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When it comes to homelessness, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer wants to work it both ways – with both long- and short-term solutions.
Some of the city’s most outspoken homeless advocates have called for an almost singular focus on more permanent housing, the solution they agree is necessary to dramatically reduce homelessness.
Faulconer also seems to agree. But he’s clearly struggling with a question: What should San Diego do now while it waits for that?
The mayor’s plans to address San Diego’s growing homeless crisis were among many aired at a Monday City Council meeting focused solely on chipping away at that crisis.
Stacie Spector, the mayor’s senior adviser for housing solutions, emphasized they were on board with the permanent housing push and offered projections on housing production over the next few years.
“Low-income folks need more affordable, low-income housing, just in case you didn’t hear me the first four times,” Spector joked during her presentation.
But Spector also talked about, among other initiatives, her goal to add hundreds of new, temporary shelter beds – at least 300. She described efforts to assess many potential locations. She’d like to see those beds open within 90 days of finding a site, and have them stay open for about two years.
They could even be under a tent – the temporary approach Faulconer proudly walked away from years ago when the city opened its year-round shelter at Father Joe’s Villages.
“This is not a brick-and-mortar build. We want this to be a short-term aspect,” Spector said. “We realize this is not the solution, and it will not solve homelessness but could help several hundred of our most vulnerable get the services and support they need and safety off of the street currently.”
She emphasized that the goal is to get as many beds as possible, as quickly as possible.
At the same time, Spector was careful to say the intake center she’s also pitched “is not a shelter.” That facility is envisioned as a central location for homeless folks to be assessed and then connected with services operated by nonprofits. Spector has said it may also include some permanent housing and shelter beds.
City Councilman David Alvarez, who once had one of those winter tents in his Council district, said he wasn’t thrilled with the idea of another tent.
“I just would remind the Council that a few years back this Council voted not to put up tents in our city to house individuals but instead to be focused on finding solutions that put people in buildings that are a lot safer and so going back on that, at least from my point of view, is not going to be the way to go on that issue,” he said.
City Councilman Mark Kersey openly grappled with the short-term vs. long-term balance.
“There’s not broad consensus necessarily within the homeless services provider community, which can make it difficult for someone like me who’s not an expert in this subject to know the best path forward. As just one example, we all know that we need more housing. Building more housing is really the answer here, I don’t think there’s any question about that. The real question is: What do you do in the interim time between when the permanent housing gets constructed with the folks who need to be housed right now?” Kersey said.
City Councilman Chris Ward, who represents downtown, has come down on both sides of the debate.
Ward on Monday released a nine-page memo detailing his recommendations to combat homelessness. His proposals include everything from no-enforcement zones for homeless folks to a comprehensive review of public lands that could be sites for affordable and permanent supportive housing projects.
Ward’s decided the city should add both permanent homes and shelter beds.
“The city has an opportunity to play a greater role by considering low-barrier emergency shelter opportunities at city-owned facilities such as Golden Hall, the former Downtown Library and/or other location,” Ward wrote.
Faulconer’s team has drawn a similar conclusion.
Spector often emphasizes the sheer size of San Diego’s homeless problem, and the fact that it won’t be solved overnight.
“It’s like a huge iceberg that we are unable to move in one piece and that we are unable to melt but we need to chip away, thoughtfully and carefully,” she said.
At least two advocates have repeatedly said they’d prefer the focus to be on the end game.
One of them is Tom Theisen, who last month argued a shelter would only leave the city with a backlog of homeless folks in need of a permanent solution.
“I am deathly afraid that if we try to do both (permanent housing and shelter), we are going to do the emergency shelter and not the things we need to do to solve homelessness in this community,” Theisen said at the time.