Saturday, May 22, 2010

Grand jury suggests plan on homeless

Report: Unite effort, keep shelters open


Saturday, May 22, 2010 at 12:05 a.m.

SAN DIEGO — A regional solution is needed to reduce the number of homeless on San Diego-area streets and plans should include year-round shelters, according to the latest San Diego County grand jury report on the issue.

When the 2009-10 jury started its term last July, members quickly decided that homelessness was an issue that needed to be addressed.

“When you start working downtown, the homeless (issue) hits you in the face,” said Victoria Stubblefield, jury forewoman. After exhaustive interviews and research, the jury issued its report, “Homeless in San Diego,” on Monday. It includes several recommendations for city and county leaders.

“There are many good-hearted souls working on the homeless problem, but (the efforts) are all disjointed and disconnected,” Stubblefield said. “Money is being spent piecemeal, so no one really has a handle on how much is being spent” to address homeless issues.

A survey of police, sheriff, fire and hospital agencies’ costs associated with chronic homelessness in the county was incomplete, but the financial cost is more than $22 million a year, the report said.

A regional homeless authority is needed to streamline planning and coordinate public and private social support services, according to the report. It recommends that the San Diego mayor, the City Council and the county Board of Supervisors “form a Joint Powers Authority and enlist the support of leaders in other cities in the county to develop a regional approach to manage and fund programs to moderate chronic homelessness.”

“We need to look at a regional solution, and we also need to look at a permanent shelter,” Stubblefield said. “We are expected to have good animal shelters, but what are we doing about human beings?”

The study found that cities from New York to Los Angeles reduced their costs when they provided housing and services. “Supportive housing was the least expensive solution in a majority of cities, as compared to other housing options such as jails, prisons, shelters, psychiatric and other hospital,” according to the report.

The report recommends improving the Neil Good Day Care Center downtown and expanding the use of its showers; installing more outdoor toilets downtown to reduce public health hazards; and increasing the cleaning and sanitizing of downtown sidewalks and streets.

Councilman Todd Gloria, chairman of the council’s Land Use and Housing Committee, said homelessness has been a focus of the council.

“The problem is certainly growing. More people are becoming vulnerable to homelessness because of the economy,” Gloria said.

He noted that San Diegans placed homelessness high on the list of priorities in a survey released last month.

Responses to the jury’s recommendations are required by Aug. 16 from the San Diego City Council, the San Diego Mayor’s Office, the Board of Supervisors and the San Diego Association of Governments.

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