“Mama Heather” Bacon, 60, stays on the outskirts of downtown. For a time, Bacon set up camp at Chula Vista's Harborside Park after she noticed increased police enforcement affecting unhoused residents in San Diego. Then Bacon and others got evicted from the Chula Vista park, leading her to return to San Diego. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

San Diego’s homelessness crisis deepened in 2022 – and it appears likely to worsen in the new year. 

Rent hikes and eviction filings are surging. A downtown business group’s recent monthly counts have documented a record number of unhoused people downtown and its outskirts, and the fentanyl epidemic is only exacerbating death and despair on the street.  

Meanwhile, local governments are pouring more state and local dollars into addressing the problem than ever. That increased spending can’t overcome a tough reality: The number of San Diegans falling into homelessness is outpacing the number the region is moving off the street. 

Dallin Mifflin with his dog Lita at La Posada de Guadalupe shelter in Carlsbad on Dec. 13, 2022. Mifflin became homeless after losing his job during the pandemic. For months, Mifflin and Lita lived in his car until it broke down and was eventually towed. They were living on the streets until he found La Posada de Guadalupe. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

Going into 2023, local officials aren’t making radical new commitments like Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass’s initiative to move unhoused people into hotels. Instead, San Diego leaders say they plan to increase efforts to prevent homelessness, deliver a wider variety of service options for unhoused people and continue initiatives that are already underway.  

The responses reflect the lessons some learned in the past year that San Diego County won’t see dramatic decreases in homelessness without also stemming the flow of people becoming homeless and that San Diego needs a more diverse array of resources to serve a growing unhoused population with varied needs.  

Here are excerpts of local leaders’ professed 2023 homelessness plans, which are lightly edited for clarity. You can read their full statements here

County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher: 

“Several of the initiatives we announce this year alone will begin operations in the new year, including shelters, safe parking and camping sites, and a safe haven we funded. We’ll continue to focus on helping unsheltered people and leveraging our behavioral health resources; but one of the areas we want to focus more on in the new year is prevention.  

If we get ahead of the issues an individual is having that might cause them to fall into homelessness, we can help reduce the number of people living without a home. We doubled down on our successful flexible pool funding program this year by making more money available for next year to support individuals and families dealing with financial hardship in order to keep them in their home.  

We are also investing in technology to address homelessness. Earlier this year we began a process to create a predictive analytics tool that will use existing data the county collects from residents who engage with our departments, to create predictors that tell us if someone is at-risk of being unhoused. We will have a specialized team dedicated to proactively and strategically keep people from becoming homeless.” 

Natalie and Dustin Raschke talk after visiting their confiscated RV in a tow yard in Chula Vista in early April. Natalie and Dustin lost their jobs in Sacramento during the pandemic. They moved back to San Diego in an RV but their situation worsened when their RV was towed. The Rachkes and their four children were often forced to sleep in their van. / Photo by Peggy Peattie for Voice of San Diego

County Supervisor Nora Vargas: 

“In 2023, we will continue this work and I will champion the expansion of emergency housing solutions like safe parking and cabin shelters as well as the increase of support for those families that are experiencing financial hardship and that are at risk of losing their homes. Over the last year, I have been a strong champion of CARE Court, which will be another opportunity to support our unsheltered neighbors that are experiencing mental health crises’ and help place them into permanent housing and to receive the healthcare they need. We will be one of the first counties in the nation to receive $5.6 million in funding to plan and prepare for the implementation of CARE Court. 

I am also eager to work on other housing solutions like eviction protection, rent stabilization, and inflation protection for working families. I will work with my colleagues on the Board of Supervisors to continue to expand and preserve affordable housing, create more opportunities for economic prosperity, expand access to healthcare and ensure there is increased food security for our unsheltered families and individuals.” 

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria: 

“In 2023, we plan to build on and expand what has proven to be successful in getting folks off the streets and connected to the resources that enable them to end their homelessness. These successful programs and actions include coordinated street outreach events, expanding low-barrier shelters and diversifying our shelter network, creating more safe parking in more areas of the city and continued investment in homes that are affordable to very low-income San Diegans, including permanent supportive housing. 

