Sizing Up Our Homelessness Quest - Voice of San Diego

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Sizing Up Our Homelessness Quest

In our reporting series, we’ve sparked in-depth conversations, unearthed problems and filled in gaps in understanding about homelessness in San Diego. Here’s a guide to the highlights.

Together over the last few months, we’ve been exploring the scope of homelessness in San Diego in a series we call “Quest.” When we launched this series, we knew it’d be a tricky one to end. A reporter could spend every day finding new stories about the 9,000 people counted in shelters and on the streets this year, and the multitude of agencies trying, and sometimes failing, to help.

We’ve sparked in-depth conversations, unearthed problems and their causes, and filled in gaps in understanding about homelessness in San Diego.

It’s time for us to switch gears. But first, here are some highlights of what we learned:

Scope:

• We followed the massive annual effort behind how the region counts its homeless population, which numbered about 9,000 in this January’s rainy count.

What It’s Like to Be Homeless Here:

• We followed Liz Hirsch, a woman who’d recently become homeless in December and who sent us dispatches from Starbucks about sleeping at shelters and cheap motels. She waxed poetic about her efforts to steer clear of a certain mindset she noticed among some of her fellow homeless. She moved indoors in February, to a yearlong program to help senior women transition out of homelessness.

• Two people who’d been homeless previously told us their stories at our homelessness event at the city’s winter tent in Barrio Logan.

Funding:

• Decades-old formulas shortchange San Diego’s share of federal homelessness funding, and give more to cities with fewer homeless people, our investigation revealed. Local and federal lawmakers pledged to lobby to change those formulas. As of earlier this month, they haven’t made much headway.

• City budget discussions: Filner wants to fund both of the city’s emergency winter tents for the entire year, not just four months. Here are six graphs that show the funding pledges and shortfalls for city homelessness programs. Note: Filner has since pledged to fund the extra $600,000 to keep the vets’ tent open year-round.

See how the funding pieces fit together in our San Diego Explained episode:

 

What’s Being Tried:

• We dove in to Project 25 at the end of its second year, as part of a three-year pilot program to coax some of the region’s most frequent users of hospital and emergency services off the streets. The window on this project and other pilot “housing first” programs is beginning to close, but advocates are seeking additional funding to continue.

Connections Housing:

• Our investigation revealed the city’s new permanent center is taking a while to get up to speed, especially in the one-stop depot that was central to the project’s proposal. A former outreach worker posited it might have been better to wait to move vulnerable street-dwellers inside until the programs were at full strength.

What to Watch:

• What happens next for Connections Housing?

• Will Project 25 find ongoing private funding? Will it expand?

• What impact will lobbying have on the federal formulas for homelessness funding?

• How will the mayor’s proposed tent shelter expenditures for next year’s budget go over with the City Council?

Lingering Questions:

I could keep tugging on this thread for a long time. Here are some of the stories we didn’t get to in this series:

• What proportion of San Diego’s homeless were homeless when they moved here? Do other cities actively bus their homeless residents to San Diego? The picture of San Diego as a destination for homeless people shows up in many policy discussions, private and public, about investing in programs for the homeless.

• How big is San Diego’s homelessness sector? We tried to get our arms around how much government and private spending is pumped into combating homelessness, an effort that led to our reporting on the federal formulas. But we hit a few walls in compiling the numbers. For example, the county told me that just one department spends more than $200 million on homeless services, but it didn’t necessarily mean all of those funds were dedicated or restricted for use by homeless people. It’d still be useful to see how big the sector is here, in order to gauge its effectiveness.

• How will the region address its need for more affordable places to place people transitioning from homeless programs? Incentives for landlords? Construction of new rent-restricted units?

What have you learned about homelessness in the last few months? What questions still linger for you? I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

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