More than a dozen specialized homeless outreach workers will take a neighborhood-specific approach to getting people off the street under a new plan finalized by the San Diego City Council on Tuesday.
Council members in June had approved $1.5 million to create coordinated street outreach services, and on Tuesday they awarded the job to People Assisting the Homeless, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that operates PATH Connections Housing in San Diego.
Lisa Jones, executive vice president of strategic initiatives for the San Diego Housing Commission, said the new program will involve teams working in specific neighborhoods in an approach that could help the city reduce the number of people on the street in half within three years, a goal set by an action plan accepted by the City Council in October 2019.
A key component of the new program is an outreach framework that would coordinate citywide efforts through the Housing Commission and involve social workers who build a rapport with homeless people and provide them with case management on the street, Jones said.
The new program follows a model that was created in late 2018 by business associations in City Heights and North Park. It also used a PATH outreach worker who focused just on their neighborhood. Last year, the program had reached 219 people and found housing for 59, including 22 who were in permanent housing.
Unlike many homeless outreach teams throughout the county, the new approach will not use uniformed law enforcement officers, but civilians trained in social work. In promoting the new approach last May, City Council President Georgette Gómez and Councilman Chris Ward said homeless people at times can be distrustful of police and reluctant to accept help from outreach teams.
The PATH teams would not replace San Diego police homeless outreach teams. On Tuesday, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Police Chief David Nisleit marked the second anniversary of the neighborhood police division, which includes homeless outreach teams that work with service providers to help connect people with programs to overcome issues related to their homelessness.
The new coordinated street outreach program will include a rapid-response team that will focus on areas with known concentrations of homeless people to provide immediate intervention.
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The program also will include a mobile homelessness response team that will provide street-based case management. The team will address any barriers homeless may have to securing housing, such as obtaining identification. The team will work with the Regional Task Force on the Homeless to identify people already connected to housing resources.
Jones said the program will have 17 front-line workers, and teams will work seven days a week. She plans to set up a meeting with council members to discuss who will work in their districts next week. As a pilot program, it will run from Nov. 1 through June 30, 2021. The San Diego Housing Commission will have an option to renew it through June 30.
Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell said the neighborhood approach could help in her district, particularly in Ocean Beach and Pacific Beach, which has a high concentration of homeless people.
Councilman Scott Sherman said the program’s individual approach could be effective.
“I love the idea of a neighborhood one-on-one approach,” he said. “One thing I’ve found in my eight years here is that the needs of homeless people vary with each individual.”
Sherman also liked that the new teams will collect data from homeless people to help keep track of who they are dealing with.
Also on Tuesday, the City Council approved PATH to provide services for $1.6 million annually at the Homeless Response Center, which has been operating as the Housing Navigation Center in a former indoor skydiving building at 1401 Imperial Ave. in East Village.
Family Health Centers of San Diego had provided services at the center for about a year, but the city terminated its contract last month in a dispute that saw both sides complaining about how the operation was run.
Ward said he had not supported the Housing Navigation Center in the past, but supported the new concept because he believed PATH could make it work.
Gómez cast the only no vote. She said she believes the city should declare the building surplus property and sell it.