Countywide data shows a majority of San Diegans who exited homelessness in the past year ultimately rented their own place without ongoing aid. / Image via Shutterstock

A majority of San Diegans who exited homelessness over the past year ultimately rented their own, unsubsidized homes. 

Data from a countywide database tracking people receiving homeless services showed most who were housed secured homes without ongoing aid from October 2021 through September 2022. A smaller number ended up with subsidized homes, vouchers or other ongoing aid. 

The Regional Task Force on Homelessness data shows many homeless San Diegans didn’t need the most costly solutions like permanent supportive housing to move past homelessness. 

Task Force CEO Tamera Kohler said the statistics prove that many who fall into homelessness just need a short-term stay in a shelter or transitional program, temporary rental aid or even just help with a security deposit to get back on their feet. 

“There are a lot of people who have short stints of homelessness and just need a little bit of assistance,” Kohler said. 

Indeed, the Task Force reported 6,755 instances countywide where once-homeless residents found homes without ongoing assistance. There were another 1,373 reported move-ins with family members.  

Those numbers surpassed the 4,113 instances where formerly homeless San Diegans needed more enduring subsidies and supports. That includes units with housing subsidies or assistance such as supportive services, vouchers aimed at aiding homeless people or temporary rental subsidies. There were also another 869 moves out of homelessness with the help of Section 8 vouchers or other benefits not specifically dedicated to homeless residents.   

Many who ultimately landed in unsubsidized homes still needed help. All somehow tapped the homeless service system, and some needed more aid than others. 

For example, Kohler said the number of moves into unsubsidized homes included more than 1,100 instances where formerly homeless people initially received months of temporary rental assistance – often around 12 months – before exiting the homeless service system and leasing an apartment on their own. 

Many formerly homeless San Diegans over the years have exited homelessness by moving into single-room occupancy hotels like the Golden West in downtown San Diego. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

While the numbers shed light on the various paths out of homelessness, they also reflect a stark reality that has exacerbated the region’s homelessness crisis: There aren’t enough subsidized affordable units or vouchers for everyone who wants or even qualifies for them.  As street homelessness surges and more San Diegans struggle with housing insecurity, policymakers and service providers alike are advocating a broader array of solutions than long-term subsidized housing to try to address homelessness than they did in years past. 

Many homeless residents recognize that housing isn’t coming quickly – and some decide they aren’t willing to wait for the service system to deliver it. 

Homeless-serving nonprofits also now often nudge their clients to try to get on their feet without subsidies if they think it may be possible. 

Quarlo “Q” McSwain, case manager supervisor for Alpha Project, said he’s had many such conversations. 

After all, McSwain said, getting matched to subsidized housing is “almost like winning the lottery.” 

McSwain said he coaches people entering the nonprofit’s Barrio Logan shelter to consider whether they could move in with friends or family or to search for a unit they could manage on their own as waits for permanent supportive housing or even temporary housing assistance often drag on given the demand for them. 

McSwain said 19 people who left that shelter over a recent three-month period found their own unsubsidized homes. 

“People are just tired of waiting for the match to happen and they just end up finding other means,” McSwain said.  

Paul DeLessio, Father Joe’s Villages director of coordinated services, said the nonprofit often has similar conversations with homeless clients.  

DeLessio said Father Joe’s also has a vocational training program to help shelter residents increase their income and a weekly gathering focused on walking shelter residents through the process to seek rental housing. The goal is to help people staying in shelters secure their own housing without a voucher. 

DeLessio said there’s a recognition that many in Father Joe’s shelters will need more help to move on but the goal is to encourage those who may be able to find a place on their own so they can move out more quickly. That’s often not possible. DeLessio said many shelter clients wait weeks and months for housing. 

“The same housing crisis that’s causing a lot of homelessness is keeping people homeless,” DeLessio said. 

Greg Anglea, CEO of North County-based Interfaith Community Services, also acknowledged the region’s housing market has gotten more punishing in the past year, making it more difficult for homeless people to secure homes.  

Anglea said many Interfaith shelter clients ultimately decide they need to prioritize increasing their income so they can lease on their own or be prepared to hold onto their unit after temporary rental assistance runs out. 

