Two of the region’s newest elected officials and five civic leaders with experience in housing and homelessness have joined the Regional Task Force on the Homeless’s (RTFH) Continuum of Care (CoC) Advisory Board of Directors.
County Supervisor Nora Vargas and San Diego City Council President Pro Tem Stephen Whitburn have assumed the elected official seats on the board, which were recently vacated by County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher and former Councilmember Chris Ward, respectively. The other new board members include Betsy Brennan, president and CEO of the Downtown San Diego Partnership; Carlos Cortez, Ph.D., president, San Diego Continuing Education; Paul Downey, president and CEO of Serving Seniors; Ben Moraga, vice president of the Sharp Healthcare Foundation; and Sean Spear, president and CEO of Community Housing Works.
“The breadth of experience of these board members, not just in homelessness, but in housing, which is the solution to homelessness, will bring a great deal of expertise to the CoC discussions,” said Tamera Kohler, CEO of the RTFH. “We already have an exceptional pool of knowledge on our board. As we have grown as an organization, the expertise of our board has grown as well. Our Advisory Board has become almost like a think tank for policies and best practices around solving homelessness.”
In November 2020, the RTFH separated its board of directors into a policy advisory board and a new, financially oriented board more akin to traditional nonprofit boards. By doing so the RTFH created a stronger governance infrastructure for the organization tasked with leading the region’s efforts to end homelessness.
The Advisory Board, or CoC, on which these new members will serve, convenes the region’s elected officials, service providers, civic leaders and those with lived experience for discussions about policy and best practices.
“I am looking forward to serving on the Regional Task Force on the Homeless’s Continuum of Care Advisory Board of Directors. Now, more than ever, we need a regional approach to address our homelessness crisis, especially now with the impact COVID has had on our unsheltered population,” Vargas said. “With a strong collaborative, I am confident we can expand our region’s resources as well as optimize programs to ensure we are removing barriers and connecting people with the wraparound services they need.”
The CoC advises on new and emerging initiatives and coordination of services throughout the region. And it is responsible for policy, advocacy and research; the annual countywide Point-in-Time Count; and management of the region’s Coordinated Entry System (CES) and Homeless Management Information System (HMIS).
“Solving the homelessness crisis in our city and region is my number one priority,” Whitburn said. “This appointment will give me the opportunity to work together with other civic and community leaders who share my vision of a city and region where there are enough resources for any person or family in need. I look forward to serving this agency to help guide real progress in our region’s collective response to homelessness.”
The second board, the 501c3 Non-Profit Board, focuses on the fiscal oversight of the organization, acquiring funding and allocating it where it’s needed most.
About the new board members:
County Supervisor Nora Vargas
Prior to her election to the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, Vargas was as an elected member and president of the Southwestern College Governing Board, the only public institution of higher education within San Diego’s South County. Vargas served on the board of Southwestern since her appointment in 2013 and was elected twice to the position.
Vargas also served as the vice president of Community and Government Relations at Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest, where she worked to increase access to safe, quality healthcare, and education for women and families across California.
Councilmember Stephen Whitburn
Whitburn has been an award-winning nonprofit leader, helping sick and injured San Diegans at the American Red Cross and working to advance equality for the LGBT community.
His volunteer work has included serving on advisory panels for the City and County of San Diego, the San Diego Human Dignity Foundation Board of Directors, the Greater San Diego Business Association Advocacy Committee, and as Vice Chair of the North Park Planning Committee.
As president and CEO of the Downtown San Diego Partnership, Brennan leads the member-based organization focused on promoting an economically prosperous and culturally vibrant urban center for Downtown’s residents, visitors, and employees. A graduate of the University of San Diego School of Law, Brennan previously worked as chief of staff for then Council President Scott Peters. She also held executive-level positions at the Coastal Community Foundation of South Carolina, Tahoe Forest Health System, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and San Diego State University. She has served on several local nonprofit boards of directors, including her current positions on the boards of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation, University of San Diego School of Law Board of Visitors, and the Columbia Community Foundation.
Carlos Cortez, Ph.D.
As the president of San Diego Continuing Education (SDCE), one of the four divisions of the San Diego Community College District, the seventh largest community college system in the United States. Cortez oversees more than 40,000 students annually at seven campuses and over 200 off-site locations. Cortez is also an adjunct faculty at John Hopkins University, New York University, and the University of California, Berkeley. His research interests center on the role of educators and administrators of color in the historical development of American social welfare and education policy. Cortez is also an expert in the area of promoting equity and access in urban education through literacy and policy initiatives.
Under Downey’s leadership, Serving Seniors has grown to serve over 1.1 million nutritious congregate and home delivered meals annually, 365 days per year, at 15 sites in San Diego County. The agency’s service provision model – including case management, healthcare, mental healthcare, dental (through collaborative partner), activities and civic engagement – is considered to be a national model for seniors living in poverty.
Downey is currently on the board of the American Society on Aging (and co-chairs its Public Policy Committee), co-chairs the County of San Diego’s Elder Protection Council, serves on the County of San Diego’s Social Services Advisory Board, and has previously served as the chair of the California Commission on Aging, chair of the National Association of Nutrition and Aging Services Programs, chair of the Dean’s Advisory Board, SDSU College of Health and Human Services, among many other roles. As a result of these efforts, Downy was invited by President Obama to participate in the White House Conference on Aging in 2015.
Moraga leads a team of 12 across three foundations, representing four acute care hospitals, three specialty hospitals, and over twenty-two outpatient clinics. Sharp is San Diego’s health care leader and the largest private employer with over 18,000 employees. Prior to joining Sharp, Ben spent eight years with San Diego State University (SDSU) as the associate vice president, University Relations and Development. In 2010, he was appointed as a commissioner of the San Diego Housing Commission.
He has served as board chair of the Monarch School. And he is also a graduate of LEAD San Diego-Class of 2010; a member of the San Diego Bowl Game Association-Life Committee; Fieldstone Foundation Emerging Leaders-Fellow 2011; FBI Citizens Academy-Class of 2012; Herb Klein Leadership Round Table-Steering Committee; Phi Kappa Psi Alumni & Housing Corporate Board; SDSU President’s Latino Advisory Committee; SDSU’s Leadership Advisory Board; and Housing Development Partners-Board member.
Spear has served as a top local and state government leader in successive community development roles in the cities of New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and in Sacramento for the State of California.
Prior to joining Community HousingWorks in 2020, Spear was the assistant general manager at the Los Angeles Housing + Community Investment Department where he was responsible for leading its housing production efforts and directing the operations of its Housing Development Bureau. The Bureau facilitates the financing of housing development projects with its business and community partners, leveraging its resources to the maximum benefit of the City’s residents and neighborhoods.
The complete list of Advisory Board members can be found at the RTFH website.