When regional elected leaders work together to implement best practices and then fully fund the efforts, they can make significant progress toward reducing homelessness.
That’s what I learned after spending the last year making a documentary on homelessness in San Diego. I visited Houston, Los Angeles, Silicon Valley, Seattle and Salt Lake City – all regions making big strides in housing their homeless populations by taking truly regional approaches. In those communities, county leaders are working alongside city leaders – based on best practices, such as the housing-first model, which prioritizes getting homeless people housed quickly rather than on temporary or transitional housing and other services and interventions first.
The city and county of San Diego, meanwhile, are playing catch-up, and elected leaders here have been forced to action because of the hepatitis A outbreak. To immediately combat the spread of the disease, the city is clearing the streets of its longtime homeless encampments, opening up a city-sanctioned homeless campsite and preparing to open three large temporary tents to house homeless people.
These are all unplanned, short-term solutions that may be necessary to address the public health crisis, but they are not the real long-term solution to homelessness we so desperately need. The city and county know this, but for some reason aren’t using the increased attention and focus on the homeless crisis as an opportunity to tell the public about the important work going on behind the scenes in creating a comprehensive community plan. The plan lays out a regional approach to solving San Diego’s homeless crisis, and now is the time to not only educate the public about it, but also advocate for its importance and get community buy-in.
City and county leaders should be actively telling the public about the plan, what it will contain and why we should support it. County Supervisor Ron Roberts, City Councilman Chris Ward, Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Regional Task Force on the Homeless CEO Gordon Walker should be leading the effort to use the hepatitis A press conferences and social media posts to remind all San Diegans about the community plan. They need to be talking publicly about many tactics the community plan will contain to help us house more people, even before new housing is built; the need to build more subsidized housing that includes support services; and they need to start working on finding the money to fully fund and implement the community plan and getting people off the streets for good.
But those of us passionate about this issue can also help. We can learn about the community plan and become advocates for it. And hopefully, we can all help create the groundswell of support that will be needed for a plan like this to be fully funded and implemented.
This article was originally published in the Voice of San Diego.