After my story about San Diego's homeless facility task force went to print, I got a copy of the report outlining what kind of facility the city wants. Though an earlier report left open the possibility of a shelter (in combination with other services), the final report does not. Instead, the city will be looking for a developer to build either so-called permanent supportive housing (apartment-style housing with case management) and, ideally, a one-stop intake facility that will link up homeless people to services.
CityBeat 's not against this-it's a fantastic step forward. Supportive housing is held up as the model for getting chronically homeless people off the street. It doesn't work 100-percent of the time (Boston's had some problems with its program), but it's more cost effective than a shelter (though, shelters are more cost effective than doing nothing).
But should the city get out of the shelter business entirely? While the city no longer funds its annual winter shelter (federal grant money plus shelter operators Alpha Project and Veterans Village of San Diego cover the full tab), it's responsible for finding the site-and this year's list of 13 possible sites included only one feasible location. At some point, there will be absolutely nowhere to put a temporary shelter downtown-and though downtown business owners and community groups want to know why other parts of town can't house the shelter, the reality is that downtown is it. You just can't open a homeless shelter in Clairemont and expect San Diego's estimated 1,800 unsheltered homeless individuals to hoof it to Clairemont.
It's going to take a lot of supportive housing units to even make a dent in downtown's homeless population and shelters are still regarded as a necessary part of any comprehensive homelessness reduction strategy. Sure, there are already shelters downtown, but not nearly enough. The great thing about the city-run winter shelter is that it's low-impact, meaning residents don't have to, say, attend a religious service or participate in a daily cattle call to get a bed. And though that bed is temporary, it's a stop-gap measure. Feeling safe is a very basic human need. It's absolutely true that a homeless person with no history mental illness risks developing mental illness the longer they're unhoused. On the street, you live in a constant state of anxiety and that's fertile ground for PTSD.
I'm sure I'll be blogging more about this tomorrow when the City Council discusses the issue. I'm hoping to see some big ideas. There weren't many at the shelter task force meetings I attended and this is an issue that demands innovation.