San Diego County is taking significant steps to address homelessness and substance abuse disorders by advancing a proposal to house individuals receiving treatment and conducting a comprehensive review of homelessness-related contracts and programs. Despite differing opinions on how to best address the crisis, the county’s board of supervisors unanimously approved both measures during a recent meeting.
The first proposal aims to create a pilot program to provide housing for approximately 100 people who are currently enrolled in county-funded outpatient treatment programs. These individuals are actively participating in treatment, attending meetings, and undergoing regular testing as they work toward their recovery. The initiative acknowledges the immense challenges faced by those trying to maintain sobriety while experiencing homelessness. Initially, the program will focus on North County, but Supervisor Jim Desmond, the proposal’s sponsor, envisions expanding the effort to benefit hundreds more throughout the region.
The county’s chief administrative officer has been tasked with developing a plan to fund the initial housing wave within 90 days and exploring options for further expansion within 180 days. This proposal implicitly critiques California’s Housing First policy, which prioritizes providing shelter to individuals before addressing addiction issues. Supervisor Desmond emphasized that while Housing First has its merits, it should not be the sole approach to homelessness.
Supporters of the proposal defended the Housing First policy, citing research showing that expensive cities tend to have more encampments, regardless of addiction rates. They argued that the proposed program is a valuable addition to the existing efforts.
The Regional Task Force on Homelessness conducted a recent census that included questions about substance abuse. The data revealed that more than one-tenth of individuals in shelters and nearly one-fifth of people on the streets reported having a substance abuse disorder.
The second measure passed by the board of supervisors involves hiring an external consultant to conduct an audit of the county’s expenditures related to addressing homelessness. The goal of this “deep dive” into the county’s spending is to determine the most effective allocation of funds for tackling homelessness. Chair Nora Vargas, who initiated the measure, stressed the importance of an independent review to make informed decisions about funding allocation.
To proceed with the audit, a contract needs to be drafted to hire the consultants. The review process is expected to extend over a year, and the chief administrative officer will have an additional six months to present the findings.
Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer praised the measure, highlighting the need for a comprehensive analysis of program effectiveness. Representatives from local organizations, including John Brady from Lived Experience Advisors and Jordan Beane from the regional task force, expressed their support for the initiative. They believe it will lead to more effective and targeted solutions for addressing homelessness and substance abuse issues in San Diego County.