San Diego County Board of Supervisors

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The county Board of Supervisors today (1/28/20) approved an ambitious range of short- and long-term measures aimed at tackling homelessness in unincorporated communities.

At the urging of Supervisors Dianne Jacob and Jim Desmond, the board moved to expand a new homeless outreach team, offer more motel/hotel room vouchers and seek land for permanent, supportive housing and emergency shelters that would offer health services.

Recent encampments at Lamar Park in Spring Valley, Lakeside and in other outlying communities have underscored the need to address chronic homelessness in those areas.

“Like in the city of San Diego and the rest of California, homelessness has become a huge concern in the suburban and rural parts of our region,” said District 2 Supervisor Dianne Jacob, whose represents East County. “Today’s board vote opens the door to creating a comprehensive approach to homelessness that includes immediate and long-range measures.”

Many of those without housing have serious and chronic needs, and are stuck in a cycle of homelessness, addiction, medical emergencies and incarceration.

“The value of human life must always be a foremost concern when developing sound public policy,” said District 5 Supervisor Jim Desmond, vice-chair of the board. “Additionally, there is also a value to the quality of life that residents and business owners face daily interacting with homelessness. Taxpayers demand accountability and compassion alone is not helpful. Programs must be effective and accountable.”

Complicating the issue is a 2019 federal court ruling that municipal ordinances banning sleeping and camping on public property cannot be enforced unless alternative shelter is provided.

The measures backed today set out to address that legal requirement, along with related issues. The board voted to take the initial steps to:

  • Expand HART, the county’s Homeless Assistance Resource Team. The county recently piloted the new program in Lakeside, Spring Valley and unincorporated El Cajon to connect the homeless to services and potential housing. The board moved to add four positions to the team, along with equipment and vehicles. The Sheriff’s Department has taken the lead on the program, assisted by county health and human services staff. Scores of East County homeless were linked to services and housing resources during the recent two-month pilot.
  • Seek property for temporary, emergency shelters that would include health services. The county is already considering one location, 11970 Singer Lane in Spring Valley. 
  • Consider the acquisition and conversion of existing apartment complexes, motels and other properties to permanent housing for those with chronic needs.
  • Increase the pool of funding and the eligibility for the county’s hotel/motel voucher program for up to 125 people. 

The board asked county staff to take action on these measures, along with any related initiatives, and return to the board on Feb. 25.

Supervisors also asked staff to report back in 90 days on the possibility of expanding the region’s Homeless Court program and on ways to strengthen regulations related to sleeping on or obstructing public property.

The county works closely with local organizations such as PATH, ResCare and the McAllister Institute to address homelessness in the unincorporated area.

“I work with the homeless population in places like Spring Valley and I totally back what the board approved today,” said Bradley Russell, with McAllister. “These improvements address both short- and long-term needs and offer a critically needed path forward.”