Opinion: We must work together to provide immediate assistance to those caught in shelter

Vargas He is the president and CEO of Father Joe Villages. He lives in La Jolla.

For the first time since 2020, the Regional Task Force on Homelessness has released its annual report Count report on time Sharing a snapshot of how many people experienced homelessness in one night in February.

Overall, the on-time 2022 tally estimates the number of people experiencing homelessness across San Diego County at 8,427, a 10 percent increase from 2020. This number includes 4,106 homeless San Diego, a 3 percent increase from 2020, and 4,321 individuals in shelters, a 26 percent increase over 2020.

It is important to understand that this report is just one tool we use to understand the full picture of homelessness in San Diego. After all, from October 1, 2020 through September 30, 2021, more than 36,500 San Diegan interacted with homeless service providers. However, the number is significant.

Now, many of us – myself included – might look at these numbers and get frustrated. How, after increased funding and increased services for the homeless during the pandemic, has the number only increased? Why didn’t we move the displacement needle?

In Father Joe’s villages, we have provided more services than ever before. The number of people we serve through our shelters and housing programs has increased from 2,000 to more than 2,500 needy neighbors each night over the past two years. Although shelter capacity has decreased to allow for health and safety precautions, our bed count has increased with new shelters, in partnership with the City of San Diego and the San Diego Housing Commission. All this in addition to other comprehensive services — curative child care, employment and education services, primary and behavioral health care, case management and outreach — and the addition of nearly 500 new affordable housing units through the Turning the Key initiative.

We know that other service providers and government agencies have also worked hard to meet the needs of our neighbors over the past two years. So, with that in mind, why is the number of people experiencing homelessness still on the rise?

The truth is that San Diego is at the center of three crises that are pushing people to the brink of homelessness and keeping them there for the long term: the pandemic’s late economic effects, the exorbitant cost of housing, and a serious public health crisis. Mental illness is a substance use disorder that affects a large portion of the population.

We may now be seeing the economic effects of the pandemic – business closures, pandemic-related job losses, and evictions undone through the cracks of the moratorium. Inflation only exacerbates the problem. Prices in the San Diego area, like Measured by the Consumer Price Index for all urban consumers (CPI-U), it rose 2.1 percent in February and March alone (US Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Rising costs are putting pressure on low-income families and individuals who already have very limited budgets. This can suddenly make vital items such as food, healthcare and housing unaffordable.

It is a widely accepted fact that as housing becomes less expensive, homelessness increases. with the The median home price is close to $1 million and the Average apartment rent over $2,700 per monthMany San Diegan residents simply struggle to keep a roof over their heads. Individuals and families who live on limited household budgets—working in low-paying jobs or living on disability support—simply cannot find housing prices that fit their budgets. Only 3% of San Diego apartments rent for less than $1,500 a month. Unfortunately, this issue has only been amplified more and more over the past year, as Rents in San Diego in 2022 are up 18.84% compared to 2021.

Finally, serious mental illness and substance use disorder among a portion of the population can prevent neighbors from entering shelters and accessing services. Tragically, despite efforts by outreach teams, providers often have to stand up and monitor if a person does not have the capacity to accept help. At the same time, there is an urgent need for additional behavioral health programs in San Diego. Fortunately, San Diego County has allocated new money to expand behavioral health services in 2022. Hopefully, this will make a difference.

In general, homelessness is the end result of the failure of extensive and complex social, economic and social safety net programs and policies, exacerbated by individual circumstances. Due to the complexity and scale of the San Diego homeless response system, no single organization alone can influence all individuals experiencing homelessness or change the entire system immediately. We must continue to work together—citizens, governing bodies, and nonprofit providers—to provide immediate assistance to those experiencing homelessness, build affordable housing for families and low-income individuals, and develop behavioral health programs in our community. Only then can we begin to see the needle moving in the right direction.