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Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2006 | The City Council unanimously approved Monday a plan aimed at ending chronic homelessness, as drawn up by more than 100 homeless advocates, housing developers and care and service providers.

The plan outlines building and designating 2,000 housing units to be lived in by the most serious homeless cases – known as chronic homelessness. Removing them from the streets and providing them with ongoing services would slash the costs associated with caring for them in emergency rooms and law enforcement and justice facilities, organizers say.

The city and county launched the plan in 2004, designating the United Way as the organization to convene planning committees to address issues including housing, employment, health services, justice services, outreach and prevention programs.

The plan has, for the most part, been lauded among government officials, developers and the chronically homeless individuals themselves, organizers say.

“The main reaction is that they’re very, very thankful,” said Hannah Cohen, a consultant who oversaw the project for the United Way. “So many of these individuals want to come off the street and there’s no place for them to go.”

Among a population of homeless persons estimated at more than 9,600 in the county, those considered chronically homeless number about 1,400. But caring for that 14-percent subgroup eats up 50 percent of the region’s homeless support resources, organizers say. An individual is considered chronically homelessness if they have a disabling condition and have either been homeless continually for a year or have been homeless at least four times in the past three years.

The plan seeks to provide funding for permanent supportive housing and services for these individuals and to establish systems to prevent families and individuals from becoming chronically homeless to begin with.

“I believe it’s the responsibility of society to take care of these individuals who need medication,” Cohen said. “Once you get a roof over their head, then they are stable. Many of them can go on to live independently.”

But many who provide these services to homeless individuals still have questions about the feasibility of the plan. Pat Leslie is a professor of social work at Point Loma Nazarene University, where the council meeting was held Monday evening. Leslie facilitates a group of homeless direct-services providers called the Regional Continuum of Care council, which also works to secure federal Housing and Urban Development dollars for San Diego programs. She identified several features of the plan passed Monday that resemble those of previous plans the region has adopted in the ’80s and ’90s.

“If these features have been very good ideas, what has stopped them from being successful?” she said. “Some say it’s political will, but is it political will, or is there a legal issue, a resource issue? At this point, the questions are around how the implementation of the plan will work.”

Several members of Regional Continuum of Care organizations were involved in the plan discussions at the subcommittee level. Leslie said while the service providers and the PTECH leadership council hasn’t always seen eye-to-eye, they have discussed and revamped the plan enough that now, she said, “We can agree on the elements.”

The PTECH was accepted by a 4-0 vote at council committee in June. Since then, the leadership council, headed by Dene Oliver of Oliver McMillan, Inc., has sought to establish strategies for successful implementation.

“The totality of the subject of chronic homelessness has been cloaked in hopelessness for a long time,” Oliver said. “People always kind of viewed this that there wasn’t a solution.”

He and others mentioned several instances of successful supportive housing programs, in regions including San Francisco, Philadelphia and areas of Great Britain.

“Socially it’s the only right thing to do,” Oliver said. “Economically – it’s a positive net result.”

“This is a shift of the way resources are invested,” said Simonne Ruff, San Diego County project manager for the Corporation for Supportive Housing. “Instead of using homeless acute-care services, they’re actually able to remain fairly stably housed.”

The plan would operate on state and federal aid, including money from the Mental Health Services Act. Ruff said nearly 500 individuals would benefit from the mental health aid dollars alone.

Leslie said she and other service providers are hoping to stay involved as the PTECH is implemented.

“We’ve kind of been a thorn in their side,” she said. “Now we’re finally all in the same place.”

Please contact Kelly Bennett directly with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or send a letter to the editor.

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