April 20 2016 01:05 PM

Keeping an eye on a political promise to house veterans

The presser for Housing Our Heroes (from left): Kevin Faulconer, Todd Gloria, Richard Gentry, and Jerry Sanders
Photo by Ron Donoho

What gets people interested and engaged in issues regarding homelessness? Well, the local news was dominated for days recently after a homeless man was set on fire in Oak Park. You couldn’t have missed the headlines or news reports about this unprovoked and tragic attack in a Rite Aid parking lot.

There ought to be more critical analysis about infrastructural efforts to eradicate homelessness, or updates on political promises to house local veterans (keep reading for that). Yes, “homeless man set on fire” is news. Send in the reporters, hold whatever presses are still in use and light up social media. A bizarre tragedy like this duly fosters public sympathy. Meanwhile, the nightly threat faced by thousands of San Diego men, women and children who sleep outside on dangerous streets with no means to overcome severe mental illness and health issues does not.

Homelessness has become white noise. It’s like when you live under the flight path near Lindbergh Field. The extreme sound of a descending jet engine is obnoxious, not unlike being front row at Coachella with Axl Rose on stage. A subconscious immunity can develop, causing your brain to pay less attention. It’s a survival mechanism, a natural reaction to stress or negativity.

Whatever your sympathy level, most people are at wit’s end with the realities of homelessness.

Over the past few months, regularly scheduled but traumatizing sweeps of East Village encampments have occurred. These sweeps seemingly demonstrate to downtown constituents that politicians are responding to complaints. Sweeps are the kneejerk reaction. But it’s just deck chair re-arrangement on the Titanic, played out using the meager possessions of human beings.

This daily tragedy goes largely ignored.

I don’t want to add to the white noise playlist on homelessness, but it’s immensely frustrating to watch a problem continuously circle around upon itself.

So back in January, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer used his State of the City address to announce an initiative that promised to aid a segment of the city’s homeless population. Specifically, he said his “Housing Our Heroes” plan would get 1,000 veterans off the street by the end of 2016.

How about if we track that—say, on a monthly basis?

If this initiative succeeds—where too many have failed in the past—we can quickly emulate it, widen it and spread the safety net further. As well, if Housing Our Heroes fails to hit its goal then the stink of that failure needs to be permanently pinned to the responsible lapels, especially including a mayor eyeing re-election or even higher office.

The San Diego Housing Commission is directing the Housing Our Heroes program. SDHC director of homeless housing innovation Melissa Peterman says the official launch date was March 1. As of April 12, she says 29 veterans have been housed (27 via Veteran Administration Supportive Housing vouchers; one through a Section 8 voucher and one “rapid-rehousing” participant).

Peterman says they’ve been doing outreach to landlords and brought at least 18 into the program, accounting for 59 new units earmarked to house veterans.

Awareness ads have been created and are running on local TV (CBS, KUSI and Cox Channel 4) and radio (KOGO and KFMB). Peterman says the ads have caused calls received from veterans and landlords on the Housing Commission hotline to increase three-fold, from 15-20 to 50-60 per week.

OK, but nearly two months into an initiative with a 10-month lifespan and a goal of housing 1,000 people…and just 29 veterans have been brought in off the street. Out of the gate, 100 veterans a month was going to be needed to hit goal.

Not good. Is an uptick expected or predicted?

“We’re still in the building-awareness phase but we feel like we’re on track,” says Peterman. “We’ve committed resources to provide housing opportunities for 1,000 veterans and the progress we’re making is putting us on track for that.”

CityBeat will keep an eye on The Housing Commission’s progress. If that’s newsworthy to you—or even information you’d use to be informed come ballot box time—check back here before the June 7 primary election for a more telling update.


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