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Vote could end 'zero tolerance' drug policy for San Diego County-subsidized housing

This move would put the San Diego County more in alignment with current housing policies on both the state and federal levels.

SAN DIEGO — Should San Diegans who receive county-subsidized housing be required to be 'drug-free'?

Currently, this "zero tolerance" policy when it comes to drug activity is technically on the books, even though it is at odds with California's approach. 

Next month, San Diego's County Board of Supervisors will vote on whether to end this policy, which many homeless advocates said is a barrier to getting people off the streets and into housing.

This move to end San Diego County's "zero tolerance" drug policy as a condition for accessing county-funded housing, including Section 8 rent subsidies, would put the county more in alignment with current policies on both the state and federal levels.

"To be quite honest, we are already housing people who are struggling with addiction," said John Brady, director of Lived Experience Advisers, a group of formerly homeless individuals advocating for those living on the streets.

He said that substance abuse issues should not be a barrier to housing.

"If we are going to implement successful harm reduction programs and move people off the streets, this can't be a restriction that we allow to continue," Brady told CBS 8. 

"We can't expect people that are living on the street to recover on their own from addiction issues because we know that addiction issues are compounded by people living on our streets," he added. "It's a tough situation."

This move to officially end the "zero tolerance" drug policy at the county level is is a move that the state of California already made in 2016, and the federal government made in 2009: a model known as "Housing First."

"We don't have these restrictions around Section 8 vouchers within the city, we don't have these restrictions federally," Brady said. "It is just bringing us into alignment with the rest of the world."

"To lift this to me, it just doesn't make sense," countered County Supervisor Jim Desmond, who believes that the 'Housing First' model has not been working. He is opposed to the move to end the 'Zero Tolerance' policy.

While he wants to help those who are struggling to get off the streets and into housing, Desmond said also fears that lifting the policy will enable drug use and even drug dealing in county-subsidized housing.

"It just doesn't make sense that we allow that to continue with what is keeping them homeless," Desmond said.

"What this policy doesn't do is, it doesn't say because you're on a voucher or you're in supportive housing or a program, and you are dealing drugs, that that's a pass," Brady said. 

Desmond also said that reversing the current 'Zero Tolerance' policy could shrink the amount of available housing.

"We already have a hard enough time finding landlords who are willing to take section 8," Desmond told CBS 8. 

Brady disagreed with that.

"We are already working with landlords that are taking in tenants from all types of backgrounds," he said. "I don't think it will change any of that."

Supervisor Desmond said that would be in favor of a compromise that included mandatory drug treatment for those struggling with substance abuse issues and who continue to use, as a condition for accepting county-subsidized housing. 

At this point though, that compromise  is not part of what the Board of Supervisors will be voting on: that vote is now scheduled for Dec. 13.

WATCH RELATED: Drug use, homelessness, and crime: Ocean Beach community said area is on brink of disaster (Nov. 2022).




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