As mayor, Bob Filner pledged to turn the city's annual adult and veterans emergency homeless shelters—normally open Thanksgiving through Easter—into year-round operations. Though his initial funding allocation fell short, the shelters haven't closed since November 2012.
Today, interim Mayor Todd Gloria said there are better uses for the $1.9 million it would cost to keep the shelters open 365 days a year. While it'll require the approval of the City Council and whomever wins the Feb. 11 mayoral special election, Gloria today laid out how he thinks the money should be spent:
* The adult winter shelter, which will revert back to its previous schedule of a late-November opening and late-March closure, will get $800,000 to cover operating costs plus enhanced case-management services that focus on moving people from shelter beds to more stable housing. The vets tent is federally funded, but some of the $800,000 would go to case-management services there, too.
* The Regional Task Force on the Homeless will receive $400,000 to fully implement its Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), a data tool that will help service providers track clients and find out, in real time, if beds are available. HMIS is also meant to be a performance-measurement tool to see which programs are successfully moving people off the street—and which aren't. The Department of Housing and Urban Development requires such a system to be in place in order for counties to receive federal homelessness dollars.
* The San Diego Police Department's Serial Inebriate Program—a diversion program that seeks to place homeless chronic alcoholics into treatment and housing rather than jail—will receive $120,000 to restore its budget to its pre-2007 funding level. The additional funding would boost the number of people the program's able to help at any given time from 12 to 32. And, the police department's Homeless Outreach Team would get an additional $40,000 to augment its street-outreach services.
* Some $80,000 will go to providing enhanced case-management services at Neil Good Day Center, a one-stop spot in East Village where homeless folks can take a shower, pick up their mail, attend group meetings or simply get off the street for a few hours.
* The Check-In Center, where homeless people can store their possessions, will receive $150,000 annually to fully fund operations. Prior to this, the center's lacked a stable funding source.
* Some $300,000 will close an annual gap in funding for Connections Housing, the city's new homeless-services center that provides 223 interim and supportive-housing beds.
While this is a significant step for the city—in the late '90s and early 2000s, San Diego was spending more than $2 million in general-fund money on social-services programs before cutting that spending entirely in 2005—it's not without controversy. While permanent supportive housing—beds that come with services—is seen as the best practice in ending homelessness, a recent consultant's report found that San Diego's current supply of emergency shelter beds (381) is 350 beds short of where it should be. Closing two shelters in March isn't going to help matters, said Bob McElroy, CEO of the Alpha Project, which operates the adult shelter.
"In 60 days, we're going to put 375 people back on the street," he said.
Outreach workers have been using the shelter as a sort of way-station to temporarily house people until beds open up in other programs.
"The [Homeless Outreach Team] is not going to have any place to take people; the [Psychiatric Emergency Response Team] is not going to have a place to take people," McElroy said.
When asked about this, Gloria said a better HMIS system will help providers keep tabs on people, know right away if a bed's available and prioritize who should get that bed.
Gloria said this shouldn't be viewed as a reduction in services but rather a re-thinking of how best to spend limited dollars.
"The representation that the tents were going to be open year-round is illusory," he said. "It wasn't funded that way, and it's one of the things we've been trying to deal with.
"We have a significant problem... in terms of the thousands of people who are homeless," he added. "We should not reduce our commitment; we should keep the commitment at its current funding level, but use those dollars in more effective places where we know the outcomes are more likely to result in people getting off the street permanently."
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