San Diego County unveils new plan to provide shelter for mentally ill homeless

July 10, 2016
by Joshua Stewart
June 25, 2016


San Diego County is moving forward with a new program that will provide long-term housing and care to as many as 1,250 mentally ill homeless people in the next two years.

“These are the people who have basically lost the struggle with behavioral health issues and are about as down and out as human beings can get,” Supervisor Greg Cox said. “They have a serious illness. These lost souls share our streets, but not our sense of reality.”

County government will work with 18 cities, six housing authorities and landlords to provide shelter and treatment. The program, which was approved unanimously last week by all five supervisors, is expected to cost $20 million in the upcoming annual budget, and $28 million the year after.

The money comes from the county, state and federal governments and does not use resources from the county’s general fund.

The program, dubbed Project One for All, uses a “housing first model” where, as the name suggests, people who are living on the street or in shelters are first provided long-term housing and then comprehensive care to treat their mental illness and other issues. It’s the first time that the county has used this approach to address this population.

“It’s a proven model that’s been used in other states,” Chief Administrative Officer Helen Robbins-Meyer said.

In 2014, San Diego city adopted a housing-first model for the general homeless population.

Under the initiative, the county’s Department of Housing and Community Development will become a part of the Health and Human Services Agency, a move Robbins-Meyer said will help the county provide better services.

“Clearly the link between housing and human services has to be straightened,” she said.

Housing authorities, cities and landlords have committed to provide housing for 1,103 people, and another 147 are pending. The county may offer incentives, including leasing bonuses, security deposits for tenants, utility assistance and other benefits to provide housing. Landlord recruitment efforts are expected to begin later this year and might piggyback on ongoing efforts to provide housing for homeless veterans.

This year’s annual homeless count in January found 8,692 people in the region living without a home. Of those, 14% had a mental illness. The biggest need is in the city of San Diego, where there are an estimated 733 in this vulnerable population. Another 344 are in unincorporated parts of the county, with the rest in other cities.

The homeless population in San Diego county and city is the fourth-largest in the country, and nearly half of homeless people live on the street, data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development show. The metro area was ranked 12th in 2007, but has steadily climbed. It peaked in 2010 when 10,013 people were homeless.

The county’s initiative has broad public support.

Michael McConnell, a member of Funders Together to End Homelessness, said the initiative is a welcome shift in how county government addresses homelessness.

“The lack of leadership on this issue continues to haunt San Diego, and today, I hope, marks a change,” he said.

Judy Holder, a behavioral health services provider from La Mesa, said that housing is important, but care must not be overlooked.

Cmdr. Will Brown, a deputy speaking on behalf of Sheriff Bill Gore, said that people who are in jail with mental illness are twice as likely to be become recidivists, and that this program has the potential to provide effective and continuous treatment outside of incarceration.

[email protected]

Stewart writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *