By Johnny Magdaleno.
On Monday, San Diego’s City Council dealt a blow to Mayor Kevin Faulconer after voting 5-4 against bringing a higher hotel tax to a public vote. The move, supported by Faulconer, would have brought in an additional $10 million annually toward reducing the city’s deepening homelessness crisis. The defeat hasn’t shaken all advocates, amid reports that Faulconer’s office didn’t have a concrete spending plan for that total.
Instead, people working on homelessness in the city are betting high on two new developments: a little help from a national private firm, and new rules for accessing grant money that the city hopes will — finally — unify its many but fragmented homelessness champions.
That private firm, Focus Strategies, has worked with governments in 45 communities across the United States, including San Francisco, Seattle and cities in Silicon Valley, to tackle homelessness. In San Diego, a city that ranked fourth among U.S. metro areas with the highest homeless populations in 2015, the firm will interview nonprofit reps and city leaders across the region to build out a major plan set for debut in 2018.
It won’t be San Diego’s first framework — in 1997 the county offered up just over three pages of a homelessness policy — but it’ll be bigger than any previous pursuit. And following stark numbers from a federally mandated homelessness count at the start of 2017, city officials and nonprofits alike are recognizing that they can’t keep doing what they’ve always done before.
This year San Diego County cited a 68 percent increase in the number of people living on the street since 2007, amounting to a total of 5,621. Unsheltered chronically homeless individuals, or those living outdoors for more than a year who also have mental or physical disabilities, numbered 1,750 — a 148 percent spike from a decade ago.