Beds inside of the Alpha Project bridge shelter in downtown San Diego / Photo by Megan Wood

Last year the city got an official strategy to tackle homelessness after years of tussling over how to address the city’s humanitarian crisis – and 2020 will be the year residents learn whether city leaders are serious about making that plan a reality.

The City Council last fall unanimously signed off on the plan calling for thousands of new supportive housing units, more housing aid and reforms to the homeless-service system over the next decade.

In the months since the October vote, city and regional officials tasked with implementing the plan report that they have been busy ramping up efforts to reach early goals and to set the stage for more action in the new year.

Meanwhile, mayoral candidates are weighing in with their own takes – and suggesting additional goals and priorities that could shift the conversation when the new mayor takes office in late 2020.

Here’s a breakdown of current city officials’ progress and 2020 plans.

The goal: Deliver 3,500 new supportive housing units plus hundreds more rental assistance slots and subsidies to aid people on the brink of homelessness at an estimated cost of $1.9 billion.

City Councilman Chris Ward, a key champion for the new plan, was recently named chair of the City Council’s land use committee and Ward’s chief of staff Molly Chase said the councilman plans to immediately prioritize creating annual development targets to help the city deliver and track its progress on delivering new housing resources.

“That’s going to be one of the first things we’d like to tackle on our 2020 workplan,” Chase said.

Ward has also joined affordable housing advocates in rallying behind a potential November 2020 affordable housing bond measure that supporters believe could fund 7,500 new affordable homes, including an estimated 2,500 supportive housing units. In November, Ward pushed a required resolution of necessity for the $900 million property-tax measure through another City Council committee. The resolution will head to the full City Council on Jan. 14.

Voters will have a chance to weigh in on another potential funding source in March. Backers of Prop. C, which aims to raise hotel taxes to expand the Convention Center plus fund homeless services and road repairs, have said their proposal could help bankroll new housing assistance and services laid out in the plan. The campaign has estimated their measure could pull in an estimated $276 million for homelessness alone in the measure’s first 10 years.

The goals: Halve street homelessness in the city within three years – and add up to 500 new shelter beds.

Last fall, the City Council voted on a contract with nonprofit Alpha Project to open a new 128-bed shelter at 17th Street and Imperial Avenue and in December, the City Council voted to double the capacity of the shelter for women and families at Golden Hall, adding 138 beds.

City officials said they are also in talks with nonprofit PATH to launch so-called respite care beds for homeless San Diegans being released from local hospitals, a specific gap called out in the plan.

But dramatically reducing street homelessness won’t be as simple as adding more shelter beds. The city will also have to move homeless San Diegans more efficiently through shelters and into housing, something it has struggled to do.

To improve those outcomes, the Housing Commission recently proposed that the city create a $2 million flexible subsidy pool to help homeless San Diegans struggling to move out of city shelters and to aid newly homeless people. The City Council signed off on that plan in December.

The goal: End youth homelessness within three years.

The City Council vote to expand the shelter in its City Hall complex also provided the go-ahead to add 48 shelter beds for homeless youth, a move city officials said was aimed at helping chip away at this early goal.

The goal: End veteran homelessness within three years.

The plan proposed ramped-up efforts to house homeless veterans, including creating a list of those who need aid and coordination with Veterans Affairs officials.

Lisa Jones, the Housing Commission’s senior vice president of homeless housing innovations, said the city has been in talks with the VA about a pilot program for so-called Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing vouchers, a resource the city has historically struggled to deploy.

On Dec. 18, Sen. Dianne Feinstein also announced the Housing Commission will receive a $3.8 million grant to provide rental assistance to homeless veterans.

The goal: Create a leadership council to oversee progress on the plan.

The plan proposed that city create a leadership council to review progress each quarter, help identify funding and resources and oversee staff implementing the plan.

The Housing Commission in November decided who should be on that council. It will consist of Ward, Mayor Kevin Faulconer, Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, Housing Commission CEO Rick Gentry, Regional Task Force on the Homeless CEO Tamera Kohler, SDG&E Vice President Mitch Mitchell, philanthropist and Padres managing partner Peter Seidler and John Brady, a homeless advocate who was once homeless himself. (Disclosure: Mitchell is a Voice of San Diego board member.)

The group’s first meeting is expected in late January or early February.

At that meeting, Jones said she and other members of a smaller implementation team plan to seek the group’s input on major priorities for the next year.

It’s not yet clear if those meetings will be open to the public.

Keely Halsey, the city’s chief of homeless strategies, said the city still needs to hash out the format of those meetings and how it will update both decision-makers and the public on homelessness plan efforts.

“We want to definitely be transparent and open in getting not only the information out about decisions being made, but how they’re made and how we’re taking input,” Halsey said.

The goal: Get more input from homeless San Diegans.

The plan encouraged the city to get a lot more feedback from homeless San Diegans on everything from the homeless service system to police enforcement.

Jones and others plan to propose several ad-hoc committees in 2020, including one composed of San Diegans who have experienced homelessness.

Once assembled, Jones said the city team will regularly seek input from that committee on actions tied to the plan. She said the city also expects to reach out to clients of homeless services and to create surveys and focus groups when it wants to get feedback on programs or other activities.

The goal: Post data publicly so San Diegans can track the city’s progress.

The plan suggests more than two dozen metrics the Regional Task Force on the Homeless, the countywide group coordinating the local response to homelessness, could track on its website to show how the city is faring on efforts to reduce homelessness.

Kohler said leaders will need to establish baseline numbers early this year so they can begin monitoring progress on the plan’s major goals and then create the dashboards. She expects at least some dashboards to go up by June since some data may be gleaned from the late January annual point-in-time count.

Lisa Halverstadt

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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