County supervisors adopt comprehensive framework for ending homelessness

A San Diego police offer tapes a cleanup notice to a tent belonging to a homeless couple in 2019.
A San Diego police offer tapes a cleanup notice to a tent belonging to a homeless couple in 2019.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

San Diego County supervisors last week unanimously supported a framework that would address homelessness with myriad programs at a cost of about $1 billion annually.

The cost includes state and federal funding already in use as one-time grants, with $704.1 million as the largest allocation for programs focused on prevention and the root causes of homelessness.

That strategy includes employment programs and income support, access to basic social services and community empowerment activities. Future efforts addressing homeless prevention include a new youth services fund and expanding engagements with school districts.

The framework also calls for $235.2 million for permanent supportive housing and $178.9 million for services, treatment and outreach.

Costs for other strategies include $77 million for diversion and mitigation, with new efforts including programs on eviction counseling, cash assistance, a security deposit assistance program and a coordinated eviction prevention program.

An additional $44.9 million would go for emergency and interim housing and resources, with new safe-haven housing and zoning ordinance amendments in the future.

The framework calls for programs and approaches to be driven by data, collaboration, sustainability and equity while also focusing on the unique needs of the person being helped.

The latest action follows the board’s creation in April of a new Department of Homeless Solutions and Equitable Community, headed by Barbara Jiménez under the Health & Human Services Agency. The department includes an Office of Homeless Solutions led by Omar Passons and an Office of Equitable Communities led by Jennifer Bransford-Koons.

Nick Macchione, director of the Health & Human Services Agency, told supervisors Nov. 2 that the new department follows the board’s direction of ensuring that current and future county actions on homelessness are focused on principles of equity and grounded in science and data.

Jiménez said the framework will create a unified countywide strategic approach to ending homelessness and will shift from crisis management to person-centered services and sustainable housing.

Supervisor Jim Desmond joined other board members in supporting the framework but said he did not agree with all of it and would like to see more specifics about how it will work with homeless people who abuse drugs and alcohol.

“Unfortunately, most of the chronically homeless are going to say, ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’ primarily because I think most of the chronically homeless are addicted to drugs and alcohol,” Desmond said.

Desmond also said he would like to see incentives built into the framework, such as offering a person a larger apartment if he or she agrees to enter a rehabilitation program.

Tamera Kohler, president and chief executive of the Regional Task Force on Homelessness, said the framework aligns perfectly with her organization’s work and the principles it follows.

“This department is truly a life-changing development for the county,” she said.

San Diego Housing Commission President and Chief Executive Rick Gentry said he saw the collaborative effort of the framework as expanding on the relationship the city of San Diego and the county already have developed.

John Brady, who was homeless five years ago and now leads the consulting group Lived Experience Advisors, said the growing collaboration on addressing homelessness will have a significant, positive effect.

“It is so encouraging to see all of us rowing in the same direction,” he said.

Since its formation in July, the Office of Homeless Solutions has added 32 positions to expand direct outreach and services countywide. The office also is expanding services in Central and South County and is set to deploy more staff members in North County this month and in East County next month. ◆