By Michael McConnell.
Whether he knows it or not, in his State of the City address Thursday night Mayor Kevin Faulconer committed to effectively ending veteran homelessness.
“I’m proud to announce the Housing Our Heroes initiative – a call to action to help 1,000 homeless veterans get the housing they deserve,” Faulconer said.
Existing efforts already house approximately 1,200 formerly homeless vets in San Diego County annually, so finding homes for an additional 1,000 will get us very close to housing all of San Diego’s currently struggling veterans, plus those who will become homeless over the course of the year.
Ending veteran homelessness is something other cities have done, but San Diego continues to lag in its efforts.
That’s because the biggest obstacle standing in our way is ourselves.
“Ourselves” is meant to cast a wide net, since every community that has made significant progress on ending veteran homelessness – including Philadelphia, southern Nevada, New Orleans, Houston and many more – has been able to coalesce a wide variety of stakeholders willing to coordinate efforts in unprecedented ways.
Who should be in this group? In other cities, as in San Diego, this effort needs to include any group or person involved in this issue – or who should be involved. That means all public and private agencies that receive grants to solve veteran homelessness, as well as elected officials, business leaders, philanthropy, faith-based and military communities.
If we all jump in the sandbox together, we can build the communications infrastructure, housing capacity, data tracking, processes and procedures – pooling our resources and experiences – to get our veterans off the street expediently, and more importantly, for good.
Here’s how the city can go about addressing the issues as it begins to roll out its new Housing Our Heroes initiative:
Political Will and Leadership
San Diego needs – and craves – local leaders courageous enough to make the public commitment to get the job done and bring our veterans into permanent housing. This leadership is essential to coordinating efforts and pointing everyone in the right direction, while ensuring that existing resources are fully utilized.
It is also about providing accountability and support. San Diego has no credibility to ask for additional funding while current resources for housing homeless vets sit unused, as Voice of San Diego recentlyreported.
San Diego’s leaders must set the tone for how we talk about veteran homelessness and our efforts to end it – a robust, ongoing effort to promote what we are doing and our accomplishments.
San Diego has made significant progress in building better systems that can end homelessness through participation in the 25 Cities initiative to end veteran and chronic homelessness, including adopting a common assessment tool, beginning coordinated outreach and sharing data among participating agencies.
The lack of leadership, however, continues to hold us back. Namely, it is difficult to build and maintain the momentum needed to end homelessness if our local civic leaders have not fully bought into the goal.
Full Adoption of Evidence-Based Practices
Best practices when it comes to permanently housing veterans and the chronically homeless have been continuously tested and proven, including in San Diego. Specifically, data collected from the San Diego Regional Continuum of Care shows rapid rehousing – the practice of focusing resources on helping families and individuals quickly move out of homelessness and into permanent housing – has a housing placement success rate of more than 70 percent, compared with temporary housing, at 46 percent, and emergency shelters at 20 percent. And for people experiencing chronic homelessness with higher service needs, a so-called “housing-first” approach is highly effective.
Housing first is an “approach to ending homelessness that centers on providing people experiencing homelessness with housing as quickly as possible – and then providing services as needed,” according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
When someone is in temporary housing, every morning, instead of getting medical care, education, accessing resources and more, they worry about where they’re going to sleep that night. They have to check in and out at a certain time each day and never get a chance to be settled and secure – a detriment to finding any stability in their life, including the employment that might help them land back on their feet.
Some local groups are reluctant to adopt housing-first approaches. But “This approach has the benefit of being consistent with what most people experiencing homelessness want and seek help to achieve,” according to NAEH. And, it’s proven to save money.
Currently, the San Diego Regional Continuum of Care reports that 30 percent of those placed in permanent housing in San Diego are veterans.
Landlord and Housing Support
It is no secret we have a tight housing market. This might be the area in which political leadership is most important. We need a rallying point and an elected official to lead the charge. We know that in San Diego, as in other communities, landlords and property managers will step up when a request to help end veteran homelessness is made.
San Diego is not unique in its barriers to solving homelessness. Many other communities are showing us the way. All we have to do is follow.
Michael McConnell is a business owner who serves on multiple local and regional homelessness advisory committees. He resides in downtown San Diego.