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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.
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.