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I sat in this morning on an interesting C-3 meeting about chronic homelessness and some local efforts to fight it.

Much of the conversation focused on material you might have read in my recent story about those regional efforts, or Adrian Florido‘s excellent story about people living in tents in East Village.

But you might be interested in some other topics that came up. Here are my notes in no particular order:

  • Betsy Morris, former San Diego Housing Commission president and CEO, began the morning with some statistics on homeless people in the county. The homeless population numbers somewhere around 7,600, with about 525 families represented in recent counts. She added that about 16 percent of the homeless population are 17 years old or younger, she said.
  • Brian Maienschein, the United Way’s commissioner for the Plan to End Chronic Homelessness, mentioned a potential program that would identify frequent users of emergency or government services — 10 expensive residents, as Maienschein put it — and match them with supportive housing.

A range of studies have estimated the annual cost to society of someone who is chronically homeless (and using resources like emergency rooms for primary medical care) at between $35,000 and $150,000. The intervention efforts, housing and supporting those people would cost somewhere between $13,000 and $25,000 per year.

“If you’re not moved by some kind of moral or ethical reason, at least you should be moved by an economic reason,” he said. “If we can do it with that population — the most difficult of the difficult — I think we can get people in San Diego to see what a difference can be made.”

He said he spoke to a group recently where an icebreaker survey of the audience revealed that more than half voted “don’t do anything” when asked what society should do to deal with the homeless crisis. But emergency and government resources are being expended already. “You’re already doing something,” Maienschein said.

  • Rob Hutsel, executive director for the San Diego River Park Foundation, which focuses on creating a 52-mile park system along the river, said homeless people impact the river daily.

In their surveys of the river park, and in the course of their cleanup, Hutsel’s group found 120 people living in a 50 acre area surrounding the river. Some had been there more than a decade. Recently, they’ve observed more camps popping up in the open spaces and canyons along the river.

“For the people who say ‘just leave them alone,’ that’s not an option,” he said. The camps bring with them fire risks, hazardous materials, dogs and cats that disturb natural habitats and species and other impacts to the ecosystems.

  • Cissy Fisher, the Housing Commission’s vice president for special housing projects, said the region has hit a tipping point, reiterating Maienschein’s point about the economic cost of keeping the status quo.

She mentioned briefly the city’s request for an outside plan to build a one-stop center for linking homeless and extremely low-income people with services and resources. The city also wants emergency shelter beds and permanent supportive units built as part of the proposal. She had told me for this story that the city expected to choose a proposal by September, but said today to “cross your fingers for October.”

Even then, the new center is not likely to soon replace the temporary tent shelter that the city usually erects in the winter months. “It’s not realistic to think we’re going to solve the tent problem this year and maybe not next year, either,” she said.

All of the panelists emphasized the need for more permanent housing that matches chronically homeless people with caseworkers and supportive services to keep them from ending up on the streets or in the canyons again.

KELLY BENNETT

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