SAN DIEGO (CN) – In recent years, San Diego has moved up a list the city isn’t too proud to be on: it now ranks as the fourth-highest homeless population in the nation. San Diego city leaders kicked off 2016 by working with other local governments and service providers to tackle the multifaceted issue and get residents into housing.
The San Diego City Council proclaimed the last week of January Homelessness Action Week, and dedicated the entire week to events aimed at getting homeless San Diegans the wrap-around services they need to get them into housing and address the root cause of their homelessness.
The week culminated with the Regional Taskforce on the Homeless’ annual point-in-time homeless count, which the region uses to secure federal dollars to help provide services to homeless residents.
Falling just behind Seattle, Los Angeles and New York, San Diego’s homeless population has steadily risen since the Great Recession. Based on last year’s WeALLCount point-in-time count of the homeless, San Diego made the list with 8,742 homeless residents.
San Diego City Councilmember Todd Gloria is chair of the Regional Continuum of Care Council and has been one of the local leaders to really push the region to address this growing problem. He said while San Diego used to be a national leader on addressing homelessness in the 1990s in terms of mental health and emergency care, the city has since fallen behind.
“I don’t know we’re in the national leadership position that I’d like us to be in just yet,” Gloria said. “The way communities are ending this problem is through collaboration. The causes of homelessness are really complex and unfortunately the solutions to homelessness are also complex. All these services have to come together to keep a person housed, that’s why you sometimes see a revolving door.”
Gloria said by “linking up” with local homeless outreach organizations and other regional leaders, the city has taken a more comprehensive approach including establishing a year-round shelter last year that replaced the former winter tents.
He said he hopes San Diego and other cities in the region continue on the trajectory of addressing homelessness when he leaves office at the end of this year.
“This is why I ran for office,” Gloria said. “I always tell people I wanted to work on homelessness so much that I agreed to work on picking up their garbage once a week too. You do certain things in order to get the opportunity to work on this. I don’t want it to end there. I want to see it formalized in a way that it doesn’t require an individual to have a passion for the issue because obviously we are not at mission accomplished yet.”
This past Wednesday, the 10th Annual Project Homeless Connect linked homeless residents to services at a one-stop-shop event. The services offered included everything from pet-sitting to storage of people’s belongings to help people focus on getting connected to the help they need.
The event offered people haircuts, state-issued ID cards needed to apply for many services including housing, and gave them the opportunity to get on a list for housing.
Manny Zee, 32, was among 1,215 homeless San Diegans who came out to the event. He became homeless two months ago when he broke up with a girlfriend whose parents he used to work for. He said things started to unravel when he lost his job.
Although Zee recently took a job a prep cook, he still lacks permanent housing. Most nights he said he sleeps at the train station or near the police station, areas he said are safe.
At Project Connect, Zee said he was able to get connected to services he needed. But he also said he was “paying it forward” by gathering information for some of his friends who were skeptical of the event.
“It’s really effective, it’s not bullshit,” Zee said. “I got signed up for MediCal and also got connected to mental health services. A lot of people on the streets don’t want to listen to someone who’s not on the streets, so I came out to get some information for my friends.”
Zee said not all homeless people “fit the stereotype” and that he encounters many seniors who become homeless one week a month when their social security income runs out.
“We’re still human,” Zee said. “A simple acknowledgement or ‘have a nice day’ can be worth more than a dollar.”
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