By Scott Peters
San Diego’s Downtown has grown into a thriving center for arts, business, tourism and urban living. Ask any resident or business owner what challenges remain, and most will cite homelessness.
San Diego’s Regional Continuum of Care Council, led by Councilmember Todd Gloria, has brought together community leaders and service providers to distribute resources and get people off the streets and into permanent housing.
In the San Diego way, we have been cooperative and innovative in our approach.
For instance, the San Diego Downtown Partnership’s Clean & Safe Program has assisted more than 1,700 people with housing and supportive services. The problem may seem daunting, but San Diego has taken important steps to improve lives through affordable housing and increased access to healthcare and other services.
But we’ve done this without our fair share of federal resources.
In 2014, while we had the fifth largest homeless population in the country, San Diego received the 23rd highest level of federal homelessness funding. Just think of what we might accomplish if we received funding support more commensurate with our homeless population?
Currently, the formula that determines how federal homelessness resources are allocated is related more to the age of a community’s housing stock than to the size of its homeless population.
Just after coming to Congress in 2013, I reached out to then-Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Shaun Donovan to ask that he make this fairer. I made the same request to Secretary Julian Castro when he took over, and brought him to San Diego to see the progress we’ve made. We toured the Churchill Hotel, which is being renovated to provide permanent housing for the homeless, including dedicated units for homeless veterans. During his visit, he announced that he would start the process for revising the funding formula this spring.
Other western cities such as Las Vegas, Seattle, Houston, and Denver also receive a disproportionately low amount of federal funding given their homeless populations. Earlier this month, the House of Representatives unanimously adopted my amendment to the Housing Opportunity Through Modernization Act to require HUD to reopen the formula.
Secretary Castro supports my work to build Congressional consensus around this priority, and assured me again this month that the formula would be reopened this spring. My staff is working with the Continuum of Care to ensure that San Diego submits its comments and applications for future funding in the most strategic and effective way possible.
I’m proud of my work at the City Council and the Port Commission on the ballpark, the Downtown library, the North Embarcadero, the Old Police Headquarters, and for the betterment of Downtown’s many neighborhoods. And I will keep working for more progress on homelessness. For years, my staff and I have participated in the Point in Time Count, where hundreds of San Diegans volunteer at 4 a.m. to seek out men, women and families living on the street to gather census data, and to interview them to learn how they got there and might be helped.
I’ve also participated many times in Operation Stand Down, where veterans in need can access a range of services. From these experiences we see first-hand that our homeless population is not homogenous; it is made up of people from all walks of life who, for one reason or another, faced a life-changing event that they couldn’t overcome, whether that be a lost job, medical bills they couldn’t afford, an addiction or a personal tragedy they couldn’t move beyond.
There is no one solution to end homelessness. It is about permanent housing, yes, but it is also about employment, substance abuse and mental health treatment, and giving people a chance to get back on their feet and have a stable home from which to rebuild their lives.
Providing this kind of comprehensive support requires the engagement of an entire community, and I will continue to work for the solution.
—Congressman Scott Peters serves the 52nd District of California, which covers much of central San Diego County including Poway, Coronado, and large portions of the city of San Diego. He is also a former environmental attorney, City Council president, and chairman of the Port Commission.