The four candidates vying to replace Nathan Fletcher on the Board of Supervisors want the county to deliver more behavioral health and homeless shelter beds, prioritize aid for seniors and retain much-needed behavioral health workers.
But Democrats Janessa Goldbeck and Monica Montgomery Steppe and Republicans Amy Reichert and Paul McQuigg have differing takes on how the county should otherwise tackle the county’s homelessness and behavioral health crises.
We talked to the candidates about their priorities and what they’d push the county to do to address two of its most pressing challenges.
Reichert, a private investigator, said her experience with post-traumatic stress, depression and addiction informed her priorities on homelessness and behavioral health.
“My heart is to go into the trenches with people and help them,” Reichert said.
Reichert wants the county to double its roster of more than 700 psychiatric beds and open more temporary units for people in crisis. She’d also like to see the county move to a shelter first model that offers behavioral health treatment and a treatment mandate for people convicted of crimes. This differs from the housing first model endorsed by the state and federal government, which calls for people to move into housing with few barriers and then be offered supportive services. She also wants the county to reverse course on its increasing harm reduction approach previously championed by Fletcher to reduce the negative consequences of drug use by offering resources such as clean needles and drug testing tools. She does, however, support the distribution of naloxone, an overdose reversal drug.
Reichert wants the county to open a triage shelter such as the Sunbreak Ranch proposal pushed by NBA great Bill Walton and others where unsheltered people can move to start their journey off the street. She’d also like to see the county step up its efforts to prevent senior homelessness and to prevent unsheltered people from ending up on the street after they leave hospitals.
Reichert also wants police to play a greater role countywide in addressing homelessness and supports the city of San Diego’s new homeless camping ban.
“I do believe that we need to go back to sensibly enforcing some of the camping laws and it needs to be a regional effort and I think people are ready for it because what will happen with the city of San Diego passing this ordinance is people experiencing homelessness, our unhoused brothers and sisters, they’re just gonna be moved and they’re gonna move east,” Reichert said.
Goldbeck, a Marine veteran who leads a nationwide advocacy nonprofit for veterans, said her own difficulty navigating county services and the health system after her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease inspired her to run for the county board.
“Without me being able to care for her and helping her out, she very well could have ended up on the streets,” Goldbeck said.
Goldbeck has since been appointed to the county’s Behavioral Health Advisory Board where she said she’s learned more about the county system and its shortcomings. She backs the county’s move toward harm reduction but also believes the county should support enforcement to stem the flow of fentanyl across the border. She also thinks the county should consider using opioid settlement funds to implement drug screening in jails to prevent overdose deaths in jails.
Goldbeck supports ongoing county discussions about subsidies to maintain now dwindling board-and-care homes that often serve seniors and behavioral health patients and incentivize opening new ones. This conversation has picked up as the county prepares to implement the new CARE court system to compel people with psychotic disorders into treatment. Goldbeck also wants to work with federal agencies on an initiative to recruit and retain behavioral health workers and fund new projects.
Goldbeck believes the county needs more detox and short-term crisis beds– and to play a greater role in providing shelter, safe parking lots and sanctioned campsites. Until recent history, the county largely relied on cities regionwide to provide shelter.
“I think the county could be a leader on emergency shelter provision,” Goldbeck said.
When it pursues shelter, Goldbeck argues the county should prioritize creating options for seniors and people with disabilities who can’t perform activities of daily living such as using the restroom without assistance. For now, the local shelter system is often unable to accommodate people with these challenges.
Monica Montgomery Steppe
Montgomery Steppe said combating homelessness will require improved coordination between many players – and the San Diego city councilwoman believes she has the experience to help make that happen. She plans to make homelessness her top priority.
“I really am going to prioritize homelessness issues and that means that I am managing expectations for a lot of the other very, very important issues,” Montgomery Steppe said.
Montgomery Steppe wants to expand a fledgling county rental subsidy program meant to prevent seniors from falling into homelessness and is interested in exploring a broader guaranteed basic income program to help San Diegans avoid homelessness during a time of surging housing costs.
Montgomery Steppe also wants to assess the database the county uses to track homeless residents receiving services and how it’s being used to ensure certain San Diegans aren’t being left behind. A Los Angeles news outlet earlier this year published an investigation revealing that the L.A. region’s scoring system to connect homeless people with housing disadvantaged people of color.
Montgomery Steppe also wants to broaden procurement efforts to support grassroots homeless-serving nonprofits that have historically struggled to compete for county contracts. Montgomery Steppe said she’d also advocate for more opportunities for small groups of homeless people to be housed in homes together that could translate into support and community.
Montgomery Steppe said she’d also like to see the county site more supportive housing projects for homeless residents and treatment beds for unsheltered people dealing with addiction and mental health challenges. She said the county will need to work through residents’ frequent resistance to such projects.
“I think we can work harder to get into the issues and the things they need to feel safe and also provide the information that they need so they are not assuming the impacts that will come with these types of facilities,” she said.
McQuigg, a Marine veteran who now works as a field representative for the U.S. Census Bureau, thinks the county needs to do more to guide what he now views as a scattered regional homelessness response.
“I believe the county supervisors need to take more of a lead and bring it all together,” McQuigg said.
He’d advocate for the county to consider more homeless outreach teams, involving child welfare services on youth homelessness, fast-tracked permitting to deliver more housing and supporting mobile home living options for seniors with fixed incomes. He’d also like the county to consider expanding and replicating Veterans Village of San Diego’s longtime Stand Down program where homeless veterans can show up and be linked with an array of services to other populations.
McQuigg also argues the county needs to ensure homeless people placed in housing are linked with mandatory treatment. For now, supportive housing projects in the county come with opt-in treatment but participation isn’t required per federal standards. Like Reichert, McQuigg also opposes the county’s move toward harm reduction.
McQuigg wants the county to pursue a 500-bed hospital focused on mental health and drug addiction recovery that offers a broader range of services.
For example, McQuigg said it could have case managers, an onsite gym and pool, educational services and perhaps independent living options on site.
While the county and providers have historically struggled to site large facilities, McQuigg said he believes it’s possible.
“It’s not a matter of, ‘Oh, we can’t do this,’” McQuigg said. “It’s about how we find a way to make it happen.”
He also advocates using tools such as bonuses, incentive pay and even down payments for homes to recruit and retain behavioral health workers.