June 3 2015 11:09 AM

The Chargers shouldn't be first in line for a subsidy

San Diego City Councilmember Todd Gloria

    Where will the San Diego Chargers call home? A public subsidy of, say, $600 million might convince our local NFL football team to stay in Mission Valley and play in a new billion-dollar-plus stadium (give or take about a hundred moving parts).

    As negotiations between the Chargers ownership and the city of San Diego kicked off on Tuesday, all eyes focused on whether the team had already decided to bolt for Carson to reside in a gilded, mansion-esque structure that's being dangled as relocation bait.

    On the same day, in East Village at the figurative corner of Reality and Common Sense, a final report was presented, to a smattering of reporters, on a homeless initiative that's saving lives and taxpayer/social service dollars.

    The latter is the far more compelling story. An independent report has verified that over a two-year test period, a United Way initiative called Project 25 has housed 36 formerly chronic homeless people and reduced public resource costs by 67 percent. The savings amounts to $3.5 million.

    Funded with $1.5 million over three years from United Way, Project 25 is a public-private partnership between the county of San Diego and the city of San Diego/San Diego Housing Commission. Father Joe's Villages is managing the pilot project.

    What is Project 25? Longtime CityBeat readers are likely familiar with the initiative. Essentially, it's aimed at the most frequent users of public services. Individuals enrolled in the program ranged in age from 22 to 61. The median age was 47. Five were veterans. All had some form of mental illness, physical disability or substance abuse disorder. Many had all three.

    The participants in Project 25 were often getting picked up off the street by ambulances and taken for ER visits or hospital stays, as well as arrested and housed in jail. All at a substantial cost.

    A report validated by the Point Loma Nazarene University's Fermanian Business and Economic Institute shows dramatic public savings from placing homeless in permanent supportive housing.

    The median expense per user decreased from roughly $111,000 in 2010 (when they were homeless) to about $12,000 in 2013 (two years into the program). Hospital costs for the group as a whole were reduced by more than a million dollars; ER visits dipped by 78 percent (from $750,977 to $164,919).

    "The results are impressive," says Dr. Lynn Reaser, chief economist for PLNU's Fermanian Business and Economic Institute. "Providing chronically homeless and frequent users of public resources with stable and secure housing, combined with a comprehensive set of health and social services, can yield a dramatic reduction in the use and expense of various public services."

    Awesome. Truly awesome. 

    What's that—the Chargers require a public subsidy to stay and be part of the community? The financing plan that was volunteered from Mayor Kevin Faulconer's Citizens' Stadium Advisory Group suggested, among other things, that the city and county of San Diego could ante up a total of $242 million ($121 million each, or, $7 million per year over 30 years).

    At that Project 25 press conference, where the issue was a little more than $1.5 million in public-private money spent over three years, San Diego City Councilmember Todd Gloria praised the United Way's pioneering efforts. County Health and Human Services Director Nick Maccione said the report shows that "Housing First" works. Father Joe's Villages President and CEO Jim Vargas emphasized that to make the initiative work, "We had to give, and give and give a lot, and we didn't give up."

    There's also a good deal of talk that involves giving when the topic is housing the Chargers. Who seems like the more worthy, cost-effective, deserving recipient? 

    Write to rond@sdcitybeat.com


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