its current shelter beds, repurposing its roughly 3,000 temporary beds and investing in more permanent housing.

Gonyeau said she agrees permanent housing is ideal but said the changes McConnell advocated won’t happen overnight.

“When you’re on the street, and you’re homeless, how are we going to address the housing first model right now because the inventory’s not there,” Gonyeau said.

Self-Governing Tent Cities

Garcia, deputy director for the county’s Behavioral Health Services division, had a bold idea: Large camps run by the homeless that can serve as hubs for homeless outreach workers to regularly visit.

Garcia said she learned of the concept during a recent housing conference in Sacramento. Homeless folks from Santa Rosa County created camps of 25 to 30 people and pets on vacant lots. Garcia said they paid $1,800 a month for a security person and garbage pickup. They also had a portable bathroom.

“(This would) that require a lot of will, a lot of political will and a lot of soul and a lot of heart to do something that’s maybe really different and maybe challenging, but do you have them on 16th Street or on 17th Street or do you have people in a place where they can get the resources they need to be able to move on?” she said.

Only McConnell directly addressed the idea.

“Tent cities are a failure of our system, so I’m not for legalizing encampments or tent cities,” McConnell said. “I think that’s an admission of defeat, but what I am for is making sure that people who are having to try to survive on our streets have some basic needs met.”

Activist Martha Sullivan said she supported the concept, which dovetails with a recent push Sullivan and others have made to supply tiny homes for the homeless. She disagreed that the focus should only be on permanent housing options.

“Having somewhat supported small camps for people, (with) communal bonds that they develop on the street, let them have those and let them be in a sort of supported camp with portable bathroom and maybe a shower and a place where they can lock a door,” she said.

Turn Old Motels Into Housing

Building permanent housing for the homeless takes years.

Garcia suggested another approach other cities are trying to more quickly build up supply: “Turning dilapidated motels and dilapidated homes and incentivizing the owners and the landlords to sell and therefore, create studios or shared housing.”

Los Angeles recently got major kudos for its plan to rehab 500 motel and hospital units and offer them to homeless veterans.

The San Diego Housing Commission’s already taken at least one step in this direction. The commission recently used federal money to restore downtown’s Hotel Churchill. The commission expects to welcome 72 homeless San Diegans this summer.

Later, Stephen Russell of the San Diego Housing Federation noted the dramatic loss of single-room occupancy hotels downtown has likely worsened San Diego’s homeless problem.

More Incentives for Landlords and Subsidies for Renters

Nonprofits and government agencies can’t end homelessness on their own. They’ll need many assists from landlords countywide willing to take a chance and rent to homeless folks who may have past evictions, criminal histories or other challenges.

Garcia, deputy director for the county’s Behavioral Health Services division, believes more incentives for them could be a game changer. She’s now at the front lines of this challenge as the county ramps up its Project One for All initiative, which aims to aid and house about 1,250 homeless folks countywide who have serious mental illnesses.

“There’s still a lot of stigma and discrimination associated with people who have a serious mental illness,” she said.

The county’s plan includes deal-sweeteners for landlords. So does the city’s quest to house 1,000 veterans by next March.

Garcia believes more rental assistance for the homeless could also make a big difference. For example, Garcia said, homeless folks with serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder often receive only paltry Social Security income.

“It is very small compared to what we probably all make here, about $900 or so a month, and so if you look at the cost of a studio or a one-bedroom apartment you need between $1,000 and $1,300 a month,” Garcia said. “So somebody has to supplement that difference so the individual person continues to be housed.”

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

    Written by Lisa Halverstadt

    Lisa writes about nonprofits and local progress in addressing causes like homelessness and Balboa Park’s needs. She welcomes story tips and questions. Contact her directly at lisa@vosd.org or 619.325.0528.

    29 comments
    Dan Beeman
    Dan Beeman subscriber

    Okay, back in the 90's the City via the redevelopment Agency to funds from the North Park Redevelopment Project Area Committee(PAC), a few million $ just to do that! A motel in area northeast of downtown San Diego was purchased and family housed there. Sadly, it was done w/o PAC authority! Never knew what the financing was, rate of interest, how bonds being paid back, misc. costs, etc.

    Not really sure it worked, not like PATH of L.A. or model they put together here. Just another temporary housing project/plan that took away more low-cost housing (motel was low cost for area). When we continue to take housing assets of the market place prices go up via demand. We need to work at getting more "shelter" housing, not as in shelters, but as a place for people to shelter themselves in real #affordablehousing in the market place. Small places that are livable, convenient to food shopping & transit, while not being wholly funded by government. Employers should be highly involved in this, and units should be near workplaces. Walking/biking is better than subsidized transit, quicker most times than multi-transfer transit too! 

