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Father Joe’s: San Diego Needs More Homes to End Homelessness

San Diego’s biggest homeless-serving nonprofit has decided a housing crisis is at the center of San Diego’s growing homelessness crisis – and aims to take bold steps to address it.

Father Joe’s Village’s bold announcement that it plans to add 2,000 housing units over the next five years is also a bold declaration: San Diego’s homelessness problem is a housing problem.

The nonprofit has for decades focused on moving homeless San Diegans off the streets. But officials repeatedly emphasized at a Thursday press conference that they’re missing their most crucial asset in that fight as street homelessness booms countywide.

“Our region’s homelessness crisis will not be resolved until we create more housing that people can afford,” Father Joe’s CEO Jim Vargas said.

To address that, Father Joe’s wants to invest $531 million in public and private dollars in permanent housing for people who are now homeless. They plan to renovate more than a dozen motels at locations to be determined, build hundreds of new units and transform some of those they’ve already got into apartments.

It’s a daring pitch that comes with significant challenges, including the need to raise more than $100 million in private cash and to push contentious projects through often-grueling public processes.

And it marks the climax of a years-long shift for an organization best known for its shelter and short-term housing programs.

Current leaders at Father Joe’s have become convinced they must focus on permanent housing, a solution that can both end a person’s homelessness and offer financial stability for a nonprofit that once built its brand around something else.

Now, Vargas said, Father Joe’s must dramatically scale up housing opportunities for homeless San Diegans.

County Supervisor Ron Roberts, who recently became chair of the regional group that coordinates San Diego’s efforts to combat homelessness, shared a similar message at the Thursday press conference.

“All of our meaningful solutions start with homes,” Roberts said.

He described how efforts across the county to house veterans and folks with mental illnesses have struggled with San Diego’s lack of housing.

“We have vouchers for them, we have everything lined up, except we don’t have homes for them,” Roberts said. “It points to what it is that’s missing. We’ve got to get units. We’ve got to get apartments.”

Roberts said he’s invited Father Joe’s to present its plans to the Regional Task Force on the Homeless and hopes others will replicate what the nonprofit pitched Thursday.

He didn’t mention political ally Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s pledges to add hundreds of temporary shelter beds and to build an intake center to help connect homeless San Diegans with services.

Those proposals have pitted Faulconer against prominent homeless advocates convinced that San Diego needs to focus all its funding resources on permanent housing solutions rather than short-term ones that could ease suffering on the streets.

The supporters gathered at Father Joe’s Thursday morning were focused on permanent solutions.

And Vargas repeatedly emphasized his nonprofit’s resolve to focus on that solution in a big way.

“It has to happen,” Vargas said. “We need to do something commensurate with the size of the problem.”

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