HOMELESSNESS AMONG VETERANS REDUCED BY 43% SINCE 2019, PROGRESS CONTINUES WITH OPERATION SHELTER TO HOME AT THE CONVENTION CENTER
San Diego – Ahead of the nation’s annual observance of Veterans Day to honor those who have served in the U.S. military, the City of San Diego, the San Diego Housing Commission (SDHC) and the Regional Task Force on the Homeless (RTFH) today announced that regional collaboration has led to a significant drop in veteran homelessness and progress continues with the success of Operation Shelter to Home.
This year’s Point-in-Time count conducted by the RTFH showed a 43 percent decrease in the number of veterans experiencing homelessness from 2019 to 2020. Significant progress has been made since January’s count, most notably the April 1 conversion of the San Diego Convention Center into Operation Shelter to Home – a temporary shelter to protect over 1,000 homeless individuals from the global pandemic. As part of that effort, over 750 individuals have been connected to housing so far, including 175 veterans, and an additional 200 veterans matched to housing resources.
“We’ve come a long way as a region over the past few years when it comes to implementing innovative solutions to reduce homelessness and it’s paying off with real results,” said Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer. “Our veterans have served and protected us, and the San Diego region has made getting every veteran off the street a top priority. We’re making progress, but there’s a lot more to do to ensure every hero has a home.”
The news comes after the SDHC and RTFH have implemented several key strategies to increase access to resources and housing for this demographic, including:
- Streamlining processes in the region’s Coordinated Entry System (CES) to more efficiently and effectively match people with housing vouchers or subsidies
- Collaborating with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to increase access to and utilization of Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) vouchers
- Working with the County of San Diego to lower barriers and increase utilization of the “Project One for All” initiative
- Connecting individuals to Veterans Village of San Diego’s (VVSD) bridge housing program at the VVSD campus and People Assisting the Homeless’ (PATH) Grant Per Diem program, both of which provide short-term housing options and case managers to assist individuals with identifying a permanent unit
“Through these collaborative strategies, San Diego has created additional opportunities for veterans on the streets or in shelters to have a place to call home,” SDHC President & CEO Richard C. Gentry said. “San Diego is moving in the right direction, advancing toward achieving the goal of ending veteran homelessness.”
San Diego is the only major county in California where overall homelessness has gone down for two consecutive years. This year’s Point-in-Time count showed a 4 percent overall decrease in homelessness in the City and a 12 percent decrease in those living unsheltered outside.
“The reduction in the numbers of veterans experiencing homelessness in the City demonstrates the results of deliberate, collective efforts to identify and implement solutions to this issue,” said Tamera Kohler, RTFH CEO. “We look forward to continuing to work with the City to achieve the bold goal of ending veteran homelessness in San Diego and throughout the region.”
During the hepatitis A outbreak in 2017, the City and SDHC quickly established three bridge shelters to provide a safe and sanitary environment to stop the spread of the virus. The U.S. Navy offered its property in the Midway District as a temporary shelter location. In May 2020, the City of San Diego partnered with the City of Chula Vista to expand San Diego’s successful bridge shelter model regionally by replicating it in neighboring cities.
In April, a regional collaboration called Operation Shelter to Home began to move homeless individuals staying in the City’s shelter network into the San Diego Convention Center to provide a safe and sanitary environment. The operation, which included those individuals staying at VVSD’s bridge shelter for military veterans, had two main objectives: protect them from COVID-19 and work to house them as quickly as possible.
The Convention Center shelter operations are slated to conclude in December to align with the opening of two hotels the SDHC purchased to transform into 332 units of permanent housing for homeless individuals. The City, SDHC and service providers have also coordinated with the County of San Diego on a reactivation plan for the City’s shelters that continues to prioritize health and safety precautions and provide safe shelter to as many as possible amid the ongoing pandemic.
The City of San Diego’s Community Action Plan on Homelessness released in 2019 states that the goal of ending veteran homelessness is well within reach in three years. The plan takes into account services and programs the City and SDHC had already established in recent years to target the veteran homeless population in recent years, including launching the nationally recognized Housing Our Heroes initiative to house 1,000 veterans within 18 months. The Housing Our Heroes program’s success was then transitioned into what is now referred to as the Landlord Engagement and Assistance Program (LEAP) and has helped secure housing for more than 4,000 San Diegans – both veterans and non-veterans – who were or were at-risk of becoming homeless.