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4 Things You Need to Know about Homelessness in San Diego

4 Things You Need to Know about Homelessness in San Diego


Founded in 1999 by Chris and Tammy Megison, Solutions for Change is a San Diego, California-based nonprofit that seeks to solve family homelessness through an innovative model driven by accountability. As part of its programming, parents without a permanent residence complete a 1,000-day residency, during which time they are equipped with the skills, knowledge, and resources required to transform their lives and support their children. Residents also participate in social enterprise initiatives and volunteer for various community events. Since its inception, Solutions for Change has solved homelessness for more than 850 families and 2,200 children.

Unfortunately, there are others in San Diego still experiencing homelessness. According to a Point-In-Time-Count (PITC) by the Regional Task Force on the Homeless (RTFH) in April 2019, there were at least 8,102 San Diegans without a permanent residence. Families with at least one child comprised 3 percent of this population. Moreover, 12 percent were younger than 24 years old. Below are four recent developments affecting San Diego’s homeless population:

High Return-to-Homelessness Rate

Solutions for Change is a vital organization in San Diego as it attempts to break the cycle of homelessness rather than provide short-term fixes. This is particularly pertinent given a recent report that suggests around 27 percent of homeless San Diego County residents who found housing experienced homelessness once again within two years. The report was authored by the RTFH and utilized data collected in 2017.

Examining the data closer shows that San Diego is one of the worst cities on the West Coast for homelessness. Nearly 14 percent of those who had overcome homelessness were back in the same situation within six months. This was the highest return-to-homelessness rate in the state, with Sacramento in second at 10 percent. In contrast, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Portland had a 6 percent return rate.

RTFH’s Online Volunteering Network

In partnership with the United Way of San Diego County and San Diego City Councilman Chris Ward, the RTFH launched an online portal on December 2, 2019, to connect prospective volunteers with nonprofits supporting the homeless population. Known as the San Diego Homelessness Volunteer Network, the centralized hub allows those with a passion for volunteering to find a nonprofit that aligns with their principles. Partner organizations include PATH, The Salvation Army, and Catholic Charities Diocese of San Diego.

“While the causes and solutions to homelessness are complex, there is much that volunteers can do to help,” noted RTFH CEO Tamera Kohler. “Regardless of your skills, interests, age, or resources, there are ways you can make a difference. Volunteering your time to work directly with people experiencing homelessness is one of the best ways to learn about homelessness and help to meet immediate needs at the same time.”

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Storage Centers for People Experiencing Homelessness

Despite its worrying return-to-homelessness rate, San Diego has experienced a slight decline in its homeless population over the past two years, at least according to the RTFH’s annual PITC. The 8,102 recorded in 2019 is down from the observed totals of 8,576 and 9,116 residents in 2018 and 2017, respectively. Providing permanent solutions is the goal for nonprofits like Solutions for Change, while local government has taken a variety of approaches to curb homelessness and improve conditions on the street. One of those approaches is a 50-bin storage center in the El Cerrito neighborhood known as the Storage Connect Center.

The facility officially opened on November 20 and, as of a press conference on December 2, 11 bins were already in use. It is supported with $900,000 in state funding from the Homeless Emergency Aid Program and has an annual operating cost of around $721,000. The balance was used to pay for an office trailer, portable toilet, hand-washing station, and start-up costs. The center has the capacity to expand to 500 bins if necessary, while San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer stated the city has intention to establish additional Storage Connect Centers. The city already funds two other centers and, including those, people experiencing homelessness can now safely store their possessions at one of the 1,130 bins and 304 lockers in San Diego.

City’s Fourth Shelter Opened in 2019

The nonprofit Corporation for Supportive Housing released a report in October stating that the City of San Diego needs to spend $1.9 billion over the next 10 years to permanently end homelessness. This covers one-time costs to construct thousands of affordable housing units and on-going costs like social services and rental subsidies. Until the city can achieve this, the nonprofit recommends it set up hundreds of additional shelter beds.

To that end, San Diego launched a 128-bed shelter available for families and individuals in November—the fourth shelter of its kind in the city. Managed by the nonprofit organization Alpha Project, it is strategically situated in East Village, which has the largest homeless population among all San Diego neighborhoods. The operational cost of the four shelters is a combined $18 million per year and has been supported via grants and one-time donations, but additional funding is required.

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