The bottom line: The path off the street and into housing – government backed or unsubsidized – is rarely easy in San Diego, especially now. 

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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9 Comments

  1. This underscores yet again our system for dealing with homelessness in the City and County of San Diego is profoundly broken. The politicians have promised over and over that this problem is their #1 Priority. When pressed for what they are doing about it, they point to small efforts for a large problem and “Solutions” that are making the problem worse. They are clueless and not treating homelessness as the region wide emergency it is.

    My fear is that as the government fails, then some of the extreme solutions proposed by those who don’t care about the people who are homeless or deny that they are even people will become acceptable.

    Recently in the Times of San Diego, Bill Walton and George Mullen proposed building a “Secure Compound” in the desert where the homeless would be rounded up in San Diego and shipped out there. They have tried to put lipstick on that pig by calling it Sunbreak Ranch. This has been done twice in living memory. Once in Germany in the 1940’s, they were called Stalags; and once in the US also in the 1940’s, they were called Japanese Internment Camps.

    The City has acres and acres of unused land that could be used for housing the homeless. So far they have declined to do so preferring to give/sell the land to developers, some of whom are large campaign donors.

  2. All case managers are supposed to help their clients identify ways off the streets that don’t involve PSH. It’s called diversion and if they aren’t doing it they aren’t doing their job. PSH is meant for those who have no other choices. We need to help agencies fund family reunification. We are a very small nonprofit but were able to help a significant number of people return home, most out of state. Others just need money for car registration and towing fees so that they can continue to work and get back into housing on their own. We don’t fund enough of these solutions. People have to be literally on the streets before most help is available.

  3. “…a stark reality that has exacerbated the region’s homelessness crisis: There aren’t enough subsidized affordable units or vouchers for everyone who wants or even qualifies for them.”
    this shoulda been your leed. current wait for “section 8” housing is ten YEARS. when asked if this system is broken the answer is what system??

  4. Its obvious our Homeless solutions here in San Diego and CA are about collecting more donations, grant money and tax dollars to support the beuracracy and leaders who “care alot” as they promote wateful, inconvenient, outdated,ineffective programs that do not work yet justify getting more money. This problem grows by design. Our homeless crisis does help some people, just not the homeless. We should start by holding program managers and politicians accountable and get rid of the the myth that all homeless are mental or drug addicts or don’t want to live off the streets. The homeless should be sent to areas of the county that are not high income tourist areas and services and transportation should be available to get them functioning on their own as they prefer.

  5. Lisa and the VOSD are a huge part of the problem. They relentlessly push a victimhood narrative like what Lisa says here: “There aren’t enough subsidized affordable units or vouchers for everyone who wants or even qualifies for them.”

    It’s painfully obvious that Lisa can’t stand the thought that there are real evidence based solutions that solve the root causes of homelessness, therefore greatly reducing and even eliminating the need for permanent taxpayer subsidies.

    It’s quietly happening with hundreds of formerly homeless in places like Solutions for Change, privately funded nonprofits who have rejected the states approach, and you won’t touch it. Why is that?

    1. Spot on. VOSD is not remotely representative of SD residents and I have never seen a single article on VOSD quoting a resident. They only interview people with financial interests in homeless crisis continuing. Sketchy

  6. The Regional Task Force is making a basic mistake in interpreting their own data. Think of the homeless as composed of two groups, short-term and long-term. There are a larger number of short-term homeless but the smaller number of long-term homeless make up the majority of the time unhoused. Simplified example: 100 people unhoused 12 months or more and 300 homeless for 1 month. Nearly all 300 of the short-term will find a home during the year and only a few of the long-term. And, of the about 1500 months of homeless experienced in this example, about 1200 months (80%) is experienced by the long-term homeless. The key problem with homelessness is the long-term homeless. Long-term homeless are much more difficult to transition to steady housing. The Regional Task Force is being confused by the short-term homeless numbers and declaring the problem solved, cheap and easy. Unfortunately, the majority of homelessness isn’t cheap or easy to resolve.

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