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San Diego lacking in key areas in addressing homelessness, audit finds

Posted at 2:44 PM, Feb 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-19 17:44:02-05

SAN DIEGO (CNS) - San Diego's efforts to address homelessness have been slowed by a scattered strategic plan and lack of outreach, according to a report presented today to the City Council's Audit Committee.

Interim City Auditor Kyle Elser said his office found that while the city has significantly increased its efforts to address the homelessness crisis, several additional steps are needed to successfully implement the Strategic Plan on Homelessness the City Council adopted in October.

The report stresses that homeless outreach efforts could be improved with a comprehensive strategy, and encourages city resources be spent on outreach and coordination with nonprofits, county and state agencies and those experiencing homelessness themselves.

Until the adoption of that strategic plan in October, the city had been operating without a unified strategic approach. "In many cases, successful outreach requires significant time and effort to build relationships, trust and rapport with homeless individuals who may be distrusting of the system,'' the City Auditor's report reads.

"Although the city's homeless outreach efforts have recently improved and continue to evolve, we found that the city lacks a comprehensive outreach strategy and that there is currently no regional system in place to lead homeless outreach.''

The auditor's office also encourages more outreach from non-law enforcement workers. The auditor's office also found that the city is not maximizing the effectiveness of its outreach practices to connect those experiencing homelessness with shelter and services during encampment removals.

The removal process, called abatement, clears out campsites of makeshift housing including tents. The auditor found that clearing out an encampment without offering information and resources was shuffling the problem to a different part of the city rather than truly addressing it.

"Thus, homeless individuals may simply be displaced to another location that will then also require abatement -- resulting in a repetitive and costly cycle of abatement and inefficient use of city resources,'' the report reads.

"Frequent displacement without effective outreach may also impact homeless individuals' ability to successfully resolve their homelessness.'' Councilman Scott Sherman -- chair of the Audit Committee -- called on the county to invest more in outreach in collaboration with the city, citing state funds earmarked for that purpose.

"The homeless crisis is a region-wide problem and the county needs to take the lead in outreach efforts,'' he said. "The city is responsible for public safety; the county oversees health and human services and must invest accordingly.''

The report offers a dozen recommendations to narrow those gaps, including developing strategies to fund needs in the city's strategic plan and a comprehensive outreach strategy. Other recommendations include monitoring to ensure accountability, transparency and effectiveness and developing an encampment abatement protocol to ensure "person-centered'' outreach.

Any council action to adopt the recommendations will be docketed in the next few weeks.