What’s become abundantly clear is that we have to focus more of our efforts upstream, to prevent people from falling into homelessness, because all of our success in getting people off the streets is being subsumed by those who are losing their housing as rents rise. The tenant protection framework, which will become an ordinance that protects renters next year, is a start, but we’ll also work with federal, state and county partners on other ways to identify people at the greatest risk of becoming homeless and deploy more resources to keep them in their homes.” 

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

San Diego City Council President Sean Elo-Rivera:  

“San Diego has made many attempts to address homelessness but has not done nearly enough to prevent it. As a result, we continue slipping backwards and that is unacceptable to me and should be unacceptable to everyone. That’s why I’m working with Mayor Gloria and advocates for our communities to prevent people from falling into homelessness by strengthening tenant protections. I’ll also continue to support the Housing Instability Prevention Program and the expansion of programs that provide a safety net to San Diegans struggling to pay rent, especially our seniors, families with children, and people with disabilities.  

To help those who are experiencing homelessness, I will continue working with my colleagues and the various agencies working on homelessness to mitigate the impact on those with and without a home. That means investment in practical and effective tactics such as safe parking locations in different parts of the city, non-congregate shelter opportunities and compassionate, tailored outreach and services for those experiencing homelessness.” 

Regional Task Force on Homelessness CEO Tamera Kohler: 

“From October 2021 to the end of September 2022, 10 people found housing for every 13 people who experienced homelessness for the first time. This troubling data point shows what our region is up against – every day someone’s stint of homelessness is ended but we simply cannot keep up with the number of San Diegans reaching our streets. In 2023, we need to not only help those who are experiencing homelessness throughout our region with continued services and a range of shelter options, but we must also go further up the pipeline through diversion and prevention opportunities. That means more landlord engagement to utilize programs like Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing vouchers, flexible funding to keep people secure in their housing and expanding ways to find those who are on the knife’s edge of homelessness. Until we can get more people off our streets than are becoming homeless, this battle against our regional crisis will continue to be difficult.” 

Chula Vista Mayor John McCann: 

“The city of Chula Vista will be opening a new 66-unit bridge shelter in January 2023 with wrap-around services. The council will also be working with our (Chula Vista Police Department) Homeless Outreach Program team to ensure the team has all the resources they need to assist with getting homeless off the street. (…) The bridge shelter will open in January with 66 units available. That will be the first phase. The second phase will be to expand that bridge shelter to 120 units to be able to assist more people in getting off the streets.” 

On boosting the city’s Homeless Outreach Program: “We want to make sure that we give them additional resources. Our homeless outreach team is a collaboration with the nonprofits that we have and our police department. We believe that it’s a highly effective way to engage people that are not housed by having the social workers engage them, but also having a police officer there to make sure they protect the social workers and address any issues if there is something criminal going on.” 

Oceanside Mayor Esther Sanchez: 

“We are breaking ground in January 2023 on our 59-unit affordable housing project with wrap-around services, to include mental health services funded through the county’s No Place Like Home program.  

Next spring, approximately March 2023, we will be opening our 50-bed year-round homeless shelter/navigation center, the first in our city. We had created a 30-unit hotel voucher program, up to 21 days each, active since the beginning of COVID. The hotel voucher program has been extended until the opening of the shelter/navigation center to ensure there are no gaps in addressing our homeless issues.  

Homelessness is a very critical issue in Oceanside, with special efforts to keep individuals and families from becoming homeless. We work very closely with community partners such as Interfaith Community Services to maximize our efforts. The county is also an essential partner by providing social workers and mental health professionals critical to our outreach efforts.” 

El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells: 

“In the upcoming year, the city of El Cajon will continue to focus on programs it put in place over the past few years.  For example, El Cajon will continue to operate its housing navigator program and permanent housing assistance program.  The city will also continue to support and fund one of the largest shelter programs in the county, the East County Transitional Living Center. Also, we will continue the “A Way Back Home” program that we piloted a few years ago with the Salvation Army.  El Cajon will continue to allow the operation of emergency cabins or tiny homes—only city in the county to have them.  Ultimately, all of these programs focus on finding permanent housing for those currently experiencing homelessness and not accommodating a homeless lifestyle. 