    This all is possible! I've done it before with Riverwest Organizing Project in Milwaukee, and has happened in many other places too! Why so many other places don't have homelessness issues we have, and are increasing, in San Diego!


    858-571-6058

    WE CAN DO THIS, but media must listen, a give truth, rather than old "blah"ther.

    But will they?

    Jorge Serrano
    Jorge Serrano

    These self-righteous bureaucrats have had two centuries to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, and they've done a piss-poor job of it. I say it's time to throw them under the bus and start from scratch.


    "The seven deadly sins.... Food, clothing, firing, rent, taxes, respectability, and children. Nothing can lift those seven millstones from man's neck but money; and the spirit cannot soar until the millstones are lifted."
    –George Bernard Shaw

    William Charles
    William Charles

    Allowing the Police to arrest the street loiterers would also be a great step. Why is it illegal to park in a red zone, but not illegal for these homeless vagrants to urinate on my street?

    Michael Robertson
    Michael Robertson subscribermember

    Making it more luxurious and easy to live without working will encourage more people to not work. It's just an issue of incentives. Give people an incentive to not work and and they won't.

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    @Michael Robertson "Making it more luxurious and easy to live without working will encourage more people to not work."

    Or it will encourage more people to start a business when they no longer worry about where they're going to sleep if the business fails. So it will be a job creator!

    Michael Robertson
    Michael Robertson subscribermember

    @Derek Hofmann @Michael Robertson Well we know this isn't true because nobody has given away more free stuff than Obama and we've seen business starts decline dramatically. It should be a very concerning data point. 

    You can't give away stuff without demanding responsible behavior otherwise you just encourage more irresponsible behavior. Any giveaway should be linked to positive behavior. There's another name for this: a job. 

    Michael Robertson
    Michael Robertson subscribermember

    @Derek Hofmann @Michael Robertson That data is bunk. They employ a common tactic is to select a lull in the past as your baseline. It's number trickery. Similarly "number of job openings" is NOT a good sign. What is accurate is work force participation rate - the number of able bodied who want a job and are working. That's at a 40 year low. 

    Here's link to Gallup which chronicles the dismal trend in new company starts and its cousin company closures: http://www.gallup.com/businessjournal/180431/american-entrepreneurship-dead-alive.aspx


    You seem like a smart guy so I'm unclear why you don't understand when you add more regulations, laws and taxes to the economy it decreases the incentive to start a new business. It also increases the cost which discourages people from starting companies and if they do start them limits what money they can put towards hiring and R&D. Together they crush new companies and also drive existing companies out of business. This means a lower number of total companies. Lower number of companies means less innovation and less competition which means higher prices and lower quality. All around bad developments. 

    Obama admin has added about 100,000 new laws while he's in office. This really damages the speed and efficiency of the economy. This is why we have such anemic growth. 

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    @Michael Robertson That Gallup article shows that startups dropped dramatically in 2006 or 2007 (before Obama took office), hit bottom in 2009 or 2010, then the data ends in 2011. So you see, that lull happened to be around the time Obama took office.

    Regulations and taxes can be good or bad for the economy. For example, regulations that eliminate market failures such as information asymmetry are good--ask any economist if you don't believe me. Similarly, taxes that eliminate market failures, such as charging the cost of pollution to the polluters themselves (this corrects the negative externality, another market failure), are also good for the economy. Lastly, if the tax revenue is used to support businesses, such as by improving transportation infrastructure, that can also be a net benefit to the economy (but not always).


    And by giving homes to the poor, we reduce the need for the minimum wage. If we can reduce or eliminate the minimum wage, wouldn't that be good for the economy?

    Michael Robertson
    Michael Robertson subscribermember

    @Derek Hofmann @Michael Robertson You believe in the idea of a "free lunch" and it's simply not true. It would be great if politicians could do magic and shuffle money around to create prosperity but they cannot. Only hard work, risk and innovation creates prosperity. 

    Obama admin has created 100,000 new laws making nearly every business and citizen a lawbreaker. These aren't to stop pollution as you give an example of. No new laws are needed for that. If people can prove that pollution harmed them or their property they can sue in court. 

    There are no examples where creating taxes and rules increased business. It adds overhead and slows business. The Brits now vividly understand this with the EU. 

    No it would not be good to "give homes to the poor" because the money to do so would be taken from others. With your logic why not give homes to everyone? Why stop with homes, give them cars and flat screens and ponies too. 

