It requires commitment, understanding and action
By Chris Ward
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Homelessness is top of mind to urban San Diego neighborhoods. In Downtown alone, we have seen a staggering 70 percent increase over the last three years in unsheltered homeless.
We cannot call ourselves “America’s Finest City” with so many of our fellow San Diegans on the street, including a rising number of families. San Diego needs solutions to turn around this trend.
San Diego is not alone – cities across the nation are leading efforts to end homelessness and they are succeeding. Housing First models work. We know that expanding proven, cost-effective housing and supportive services is essential to our success. But these programs take time to fund and grow. We need additional help now to address the situation on the ground.
With the upcoming City Council election, it is imperative we choose a leader who understands the situation on the ground, the roles of those responsible in the greater picture, and the resolve it takes to employ new creative solutions and hold others accountable.
I have experience working with local, state, and federal partners to find solutions. Just this year, I worked on legislation that identified $2 billion in new housing and support for these programs, while volunteering my own time on nonprofit boards responsible for providing social services to those in need.
There are steps we can move forward with today based on leadership in other cities and missed opportunity in our own region.
I would ask the mayor appoint a higher-level city staff member to coordinate initiatives and report out benchmarks. The City Council can declare a Homeless State of Emergency and encourage the County Board of Supervisors, which last year failed to allocate $170 million dollars for similar programs, to secure funding for mental health services.
We should evaluate what is working here and advocate for increased funding when programs show success. For example, this year’s city budget increases the bed capacity for the Serial Inebriate Program from 32 to 56. This partnership with law enforcement, emergency medical services, hospitals, and courts provides chronic homeless alcohol abuse treatment in lieu of custody — relieving strain on our hospitals and court system. Not only should we continue to increase this program, but we can further expand it to cover narcotics abuse. I will work to grow the Homeless Outreach Team and dedicate a separate team to East Village, our most impacted neighborhood, because one team at 40 hours citywide is just not enough.
We also need leadership to press our nonprofit partners to better utilize existing resources to improve efficiency and get people off our streets.
A report on utilization rates of San Diego’s more than 100 service providers in 2015 demonstrated that approximately 1,500 beds were not filled during the annual census. That represents 30 percent of the unsheltered homeless — imagine how many would be off our streets today if we increased utilization at existing facilities.
We should act quickly to make the deadly street drug “spice” and other synthetic drugs illegal, emulating the work of other local jurisdictions. The rise in use and overdose is creating a growing public health hazard in the homeless community and may be contributing to risks and attacks on our first responders.
As a councilmember for these neighborhoods, I will build on my existing relationships and wisely and efficiently maximize the investments from our local, state and federal partners in public, nonprofit and private sectors. These issues are complex and require us to be well coordinated at all levels of government and with our nonprofits.
When what we are doing isn’t working, I won’t be afraid to change direction. When what we are doing is working, I will push to expand effective work. Armed with these priorities, my background and principles, I am determined and ready to add America’s Finest City to others around the nation that have ended chronic homelessness.
—Chris Ward is a candidate for San Diego City Council’s District 3 in the upcoming June primary. He is a father, a State Senate chief of staff and former urban and environmental planner. More information about his plan to address homelessness can be found at voteforward.com.