SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — San Diego leaders on the city and county levels are vowing to tackle the critical issue of homelessness in an innovative way.
This new approach focuses not just on housing unsheltered San Diegans, but also getting at the root causes of the problem.
"We also recognize the urgent need to do things differently," said County Board of Supervisors Chair Nathan Fletcher.
This new strategy includes dispatching specially trained outreach teams which will help connect unsheltered San Diegans not only with housing, but also mental health resources, including help for dealing with addiction and substance abuse issues.
"It's not just a matter of getting them a meal, a cot, a roof over their head," Fletcher added. "That may not be enough to get them to come inside."
To that end, these teams will also focus on developing trust with the San Diegans they are working with.
On the city level, an intense outreach campaign focusing on the Downtown area will underway later this month to address the growing problem of encampments along sidewalks.
"What is happening in downtown is wholly unacceptable," Mayor Todd Gloria said.
"Homelessness is the most pressing challenge facing our region," the mayor added. "The city and county are in lockstep and fully committed to implementing sound policies and proven strategies that will make a transformational difference in the lives of people who are homeless."
"It is great to finally have a leader at the county who understands that county government has a significant role to play in fighting homelessness. Chair Fletcher gets that," Gloria continued.
The first phase of the strategy will begin June 28.
Outreach teams will hit the streets for a coordinated and geographically concentrated, monthlong outreach campaign to connect individuals who are experiencing homelessness to immediate shelter, housing navigation and behavioral health services and medical care for those in need.
There are no shelters or other housing options in the county for people experiencing homeless who are not sober or actively committed to sobriety.
The second phase, building on experiences from Phase 1 and is scheduled to begin in August. It addresses the struggle of those who are chronically homeless with severe substance-use disorder, by engaging them with teams who can link them to health and social services, including specialized temporary housing, regardless of the status of their sobriety.
Community Harm Reduction Teams will be initially deployed into the central region of San Diego, with expected expansion to other areas of the county. The teams will provide outreach and engagement, connection to primary care and behavioral health services, and bridge housing, including Safe Haven housing, to individuals with chronic substance-use and mental health conditions.
"Each person experiencing homelessness has their own unique set of circumstances, but addiction and mental health injury are common contributors to chronic homelessness, requiring a distinct response to meet their particular needs," Fletcher said. "We are investing in a better way, an approach that is different from what we have done in the past. We expect to achieve better outcomes with this strategy."
"You can't continue to throw money at a problem using the same old playbook," he continued.
Phase 1 involves outreach workers from PATH, the Downtown San Diego Partnership, Father Joe's Villages and Alpha Project.
They will be complemented by County Public Health nurses and eligibility and social workers from the Office of Homeless Solutions and Equitable Communities, to provide onsite support with public assistance programs and links to county and community services, as well as behavioral health providers.
The San Diego Police Department's Homeless Outreach Team will participate in a supporting role, including transportation and logistics.
Together with the outreach is a phased expansion of capacity at four shelters for people experiencing homelessness. In the coming weeks, roughly 300 beds will be added at the Paul Mirabile Center, two East Village shelters and Connections Housing -- bringing total capacity to around 1,400 beds.
In Phase 2, the Community Harm Reduction Teams will engage people with highly complex and acute needs who are experiencing homelessness and at increased risk of harm due to substance use and mental health conditions.
The county and city will dedicate American Rescue Plan Act funds to this effort.
A total of $10 million of the city's budget is dedicated to funding for operational costs of the expanded shelter space and safe haven and other complementary programs. Additional federal and state resources will support the acquisition of permanent supportive housing.
The county will provide funding for C-HRT teams, along with behavioral health and support services at the new bridge shelter and Safe Haven sites.
Additionally, the county will explore the availability of more short- and long- term housing resources countywide that align with the harm reduction strategy.
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