"This year we will help 1,000 homeless veterans get off the streets.”
When San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer made that proclamation in his January 14 State of the City address, a homelessness advocate sitting near me in the balcony of the Balboa Theatre gasped. It struck me, too. There it was: A very public promise with a timeline that could be tracked.
But what did the mayor mean when he said “this year?” Media outlets, including CityBeat, took the proclamation literally and reported that the aim was to house 1,000 homeless vets by the end of 2016. But the mayor’s office has backed off that date and now says the deadline is March 2017. Why? Because the funding for the initiative wasn’t passed by the city council until March, so that’s when the clock started, and “this year” ends next March.
It’s a seemingly small time difference. But it’s the latest delay in a span of political inaction and years of missed deadlines regarding homelessness.
San Diego’s Republican mayor is up for re-election in the June 7 primary. Democratic challenger Ed Harris was quick to weigh in on the sliding deadline.
“Faulconer was already behind the curve in addressing homeless veterans and now they are going to be left on the streets for another three months,” said Harris, via an email from spokesperson Rollin Bush. “He needs to stop treating crises as excuses for press conferences and focus on actually getting things done. Regarding the homeless, the only tangible ‘accomplishment’ Faulconer can point to is placing sharp rocks under overpasses.”
Harris was referring to a $57,000 “rock garden” project the city authorized on Imperial Avenue to discourage homeless individuals from sleeping there.
Mayoral spokesperson Craig Gustafson wrote in an email that that after the mayor’s State of the City speech, “it became clear that it would take a few weeks to get final approval on the $12.5 million funding for the ‘Housing Our Heroes’ campaign from the San Diego Housing Commission and the city council. That final approval came on March 1 so that is the beginning of the yearlong campaign.”
Hang on, says city councilmember David Alvarez. “The council acted as soon as the mayor asked us for this,” he says. “I assume since the mayor has served on the council he would know that there is a process to get money approved. And I assume he would know what time is needed when he’s calculating something like this. Just let me be clear on this—this has not been delayed because of any council action.”
Alvarez added: “The city is not meeting the need of its homeless the way other cities around the country are. This is the only idea we’ve seen from the mayor and all of us on the council got behind this. It’s incumbent on the mayor to solve this problem— if he wants to do so. We’re waiting for his leadership. But if you give a speech on it you need to follow through on it.”
At a Feb. 3 press conference to officially announce Housing Our Heroes, councilmember Todd Gloria welcomed accountability on tracking the progress of the initiative to the end of the year.
“This is about pinning down a measurable approach,” he said. “I would ask that people would hold us accountable.”
Asked this week about the San Diego Housing Commission’s “new” deadline and if he, as chair of the city’s homelessnessfocused Regional Continuum of Care Council, found the progress acceptable, Gloria said via a statement: “…I believe they’re trying very hard in a tough rental market and [with] sometimes hard-to-place clients.”
On April 12, The SDHC reported that 29 veterans had been housed under the mayor’s initiative. The initiative needed ramping up time, said SDHC spokesperson Maria Velasquez. Staff had been designated and a media awareness campaign was being initiated.
As of May 15 the number of housed veterans stood at 61. Velasquez said 71 landlords have now pledged 103 rental units to Housing Our Heroes, and more than $41,000 in incentives have been paid out to those landlords.
With just 61 vets housed in two and a half months, though, that’s an average of 24 per month, meaning SDHC will need to quadruple placements to 104 per month (more than three individuals per day) to achieve the mayor’s promise.
That’s going to be very difficult. Unless the deadline changes, again.