Lastly, one of my personal goals in the upcoming year is to bring attention to the fact that as a region we have focused on the lack of affordable housing, while ignoring the blatant reality that mental illness and drug addictions contribute to the homeless problem.  I hope to start a regional dialogue on how programs and policies need to address these two factors as part of regional’s homeless solutions.” 

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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20 Comments

  1. It’s weird that Todd Gloria and other cradle to grave politicians keep saying people are being pushed into tents because of rising rents when we all know that isn’t true. This is the result of only 1 in 5 voters voting, you get a mayor who has no goals or ambition beyond disposable income necessary for Botox maintenance.

    1. Agreed. Rising rents are not the primary culprit for the increased homeless. But Gloria, continues to spout the democrats’ mantra that high rents are the problem. He’s learned the same lesson that all Machiavellian politicians learn: Tell the same lie often enough and people start believing it.

    2. …and smoking does not cause lung cancer… at least it didn’t for twenty or thirty years (until the public caught on).

      A story in the Union Tribune this Christmas about a newly homeless woman living in her car, prior – “…El Cajon apartment for $2,450 a month which she could no longer afford after her friend moved away. …her (work) schedule fluctuates from 40 hours one week to 48 hours the next. “I make pretty decent money, but if I’m not hearing. “We don’t have a vacancy; I’m hearing ‘You have to have a better credit score.”….

      The article began the stories with “I never believed it would happen to me” It’s a refrain heard often from people who suddenly fall into homelessness…”

      Let’s hope it does not happen to me.

      1. 2 people couldn’t afford rent. One moved to a more affordable location, the other lives in a tent and blames the world for her bad credit score. Can’t you tell this doesn’t add up? Maybe the true story isn’t one she’s offering up to the local newspaper?

        1. The problem in San Diego is mostly that the high cost of housing is not affordable to many people and any emergency (lost job, injury, rent increase etc.) lands them on the street. Perhaps they should just move like many already have to Temecula, Riverside… or Texas.

          For example the average rent in El Cajon (cheapest San Diego city) is $2,049 (see https://www.rentcafe.com/average-rent-market-trends/us/ca/el-cajon/). Note that (minimum wage) $15.50/hr. x 40 hrs. x 4wks./mo. = $2,480/mo. does not leave much for savings, food, automobile, raising a kid etc.
          It is this segment of the population that is in growing danger of becoming homeless.

          1. Minimum wage doesn’t buy you a house in San Diego and you know that’s not the benchmark you should be using. Join us in reality, we would love to have you here.

            1. It does not even “rent” a house and provide food (and other amenities). I realize that some people use dope – but what came first, the dope … or being out on the street?

              1. Minimum wage should cover rent, food, and amenities? If I make $100k, what would I be entitled to? Oceanfront home and a Maserati?

                Someone making min wage can live with roommates or move to methier parts of the state where you can live alone on min wage. Reality beckons babe!

  2. Rising rents..hmm, let me think…way back in 2005, two bedroom condo in downtown, guess what was the rent..$1,600 – 1,700.
    Again hmm, rising rents !@#^
    RENTS WERE ALWAYS HIGH IN SD THAN SMALLER CITIES. Considering SD is the 7th 8th biggest city by population, right?

  3. A final word. My papa from Poland always said, “Daniel, Americans just know it all.” Maybe it’s because most are monolingual with easy names. LOL You will not solve the homeless crisis until you put your feet on the ground!

  4. Personally I believe we need a carrot & stick approach to reducing homelessness. We should encourage those who want to get off the streets a way to do so. But those that do drugs & cause problems need to cited & arrested. Many of the homeless setup tents and completely block the sidewalk. We need a zero tolerance policy for tents that obstruct the sidewalk.

  5. Funny. Not a single one of the politicians interviewed for this article mentions making the development of new housing easier or cheaper. Rising rents are a symptom of 50 years of eco-centric anti-development policies, not because all the landlords got together and conspired to raise the rent. If you want to stabilize rent, make sure your permitting and develop process is generating enough new housing to keep up with growing demand.

  6. Why doesn’t the mayor and his political allies come out on the streets for a week or so. Yes Mayor Gloria , This is a challenge. Come down from your ivory tower. And see how the real world is,

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