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The chronically homeless have always been a very difficult population to serve.
Previous programs have tried to reach them with little success. But Project 25 found a way to be successful. And now that program — which houses some of our region’s most vulnerable residents — is itself out of money and at risk.
I created and implemented Project 25. My goal was to end homelessness for the participants while saving taxpayers money. The program was so successful that we received the San Diego County Taxpayers Association’s Golden Watchdog Award.
This three-year pilot program was the first of its kind in San Diego. More than 20 organizations and entities collaborated to help make this project a reality. The United Way served as the lead organization and St. Vincent de Paul was selected to run the day-to-day operations. Other major partners included the San Diego Housing Commission, who provided housing vouchers, and the County of San Diego, which provided supportive services, including case workers. The United Way allocated $1.5 million over the three years to allow St. Vincent de Paul to provide comprehensive wraparound services and collect pertinent data.
Project 25 was named for the number of people we originally thought would be served. But it grew beyond that to include the 35 individuals who are currently enrolled. Local hospitals, law enforcement agencies, nonprofits and many others provided us with extensive data on program participants. With their help, we gathered the most robust set of data ever collected on homelessness in San Diego County.
The results were even better than I expected. At the two-year mark, ambulance rides were down 67 percent, emergency room visits decreased by 64 percent, hospital admissions were down 70 percent and hospital stays down over 64 percent. We were thrilled to share these results with local elected officials, government agencies, business and community leaders as well as other nonprofits. The data was so comprehensive that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said it wanted to use our program as a model for the rest of the country.
Project 25 is currently facing a challenge. Should the program be continued? To me, the answer is unequivocally yes.
The project is saving taxpayers millions of dollars each year while serving our most vulnerable homeless population. Participants are chronically homeless, many with severe mental illness. Thanks to Project 25, they are all housed and receiving treatment.
In its absence, I’m very concerned about what would happen to these people and the many others who could benefit from its services.
We cannot afford to allow these people to go back to the streets. If that happens, all of us will see increased costs, both monetarily and in medical resources.
The chronically homeless have traditionally been very difficult to serve. Previous programs have tried to reach this population with little success. But Project 25 found a way to be successful.
I am hopeful that the nonprofit community, local government agencies and program beneficiaries will unite to champion the continuation of Project 25. This is an excellent opportunity for the community to come together and support a program that benefits our fellow citizens, ends homelessness and saves taxpayers money.
Brian Maienschein represents the 77th Assembly District in the California Legislature. Maienschein’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.