Homelessness has been a major topic of conversation in San Diego in recent years. Early in 2019, the San Diego City Council rolled back a 35-year-old law that made it illegal for people without a permanent residence to live in vehicles. The homeless population has been rising in the US, and according to the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, more people are receiving fines for living in cars. From 2006 to 2016, the number of cities in the US that had such laws increased by 143 percent. Moreover, it’s not uncommon for vehicles to be impounded when their owners are unable to pay these fines.
San Diego County’s homeless population has declined in consecutive years, but was still at an estimated 8,102 in 2019. Roughly 5,000 of those people were living in city shelters or on the streets of San Diego. Last year, with an official homelessness count of 8,576 people, the city had the fourth-highest homeless rate among major US cities. One organization dedicated to ending homelessness in San Diego County is Solutions for Change.
Solutions for Change was founded in 1999 by Chris and Tammy Megison, who had previously created successful work and housing programs specifically for homeless men. Solutions for Change shifted the emphasis to parents and families after the Megisons met a 9-year-old girl, her baby sister, and their mother staying at an emergency shelter where the couple was volunteering.
The couple developed a hybrid model that focused on education, employment training, and affordable housing as a means of setting families up for success rather than stop-gap temporary solutions like more shelter beds and other traditional services. The success of the organization’s Futures for Families campaign in 2001 allowed the nonprofit to fund and construct the Solutions Family Center, a residential and educational campus consisting of five buildings on two acres of land. The Megisons later purchased additional property to create an Intake and Access Center as well as several affordable homes for graduates of its program. To date, Solutions for Change has solved homelessness for more than 850 families and 2,200 children.
The Problem: The Churn
While shelters and government-subsidized housing help alleviate homelessness in the US, Solutions for Change considers these insufficient because they do not address the root causes of the issue. What generally happens for families who take advantage of these resources is that they become caught up in what Solutions for Change refers to as “The Churn.”
The first step in this “costly and futile cycle” begins with either job loss, illness, eviction, or other problems that destabilize a family and cause them to seek additional support. Homeless shelters and food vouchers provide much-needed temporary assistance, but shelters aren’t the end goal and vouchers eventually run out, so the cycle of homelessness is bound to repeat itself. Many families have shared their stories of “The Churn” after receiving life-altering support from Solutions for Change’s Solutions University program.
Solutions University is the first step in a three-part model for permanent change. This 1,000-day program starts with New Beginnings. During this period in the first one to three months of the program, participating families receive interim access to housing, job-specific training, counseling, education, child care, and health services. From there, parents build upon their work skills, receive support in finding a job, and create a savings account. This is part of Solutions for Living, which teaches participants how to support a healthy and sustainable family life. The third and final component of Solutions University, spanning 500 days, is Solutions for Life. During this stage, families receive continued coaching and support and are encouraged to help other families who are in the position they once were.
Solutions for Change only works with parents who are in custody of one or more minor children as well as expecting single mothers. Participants must also meet the definition of homeless as per the US Department of Housing and Urban Development guidelines. Prospective program participants must also agree to take an active role in their own rehabilitation and, if needed, complete outpatient treatment for substance abuse or take prescribed medication for mental health conditions. Passing a drug test is another condition required for program eligibility. Lastly, participants must be legally authorized to work in the US and willing to work full-time, or they must have proof of permanent disability.
Awards and Honors
Since its inception, Solutions for Change has earned multiple awards and honors for its work in transforming the traditional support model for San Diego County’s homeless population. Most recently, in 2017, Solutions for Change received the Great Nonprofit Award. In the past, it has earned Gold Participant status from GuideStar, which tracks the performance of charities, as well as the Ruby Award for Excellence from the San Diego Housing Federation and the Starfish Leadership Award from the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce. In 2015, Chris Megison was a finalist for the San Diego Business Journal‘s Most Admired CEO Award.