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

County supervisors on Tuesday signed off on District Attorney Summer Stephan’s push to create a phone app to link homeless San Diegans with shelter beds. (Read this post in your browser.)

The goal for the $300,000 pilot is to create a system that informs outreach workers and others in real time what shelter beds are available that meet unhoused residents’ needs. The Union-Tribune has more details on Stephan’s vision.

Stephan said she has worked with stakeholders, including the Regional Task Force on Homelessness, to shape plans for the app. Now with supervisors’ approval, she said she’s preparing to approach cities about the concept. She expects the app could launch within six months and include shelters countywide by the end of the year.

District Attorney Summer Stephan / File photo by Megan Wood

Stephan acknowledged in an interview with Voice of San Diego that the city of San Diego, home to the largest share of the region’s unhoused population and shelters, has yet to officially sign on. She expects the city to ultimately come on board.

“I think what we are producing is a product that is well thought out, and that I just feel very confident that the city of San Diego would want to hear it out and would want to examine it, and see if it can complement all of the great efforts that they are embarking on,” Stephan said.

Why It’s a Little Awkward: The city and its Housing Commission, which operate more than a dozen shelter programs, more than a year ago established their own process to connect homeless residents with shelter beds. Service providers, police officers and workers at the Homelessness Response Center share details on people who want beds and workers at the response center identify the option that best meets their needs.

A spokesman for the Housing Commission, which oversees that referral process, said the city agency participated in some early meetings about the project and welcomes resources that increase shelter access – though he also noted the agency has already been working on that.

“SDHC already is experiencing real-time direct placement through the Coordinated Shelter Intake Program in the city of San Diego and will engage with the county to share best practices to help the app become a comparable resource,” SDHC spokesman Scott Marshall wrote in an email.

Crucial Context: Many referrals via the city’s Homelessness Response Center ultimately don’t result in an immediate shelter placement, often because beds aren’t available that fit homeless residents’ needs. This is a predicament Stephan’s app could also face. She told Voice the app could help the region identify the kinds of shelter that the region needs to add.

“At the end of the day, I’m just predicting that we have some real shortages, but it’s going to pinpoint for us what type of shortages that we have,” Stephan said.

Council Grapples With Report on Policing Impacts Unhoused Black San Diegans

Two San Diego Police officers watch as two residents gather up their belongings during a homeless camp clean-up on Sept. 28, 2021. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

San Diego City Councilmembers on Tuesday grappled with takeaways from a San Diego State study that found that negative police encounters left unhoused Black San Diegans reluctant to accept services and aid. (Read this post in your browser.)

SDSU professors Megan Welsh Carroll and Shawn Flanigan presented research first reported by CBS 8 to the City Council based on surveys of more than 240 homeless San Diegans in 2020 and noted that Black respondents described more frequent interactions with police and efforts to avoid officers. That’s despite the fact that officers on the city’s Homeless Outreach Teams were often crucial connection points to the Convention Center shelter early in the pandemic.

“People avoid services in part because they are offered by the police,” Welsh Carroll said.

The SDSU study recommended – among other tacks – that the city stop enforcing crimes associated with homelessness, remove homeless outreach functions from the police department, increase amenities such as trash pickup and restrooms near homeless camps and institute an ordinance that would dramatically shift how police handle stops.  

Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe, who has championed police reforms including the ordinance, said after the presentation that she was troubled by the professors’ findings and remained committed to change.

“I also get a little frustrated, and I know we’re not moving fast enough, because everybody including me needs everything right now, but we have to constantly try to overcome what we have all been taught, and to do it in a way where we get buy-in,” Montgomery Steppe said. “Because you know what, we could pass something and we could turn it over, and guess what, it will not be implemented.”

Council President Sean Elo-Rivera, who requested the SDSU presentation, emphasized that the city has taken steps to increase shelter options and non-police outreach, and asked for suggestions on ways to address public health and safety concerns surrounding homeless camps. The researchers noted that providing bathrooms or trash service that results in regular visits from city staff could aid homeless residents and reduce criminal activity. 

San Diego police shared a statement with NBC 7 saying the department “rejects the study’s blanket claim that police are barriers to those seeking services or are engaged in racial profiling.” The department noted it also provides regular bias training and has policies to ensure officers are behaving professionally.

In Other News 

The Morning Report was written by Lisa Halverstadt and Will Huntsberry. It was edited by Andrea Lopez-Villafaña. 

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