    If giving people stuff created prosperity than Africa wouldn't be the economic backwater it is today because it's received more than a trillion in giving from western nations. 

    Back to the issue of bums on the street. Those cities that give bums more have MORE bums. Take a visit to SF to see this. 

    There's no substitute for hard work and smart life choices. 


    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    @Michael Robertson I think we should eliminate sales taxes, including the TransNet half cent sales tax that partially funds freeways. Do you agree?

    Michael Robertson
    Michael Robertson subscribermember

    @Derek Hofmann @Michael Robertson I'm all for tax reductions. Taxes take people's freedom and create huge bureaucracy. Reduce taxes and you force govt to be more efficient besides letting people keep more of the proceeds of their work. 

    Why do I suspect that you're opposed only because you don't like freeways and want the govt to force people into transportation that you personally approve of? 

    Cars are a huge profit center for the government. Drivers pay a lot for the privilege of driving, far more than the cost of maintaining and policing roads. Here's some math I recently did:


    Registration $6.5B
    State gas taxes $4.9B
    New car sales tax: $4.4B
    Parking fees: $1B
    Fines, tickets: $1.5B
    Fed gas tax: $2B

    Total: $20.3B


    I'm sure I'm forgetting other revenue sources such as sales tax for car equipment and repair purchases, tax on used car sales, truck fees, smog checks, etc which will add billions more. 


    You will claim it's "not enough" but of course it will never be enough. To leftists the government is never big enough, but the reality is the government always expands to devour all the tax money and want more. But the truth is CA spends 300% more to build a mile of road than Texas. This isn't because CA roads are way better but rather because Caltrans has effective unions which expand to eat as much tax money as they can get. 

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    @Michael Robertson When I buy a car, most of the purchase price leaves the local economy because we don't build cars here. And when I fill it with gas, again most of that money goes to states and countries that produce oil. So when you look at where the money goes, it becomes obvious that cars might not always be the best fit for San Diego's economy.

    Despite that, I'm not against freeways. I'm just against the current practice of paying for them with sales and other taxes not related to usage, because it creates a huge inefficiency which is another drain on San Diego's economy. If the users paid 100% of the costs, they would seek alternatives to save themselves money, creating jobs, encouraging innovation, and lowering tax rates.

    Dan Beeman
    Dan Beeman subscriber

    @Derek Hofmann @Michael Robertson Lots of "blah"ther here! People want to work generally, but they must get enough income to pay for housing, transportation, food, living! If they don't get paid well enough then it can be better to manage resources they have then going bankrupt by working for pay that drains their saving/assets. Employers should be willing, truth of being a reliable business: being able to meet true expenses to be long term profitable/stable, to pay their workers enough to live on. If a piece of capital equipment breaks you fix it, or replace it. You must pay the market rate (see housing costs/living costs for humans) to replace it. The more abuse/used the capital piece the quicker it will breakdown and cause business problems. Better to maintain well (housing/food/transit for humans) rather than let it get worn out & broken down. What we now have is lots of broken down people. Human work force. Forcing them to do unhumane things seems not right, unwise, and shameful to me.  Just one mans opinion. God Bless, daniel


    Michael Robertson
    Michael Robertson subscribermember

    @Derek Hofmann @Michael Robertson Yes most of the purchase price when you buy a car goes to manufacturers and they've been chased out of CA by unions, regulations and taxes. Nonetheless the SALES tax I listed above of $4.4B STAYS IN CA. It goes to DMV. 


    Your position that auto drivers don't pay is clearly wrong. I listed more than $20B in taxes paid by auto owners and drivers and there's billions more I didn't include. This is considerably more than all state and local monies spent on road construction and maintenance. 


    Lefties love to say that car owners don't pay their fair share - in fact they say that for EVERYONE because they want everyone to pay more at all times. But it's simply not true. I strongly encourage you to examine the numbers yourself. 

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    @Michael Robertson "I listed more than $20B in taxes paid by auto owners and drivers and there's billions more I didn't include. This is considerably more than all state and local monies spent on road construction and maintenance."

    Are you sure? Because nationwide, drivers pay less than half of the cost of roads: http://www.uspirg.org/reports/usp/who-pays-roads

    And Texas found that none of its roads pays for itself in gas taxes and user fees: http://www.austincontrarian.com/austincontrarian/2009/05/do-roads-pay-for-themselves.html

    Do you have any evidence that California's roads pay for themselves in gas taxes and other user fees?

