By Miriam Raftery
File photo: CC by NC-ND via Bing: homeless encampment
September 28, 2022 (San Diego) -- The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Tuesday to declare homelessness a public health crisis.
The declaration aims to expand the county’s response to the growing number of people experiencing homelessness and prioritizes the physical and mental health of unhoused people. According to HealthAffairs.org, there is a strong connection between access to housing and improved health outcomes.
Specifically, the emergency declaration directs the county Chief Administrative Officer Helen Robbins-Meyers to work with city governments and the Regional Task Force on Homelessness on a regional approach to tackling the issue.
Robbins-Meyer’s other responsibilities will include:
- updating the board on regional efforts and recommendations to the county’s Framework for Ending Homelessness in first quarter 2023, including a comprehensive review of services and housing offered to those experiencing homelessness;
- identifying potential economic impacts to the county and investments needed to significantly reduce homelessness;
- finding housing opportunities and services, and making recommendations based on an assessment by Homebase, a non-profit group;
- developing a plan for enhanced data collection, evaluating the county’s homeless services and programs, and establishing other methods, including 24-hour access to social workers or trained professionals; and
- allowing the Health and Human Services Agency director to research and apply for other funding opportunities.
Lack of affordable housing has been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, which spurred losses of jobs and incomes, and by inflation. San Diego has among the highest housing costs in the nation.
Chairman Nathan Fletcher said public officials know that homelessness “cannot be ignored” and everyone has to work toward reducing it, including the 18 cities located in San Diego County.
East County Supervisor Jim Desmond said he was glad to see a region-wide approach, but said much work is needed to tackle the crisis. “If we don’t deal with it, there’s going to be greater cost in the future,” Desmond added.
Board Vice Chairwoman Nora Vargas, who proposed the declaration along with Chairman Nathan Fletcher, said she did so with “a really heavy heart,” Times of San Diego reports. Making homelessness a top priority will allow the county to review its existing programs and “really think about solutions that impact our communities,” she said.
Hanan Scrapper. San Diego Regional Director of PATH, an organization committed to ending homeless in California, praised the emergency declaration.
“As one of the largest and most impactful homeless services and housing providers in the state, PATH has long held that access to housing and healthcare are vital solutions to this crisis. San Diego County’s declaration of homelessness as a public health crisis can bring key regional leaders together in a way that will address the full range of solutions needed to end this crisis,” Scrapper said. “No one city alone can end the homelessness crisis and we are grateful that the County of San Diego is committing to this regional leadership role. PATH encourages other jurisdictions to take this step as well, so that we can have truly coordinated responses to homelessness and move away from the patchwork of systems that it is today.”
Deacon Jim Vargas of Father Joe’s Villages also voiced support for the declaration.
“It is often said that housing is health care,” he stated. “We can affirm that housing is one of the most fundamental social determinants of health. Ensuring stable housing for all improves both the well-being of individuals and communities. It also helps prevent the trauma of homelessness, as well as serious health conditions among unhoused people.”
“This is an opportunity to send a clear message that our region is united and committed to finding solutions,” Vargas added. “This declaration is a key step to drive further collaboration between our local jurisdictions, homeless services providers, health care professionals and others to develop resources and a comprehensive approach.”
Also on Tuesday, Supervisors approved $500,000 to be added to a flexible housing pool to help 440 families at risk of homelessness. The money will be administered as part of an agreement with the Regional Taskforce on the Homeless.
According to his office, FHP money provides gap funding to help families and individuals pay for rent and other expenses, including security deposit assistance. From October 2020 to May 2022, the FHP reports it has received 726 referrals and secured 459 units across San Diego County.
“Keeping families housed is exactly what this program was intended to do,” Fletcher stated.
What they need to look at