Lucius Reeves, 70, outside the Salvation Army on Eighth Avenue in downtown on Sept. 2, 2022. / Photo by Peggy Peattie for Voice of San Diego
Lucius Reeves, 70, outside the Salvation Army on Eighth Avenue in downtown on Sept. 2, 2022. / Photo by Peggy Peattie for Voice of San Diego

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Thousands of unhoused San Diegans moved into homes in the last year, but thousands more fell into homelessness. 

The Regional Task Force on Homelessness, which coordinates the countywide response to the crisis, reports that 15,327 people sought homeless services for the first time over the last 12 months – outpacing the 11,861 formerly unhoused people who moved into housing. 

That’s the equivalent of 13 people accessing homeless services for the first time for every 10 formerly homeless residents who were housed. 

The bottom line: Local efforts to combat homelessness can’t keep up with the flood of people losing their homes. It’s a harsh reality that explains why the region isn’t putting a significant dent in its foremost humanitarian crisis even as local leaders tout increased investments in housing, shelter beds and other services. 

The new countywide data from the Task Force shows more people are falling into homelessness than the service system can aid.  

“This homeless crisis response system is not built for these kind of numbers,” Task Force CEO Tamera Kohler said. 

Last month alone, 1,368 newly homeless people accessed services.  

Courtesy of the Regional Task Force on Homelessness.

The number of people falling into homelessness has surged in the past few years.  

Task Force data shows the overall number of people accessing homeless services also spiked more than 40 percent since fiscal year 2019 to about 34,250 people over the past 12 months. That total reaches more than 41,300 when permanent housing programs are included.  

Seniors and families have been particularly vulnerable. 

The Task Force reported it saw an 89 percent spike in newly homeless families in shelters from 2019 to 2021 and during the February homeless census, 47 percent of unsheltered residents 55 and older reported they were experiencing homelessness for the first time. 

Kay, 60, is among San Diego’s newly homeless seniors. The onetime Carlsbad homeowner said she rented a room in a Sunset Cliffs home before an August dispute with her landlord forced her to sleep in her car. She has since spent most nights in a city-funded safe parking lot while searching for work. She has yet to find a new housing option and said the safe parking lot is filled with other seniors and people with fixed incomes.  

Tents where San Diegans live line the street outside the shuttered California Theater on Sept. 2, 2022. / Photo by Peggy Peattie for Voice of San Diego

“There’s no bridge to housing,” Kay said. “There’s no bridge to work.” 

Homeless service providers throughout the county are also feeling the impact. 

“There’s this huge wave of people who are brand spanking new to this situation,” said Sebastian Martinez of Chula Vista-based Community Through Hope. 

Martinez said increased need in recent months led Community Through Hope to increase spending on food and bus passes for unsheltered clients. A portable shower trailer available on Tuesdays for unsheltered residents celebrated its 500th shower after almost a year in service, then surpassed 1,000 showers about two months later.  

Greg Anglea, CEO of Escondido-based Interfaith Community Services, said his agency has noticed a spike in need in the last six months. 

“The increased cost of housing simply makes it much easier for anyone to fall into homelessness,” Anglea said.  

Tent encampments in downtown San Diego on Sept. 2, 2022. / Photo by Peggy Peattie for Voice of San Diego

Last fiscal year, Anglea said Interfaith moved 1,374 people into housing and helped another 1,485 people avoid falling into homelessness with the help of COVID relief funds. 

Now COVID funds have largely run out. The need hasn’t gone away. 

“If you can’t stem that inflow, then we are going to continue to see the problems that we’re seeing,” Anglea said. “I think we absolutely need to prioritize homelessness prevention.” 

Lisa Jones, executive vice president of strategic initiatives at the San Diego Housing Commission, said at a City Council meeting last month that the agency is updating the city’s 10-year homelessness plan to reflect an increasing tide of unhoused residents. 

She also emphasized the need for more preventive measures. 

“Our current homelessness crisis system is a fail-first model,” Jones said. “You have to experience homelessness to get responded to so if we don’t focus permanent funding streams on upstream interventions, none of the other money we sink into this is going to work.” 

Some prevention work has been ramping up at the city and county. The city and county earlier this year approved pilot programs meant to provide hundreds of seniors and others with payments to help them avoid losing their homes. 

County supervisors are also set to vote Tuesday on Chair Nathan Fletcher’s proposal that county staff create a prevention program using data to predict the likelihood that a person will become homeless that directs resources accordingly.  

Kohler said more preventive efforts are needed. 

“We’re going to continue to lean in there because the system just does not have the capacity to serve these increased numbers,” Kohler said. 

San Diego’s homeless residents residents have well established tent encampments around the old library, the Salvation Army, and along Commercial Street under Interstate 5. A view of Commercial Street seen here on Sept. 2, 2022. / Photo by Peggy Peattie for Voice of San Diego

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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  1. Do we have. ANY way of determining who of the newly homeless are established San Diego residents and who has moved here because as one recently arrived “camper” from Arizona told me, “it’s a helluva lot nicer here than back in Arizona.”

      1. I’ve seen the 75% statistic before. It seems to somewhat minimize the impact of outsiders on our homeless population. Let me ask this question: Would you rather have 10,000 homeless people or 7,500 homeless? And furthermore, that would mean there are 2,500 homeless people from other cities that are not bearing the burden of their own homeless.

    1. @chuck, it’s better for the enablers story if “they all come from San Diego” , so as soon as they set foot in SD they are San Diegans. Or they simply self – identify as San Diegans.
      If you are homeless and are applying for free stuff , do you think you have better chance if you say you’re from Chicago or Imperial Beach?

  2. If Halvorsen is “digging into’ this issue she must be using a tea spoon. Why sugar coat the woman’s story? I’ll help translate – she lives in her car due to a dispute with her landlord ( didn’t pay rent ) , could not find a job ! C’mon Man ! ( did not apply for one of thousands of open jobs in retail, hospitality, child care , restaurant work).

    1. Eliminate the “us vs them” mindset-
      (as we are all Americans and better yet-ALL God’s children…)

      1. In theory yes, in reality no. I’ve run at least 14 times for local office and never once did some institution help my efforts. I follow the teachings of Christ yet those affiliated with religion vote the popular brand. VOSD has no soul, no heart and sadly a bogus intellect otherwise they would take off their blinders and respect ethics and straight talk. These so-called editors follow the trend period. They have no concept of how and why the voters of this city elect their leaders. Just BS! And more BS! They buy it! SAD Smiechowski Leave your ballot void on D2 SDCC.

    2. This is more opinion with an agenda than investigative reporting. It’s like reporting a tragic single car accident where the driver died. “How sad and terrible”. Unless you report the whole story that the driver was drunk and had multiple DUI’s.

      1. A friend of mine calls VOSD an op-ed factory posing as a legitimate journalism outlet. He thinks of it as a YIMBY lobbying organ.

  3. These non profits and others on the gravy train are the only people on earth who believe the “homeless” are from San Diego or even California altogether. Fabricate whatever studies you want, you are only lying to yourselves.

  4. The County wants to create a data driven program to prevent homelessness. If the Board of Supervisors are serious, they must direct the County Counsel to begin intervening in City of San Diego land use planning and zoning decision making, since the mayor and city council members are prime instigators of our local homelessness problems. The county has to stand ready to get between the city hall politicians and planning staff and the real estate developers who have infiltrated community planning groups and drive political decision making with their campaign contributions. Every time the city council is asked to allow a developer to bulldoze a downtown SRO to make room for new highrise apartments and condo towers, every time the mayor orders the city council to upzone the entire city to enrich big developer property owners, the county has to step in and stop them. Otherwise, this developer friendly YIMBY mayor and the city council members whose votes he controls will roll on, taking actions that end up forcing people out of their homes and onto the streets.

    1. Forcing people out of their homes and onto the street? You must live in a fantasy world.

      What we call “homeless” are almost invariably irredeemable drug addicts who are shipped here from all over the country because their families don’t want to know them anymore and their home states won’t pay for them to live in piles of their own feces on public thoroughfares. They’re not being evicted unless you’re talking about getting kicked out of housing provided by taxpayers for doing drugs.

      Please don’t vote.

  5. When 80% of the homeless are either, UN-MEDICATED MENTALLY ILL (who idiot groups like “NAMI” say, “have the “right” to be un-medicated!), as well as un-apologetic substance abusers (who do us all a favor when they OD and DIE on fentanyl!), then how can any community even CARE, much less “keep up” with that level of VOLUNTARILY CHOSEN BEHAVIOR! Are there people who are sane, sober, and “can’t afford the rent”? YES! Those people should also learn to LIVE WITHIN THEIR MEANS, and prioritize their housing instead of other “recreational activities” (getting full-body tattoos for example!). Those who work minimum wage jobs because they choose NOT to further their education, and then cannot afford to live in SD should really consider another city to reside in.

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