    Michael Robertson
    Michael Robertson subscribermember

    @Derek Hofmann @Michael Robertson  Maybe you missed my earlier email where I listed the SPECIFIC dollar amounts CA drivers paid in 2014. They were:


    Registration $6.5B

    State gas taxes $4.9B
    New car sales tax: $4.4B
    Parking fees: $1B
    Fines, tickets: $1.5B
    Fed gas tax: $2B

    Total: $20.3B

    I'm missing a lot of other sources because CA politicians love to tax car drivers. Those include sales tax for car equipment and repair purchases, tax on used car sales, truck fees, smog checks, tire taxes, oil taxes, AC chemical taxes and many others. Caltrans budget in 2014 was $16.7B well under the $20B above (which again is billions under counted). This includes the hugely inflated CHP with massive union salaries and pensions too. As I said, lefties love to say that evil car drivers aren't paying their fair share. They think NOBODY is. Ever seen a news story from a leftist organization saying that a segment of the population is paying their fair share? Nope and you never will because their propaganda is we're all free loaders and should be paying more. Yes, you can find lefty sources that look at one source of revenue and say "look this doesn't cover roads". But they're deceiving you because they don't include ALL the sources of revenue like I did above. They'll include only gas taxes for example. You'll see there are many other taxes on auto drivers. 

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    @Michael Robertson How much does SANDAG spend on roads, how much of that comes from user fees, and how much comes from the TransNet sales tax?

    Michael Robertson
    Michael Robertson subscribermember

    @Derek Hofmann @Michael Robertson I don't know that data, but as I've already shown with hard data, car drivers in CA pay BILLIONS more than roads cost to build or maintain. I analyzed at the state level and the numbers are so lopsided that even if it were reverse at local level it would still be in the black. 

    The transportation users that are subsidized are bus, train, subway, and other govt run transportation systems. Those users do not pay for the full cost of providing that service. You attack on car drivers is not supported by the facts. 

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    @Michael Robertson It seems California has been deferring maintenance: "Caltrans will need approximately $80 billion over the next 10 years to meet needs on the state's 50,000 miles of highways -- a projected funding shortfall of nearly $60 billion. 'Our maintenance dollars can only go so far,' Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty said." http://www.mercurynews.com/mr-roadshow/ci_28154024

    So Caltrans' roads don't pay for themselves by a long shot, and the existence of the TransNet sales tax implies San Diego's roads also don't pay for themselves. I've already provided proof that drivers nationwide pay less than half the cost of the roads.

    Here's another quote from the Texas article: "the real gas tax rate people would need to pay on this segment of road to completely pay for it would be $2.22 per gallon."

    I wonder if California drivers would be willing to pay $2.22 per gallon so that their roads are no longer subsidized?

    Michael Robertson
    Michael Robertson subscribermember

    @Derek Hofmann @Michael Robertson Come on Derek, you're being intentionally misleading. The Texas article ONLY LOOKS AT GAS TAXES. This is the exact scenario that I told you lefties do to mislead. Govt (even in Texas) charges car owners lots of ways. Look at the entire picture. 

    As for Caltrans and deferred revenue - they are unionized beast who will devour as much money as you give them. There are NO CA GOVERNMENT DIVISIONS WHICH PUBLICLY SAY THEY GET ENOUGH MONEY. There never will be. It's never ever enough. 


    I already showed you how CA drivers pay at least $5BILLION - probably more like 7 or 8 billion taxes more than is spent on roads. Go look at the Caltrans budget. They're blowing $1.6B on the foolish low speed train to nowhere. 


    In addition Caltrans is extremely wasteful. A mile of road in CA costs 300% more to build than a mile of road in Texas. This is because Caltrans is a union pig. 

    We've already had this debate but for anyone else reading, CA should outsource roads to private companies. They would do a much better job for half the price and their investors would make a great profit. The issue is not taxes are too low, it's that CA spends the money on other items and the money it does spent is squandered in a union operation which is fat and wasteful. 

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    @Michael Robertson "The Texas article ONLY LOOKS AT GAS TAXES."

    Correct, because that and tolls are closely associated with usage of roads. Any other source of revenue, if used to pay for the roads, is a subsidy in some way. For example, registration fees are a subsidy for people who drive the most in a year from people who drive the least. Although variable congestion tolls would be a much, MUCH better way to pay for freeways than gas taxes because it would permanently eliminate traffic congestion, saving taxpayers a LOT of money.

    "Go look at the Caltrans budget. They're blowing $1.6B on the foolish low speed train to nowhere."

