Op-Ed: County’s actions on homelessness have yielded success

News Date

By Terra Lawson-Remer  |  Read full article in Coast News

As a county supervisor, I have been part of the shift in how the County of San Diego views its responsibility regarding addressing homelessness regionwide. I will not allow anyone to degrade the significant progress our county government has made in being a good partner in helping our unincorporated communities and the 18 incorporated cities address homelessness.

We’re doing more than ever before, and we’re not done!

If Kevin Faulconer had the answer to homelessness, he would have solved it during his 15 years as a San Diego City Council member and mayor (Tackling Homelessness in San Diego County). I joined the Board of Supervisors in 2021, after Kevin left office, and quickly learned how his mismanagement and poor leadership put our entire county at a deficit when it came to helping the homeless.

Instead of uniting the region to address this issue as the county has over the last four years, he relied on flashy gimmicks that, more often than not, fell flat.

It’s been widely reported that Kevin didn’t give a damn about homelessness until 20 people died of Hepatitis A while living in squalor on the streets on his watch while mayor of San Diego.

In fact, he was fighting with the county staff over whose responsibility it was instead of tackling the issues head-on. He bought a derelict skydiving facility that sat empty for years and put jagged rocks under freeway overpasses – these actions drove more people onto the sidewalks near local businesses.

He left the city in a massive deficit, lacking over thousands of emergency homeless beds. San Diego’s philanthropic leaders were the true heroes when they came to Kevin’s rescue with the bridge shelters. Did you know Kevin didn’t even want to use the convention center during the COVID-19 pandemic to temporarily house homeless individuals? He had to be cajoled by County of San Diego elected officials.

That’s shameful.

This is not how my colleagues and I on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors have chosen to lead on homelessness over the last four years. We’ve taken concrete steps to make the situation better than it was left to us, and the outcomes are significant.

Unlike past efforts, our approach is proactive, aiming to first keep people in their homes and avoid the street, where mental health and substance use problems often compound. This is common sense and cost-effective.

When you have a leaking water pipe, the first thing you do is turn off the flow of water. For many people, especially seniors and families, a little help at the right time can prevent an episode of homelessness. From 2021-2023, our county government supported 1,650 District 3 residents from becoming homeless by providing timely housing assistance at 15% of the average cost of traditional shelter.

This is especially important for seniors, who make up nearly a third of all people falling into homelessness. I led the charge to create a senior rent subsidy program to stabilize more than 400 vulnerable seniors at risk of becoming homeless.

And we’re accountable to results, partnering with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to monitor our success. I also brought together major philanthropic partners, homeless service providers, and the county to expand a successful Homelessness Diversion initiative to quickly get people to help before their problems spiral out of control. This will keep 800 San Diegans in their homes and off our streets.

Prevention doesn’t work for everyone, so we have dramatically increased interim shelter capacity to give people safe, clean, and dignified places. In just three years, the county ramped up shelter and safe parking slots across the region from zero to nearly 1,000.

We also made $10 million available to the 18 incorporated cities, and six of them accepted our offer of assistance to open and expand eight new shelters within their jurisdictions. Plus, we created a memorandum of understanding to provide county-supported mental health and addiction treatment services to cities that operate shelters.

Finally, we know that housing is what ultimately ends homelessness. We have made it a priority to confront the region’s rising rents and housing costs. The county has doubled the pace of homebuilding and tripled the pace of building permits and is on pace to exceed our state-mandated housing target by 60% by the 2029 deadline. We’ve especially accelerated affordable housing.

Since 2021, 1,655 affordable housing units have opened, with another 3,183 County-supported units on the way.

We are leveraging the county’s resources to speed up home production, keep renters in their houses, and make the dream of homeownership more affordable. The County and City of San Diego made a historic joint commitment to building 10,000 affordable homes on public land by 2030, and we’ve already advanced 15 county-owned surplus sites to build over 1,800 new homes.

These units are being built to tackle affordability challenges for seniors, veterans, people with disabilities, and formerly homeless individuals.

Also, we’re taking action to provide more housing for the most vulnerable San Diegans who have serious behavioral health conditions and are experiencing homelessness. We’ve launched a 60% increase in licensed board and care beds that provide specialized care and 24/7 staffing, giving homeless individuals with serious mental illness and substance use challenges a safe and secure place to recover.

Anyone can write hyperbole about what they will do, but taking action is proof, and our county is now doing more and doing it better than ever to help our communities tackle the challenges of homelessness and rising housing costs. 

Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer represents District 3 on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.