A homeless woman pours water into a bowl for her dogs. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

As Mayor Kevin Faulconer has urged City Council members to line up behind an array of new city-funded homelessness programs, he’s consistently encountered a demand from fellow city leaders.

Instead of approving one-off initiatives and projects, they argue, San Diego needs a clear, comprehensive strategy guiding all of its homelessness efforts.

“A lot of the programs that have been coming forward (are) reactionary, and I’ve not really seen a holistic approach in where we’re going,” City Council President Georgette Gómez said before a vote to extend contracts with shelter providers last year. “We’re just reacting, having a piecemeal type of a program moving forward.”

Faulconer seemed to take a shot at that approach in his State of the City address when he said, “I am not going to tell a veteran sleeping in a park, or a family living out of their car, that they should wait for the government to do another study while they spend another night in the cold!”

Yet the plan to create a plan was set in motion, and it’s set to drop soon. A lot will be riding on it.

Early this year, the Housing Commission finalized a $183,900 contract with nonprofit Corporation for Supportive Housing to establish an overarching vision for addressing homelessness that includes short, medium and long-term action items to better aid homeless San Diegans.

City leaders have demanded that the plan include actionable items and identify the dollar figures necessary to dramatically reduce homelessness.

Consultants from the group have spent months crunching numbers and meeting with dozens of homeless San Diegans, local government officials and homeless service providers to evaluate the city’s homeless service system and hash out proposed strategies to reduce homelessness.

“I don’t just want it to be a pretty document that reads well,” Gómez said in July. “I’m looking for direction and I want to support that.”

In the past eight months, Corporation for Supportive Housing senior policy adviser Ann Oliva and vice president Liz Drapa have calculated the city’s estimated homeless housing needs and explored shorter-term measures the city can take to lessen the suffering of those on the street.

“We took an approach that tried to balance those two things so we’re addressing both crisis response as well as permanent housing,” Oliva said during a presentation to the Regional Task Force on the Homeless board last month.

Keely Halsey, the city’s chief of homelessness strategies and housing liaison, said the city is also expecting the plan to include analyses of existing programs and a breakdown of funding needed to better assist homeless San Diegans – plus a to-do list of sorts.

“We requested that (the plan) contain not only general policies, but specific tasks that can be executed and adapted in order to reduce homelessness,” Halsey wrote in a statement. “The report will not be the last step, and we are ready to keep taking action with our partners and find a sustainable source of funding to implement ideas from the report.”

Lara Gates, Gómez’s policy chief, said the City Council president’s office is mulling the best way for the City Council to monitor progress and how to ensure other initiatives align with it, perhaps as soon as the day the plan goes to City Council.

“This is a long-anticipated plan that needs to help us solve our homelessness crisis and that requires having actionable items that come out of City Council that staff has clear direction on how to move forward,” Gates said.

The plan could also influence upcoming ballot measures.

Stephen Russell of the San Diego Housing Federation, which is rallying behind a possible November 2020 property tax measure to fund thousands of new affordable homes, said his group considers the upcoming plan a key guide for its measure. The organization may adjust its housing production plan to better match the affordable and supportive housing units called for in the plan.

“We’d like to use it as a template for the expenditure plan for our bond measure,” Russell said.

Faulconer and the coalition behind a March 2020 measure to raise hotel taxes to expand the Convention Center and invest in homeless services and road repairs may also take cues from the plan as they try to sell the measure.

While the hotel-tax measure defers to the mayor and other city leaders on decisions about how to address homelessness, the plan is designed to give Faulconer and others in-depth input from policy experts about how to improve the city’s homelessness response.

Housing Commission CEO Rick Gentry has said that informing efforts that aim to pull in more new money to address homelessness is a key goal of the plan and that the plan can and should adjust as needs – and resources – change.

“Although this is a roadmap, it is not an atlas. It’s a GPS and it’s going to be variable based on road conditions and the biggest one is going to be what kind of money’s available,” Gentry said last month. “But what it will be will be a guide to local policymakers on what resources are needed and what we can do with the resources and of course, we can only do what we can do with the resources.”

Interested in learning more about the homelessness plan and what it will take to implement it? Join me at Politifest on Oct. 26 for a discussion with Ann Oliva, Keely Halsey, Regional Task Force on the Homeless CEO Tamera Kohler and Padres general partner Peter Seidler, who helped lead a movement to provide more shelter beds for homeless San Diegans.

Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

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