    The alternative to spending $68.4 billion on California's high-speed rail is spending $119.0 billion for 4,295 new lane-miles of highway, plus $38.6 billion for 115 new airports and 4 new runways, all just to move the same number of people. Plus every HSR line ever built makes an operating profit within a few years after it opens, then a net profit (paying down debt) a few years after that. Therefore, HSR sounds like a bargain to me!

    Michael Robertson
    Michael Robertson subscribermember

    @Derek Hofmann @Michael Robertson So now you're worried about low mileage drivers subsidizing higher mileage drivers? Well at least I've made progress in showing how drivers are a huge profit center for the state. 

    You are nearly 100% wrong. There are 2 high speed rail systems in the entire world that generate a profit:  Paris-Lyon in France and Tokyo-Osaka in Japan. Everywhere else they are massive money losers. See http://reason.org/files/high_speed_rail_lessons.pdf

    CA's HSR is required to secure private investors and they cannot do so. This is because people know it's a massive money loser. 

    Trains are 1800s technology. We have flying trains now called airplanes that can go anywhere not just in a predetermined location. 

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    @Michael Robertson "drivers are a huge profit center for the state."

    I'm not sure about the state, but cars require massive subsidies and preferential legislative treatment at the local level.

    "There are 2 high speed rail systems in the entire world that generate a profit:  Paris-Lyon in France and Tokyo-Osaka in Japan."

    Those are the only two that paid off their construction costs in full. If having zero debt is required to be considered profitable, then few companies in the world are profitable!


    "We have flying trains now called airplanes that can go anywhere not just in a predetermined location."


    Airplanes can only go point-to-point, while trains can stop at every city along the route. And today's most efficient airliners get 100 passenger-mpg while electric high-speed trains get the equivalent of 300-500, sometimes more. As a result, airliners simply cannot compete with HSR for trips below 300-400 miles: "Between New York and Washington...75 percent of travelers go by train...since the Acela [bullet train] was introduced in 2000..." http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/16/business/hassles-of-air-travel-push-passengers-to-amtrak.html

    Michael Robertson
    Michael Robertson subscribermember

    @Derek Hofmann @Michael Robertson I've given you hard data about how the state profits billions from drivers yet you say you're "not sure". This disappoints me. 


    Trains are huge money losers when moving people whether slow (Amtrak) or fast. You know this because people love money. If profits could be made operating trains business would fight for the business, but they cannot. So instead they build services to move people which do make money like: buses and airlines. Only people whose bank accounts are not on the line would conclude that trains make money. They don't. 

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    @Michael Robertson "I've given you hard data about how the state profits billions from drivers yet you say you're 'not sure'. This disappoints me."

    If you're confident in your research, please publish it in a report for the world to see. I'm very interested to hear what others say about its accuracy and completeness.

    "So instead they build services to move people which do make money like: buses and airlines."

    Do airlines build airports? No.

    Do air passengers fully fund the TSA and FAA? No, the TSA and FAA each get some direct taxpayer support.

    Do airports pay property taxes? No, except for parking lots/garages and other parcels not directly related to airport operations.

    So it seems airlines can only make money when airports, security, and air traffic control are subsidized by taxpayers.

    lorisaldana
    lorisaldana subscriber

    Another impediment to getting into housing after experiencing homelessness: qualifying for a rent or lease agreement. 


    Many people who end up homeless have lost jobs due to lay-offs, and/or been unable to work due to illness (their own or a family member), and then were evicted, have had a foreclosure, or experienced some other financial problem that stopped them from paying rent/mortgage and other recurring bills. This in turn makes their credit rating a problem, and many landlords check an applicant's rental and credit history before signing a rental/lease agreement with them. 


    Shared housing that allows people to pay for the costs of temporary shelter, to off-set some of the security, water, utilities, and other costs, would help them in several ways: it provides stable housing, a community of people vs. isolation, and also shows a record of payment that could be provided to prospective landlords. 


    Likewise, showing a history of paying for cellphones or other recurring bills that currently are not factored into a traditional credit rating check could show prospective landlords they have the ability to manage rent and other financial commitments.


    Shared co-housing for a short period of time, to help people re-establish their credit and show a successful history of money management, would be an important step forward to get people into more traditional, market-rate housing.

    Thomas Theisen
    Thomas Theisen subscribermember

    @lorisaldana Hi Lori.  In addition to shared housing, there are various other programs which have worked across the country to address the housing challenges facing the homeless, including, funding increased security deposits, leasing advocates for the homeless, damage "superfunds" to protect landlords, and even cash incentives to landlords.  Both the City and County of San Diego have instituted some of these programs earlier this year for homeless veterans, and it would be interesting to hear from San Diego Housing Commission and the County how these programs are doing as we move into the second half of 2016.