In just over 100 days since opening its doors to San Diegans experiencing homelessness, Operation Shelter to Home at the San Diego Convention Center has helped more than 300 individuals find housing and matched 600 additional individuals with housing vouchers or subsidies to help them identify a home.
The collaborative effort between the City of San Diego, County of San Diego, San Diego Housing Commission (SDHC), Regional Task Force on the Homeless (RTFH), and homeless service providers opened on April 1 with two main objectives: protect the health of San Diegans experiencing homelessness amid the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic and work to house them as quickly as possible.
“The future of San Diego’s homeless system will be shaped by all that our teams have learned from being in one central location during this pandemic,” said Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer. “We’re identifying barriers and breaking them down to get people housed quickly. San Diego will exit this crisis with fewer people experiencing homelessness, not more.”
The consolidation of resources helped create more shelter space, allow more room between individuals per guidelines from public health officials, and centralize staff across all agencies. The shelter currently serves more than 1,200 individuals daily.
“With this coordinated, systemwide shelter program, we have been able to quickly implement many of the strategies in the City’s Community Action Plan on Homelessness, and we are seeing the positive results,” said SDHC President & CEO Richard C. Gentry. “The San Diego Housing Commission looks forward to building on this momentum with our partners by continuing the collaborative and client-focused approach during Operation Shelter to Home and well into the future.”
The early progress is the result of the SDHC’s Housing Navigation Team, led by Deanna Villanueva, working in partnership with RTFH staff, led by Jill Hroziencik, to identify gaps in the region’s Coordinated Entry System (CES) that assists in matching people to a housing voucher or subsidy. The number of individuals in the process of finding housing represents approximately half of the average daily population of those currently sheltered in the Convention Center.
The City, SDHC and RTFH have also pursued other avenues to reduce barriers and streamline housing individuals experiencing homelessness, including: engaging with the regional and federal representatives from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to increase utilization of Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing vouchers, working with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to look at potential regulatory waivers to create room-sharing opportunities for permanent supportive housing projects, partnering with County leadership to expand access to Project One for All permanent supportive housing vouchers, and reuniting individuals with family or loved ones.
A breakdown of where Operation Shelter to Home individuals were housed includes:
Permanent Support Housing – 26 percent
Other longer-term housing (transitional housing, safe haven, host homes, foster care, substance abuse treatment facility, long-term care facility or nursing home) – 24 percent
Friends and family – 22 percent
Rapid Rehousing – 11 percent
Rental – no subsidy – 11 percent
Rental – other subsidy – 6 percent
“Between our teams at the RTFH, the Housing Commission and our service providers, we’ve made the pathway to housing for so many at Operation Shelter to Home much easier and faster,” said Tamera Kohler, chief executive officer for the RTFH. “This effort to address safer shelter options in a pandemic also created a unique opportunity for us to make progress toward many of the goals we have for the City of San Diego through its strategic plan. These improvements to our system streamline how individuals move from homeless to housed and will benefit our entire regional approach going forward.”
Early projections for the operation show that by the end of September more than 700 could be housed. This estimate anticipates two permanent supportive housing developments opening on time in August, families continuing to take in their loved ones, and clients accepting and moving into units in a timely fashion.
The shelter also protects the health of San Diegans experiencing homelessness. Due to intensive sanitation and safety efforts, only nine people at the shelter have tested positive for COVID-19 out of more than 4,000 tests.
San Diego was one of the only major counties in California that saw a reduction in homelessness in 2019 and then continued that progress with an additional 6 percent reduction in the recently released 2020 Point-In-Time Count.
The City, County, SDHC and RTFH have taken additional steps in response to the coronavirus pandemic to continue to protect homeless individuals during the crisis, including placing hundreds of handwashing stations throughout the county, providing outreach teams with care packets and educational materials on COVID-19, enacting a temporary eviction moratorium and sheltering in the San Diego Convention Center hundreds of additional individuals who were living outdoors.