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Taxpayer watchdog says homeless task force asked it to destroy data

Non-profit says privacy a concern
San Diego homeless data destroyed
Posted at 5:54 PM, Jul 08, 2024

SAN DIEGO — The San Diego County Taxpayers Association says the Regional Task Force on Homelessness forced it to destroy data that showed how publicly funded programs dedicated to addressing the homeless crisis were performing.

The watchdog organization is now calling for open data sharing on homelessness in the county.

“There's so much money, public money, going into helping those on the street, and the public deserves to know what's happening with that,” said Haney Hong, CEO of the Taxpayers Association.

Hong said two years ago, the association signed a data-sharing agreement with the Task Force, a non-profit organization. It allowed his researchers to study anonymized data in the Homeless Management Information System that showed when a homeless person entered or exited a program that received public funding.

The dataset went back to 2015 and showed what programs homeless people entered, when they left them, and where they went to, he said.

“We realized, yes, we could study actually how each individual program was or was not effective,” said Hong.

Hong said that a year after getting the data, the task force asked the taxpayers association to destroy it, which was a requirement under the agreement he signed and can be common when information-sharing arrangements end.

“And then I've heard, excuse after excuse, why they can't give us those data when we've asked for it again,” said Hong.

In the East Village, where the homeless crisis is on full display, unhoused San Diegans told Team 10 they’d like to see a clearer accounting of where the millions spent to solve the problem are going.

“We need so much more help than what we're getting you know and where the money is going? I don't know,” said Amber Bernardino, who lives in transitional housing.

Bernardino was homeless for seven years before getting into transitional housing in the East Village she now lives in.

She, like Hong, would like to see what programs are or aren’t effective.

“I'd like to see the data,” she said in an interview on an East Village street where tents lined the road and homeless people appeared distressed.

Hong and Bernardino’s concerns follow a recent state audit that found the City of San Diego spent more than $218 million on the homeless crisis in the last three fiscal years without properly tracking its effectiveness.

The task force responded to Hong’s concerns in a prepared statement sent to Team 10.

Homeless privacy a concern: Task force

It said it works with nationally recognized organizations, including the County of San Diego and UC San Diego, to share data and maintain public-facing dashboards.

Spokesman Tony Manolatos said the task force worked for a year on a research project with Hong that didn’t end in a single report being produced by the association. He said privacy concerns are at play.

“It is important to note that people experiencing homelessness deserve the same privacy protections as the rest of us. We hold our role and responsibility to protect the privacy of those experiencing homelessness seriously,” Manolatos said.

He said the task force is proud of its transparency and provides the region with more data and information on homelessness than almost any other continuum of care agency in the country.

Hong pressed back on the privacy concerns and said the data his researchers looked at was anonymized and didn’t contain names.

“I’m not asking if Austin's homeless, right? I'm not asking if Haney Hong is experiencing homelessness, right? I'm not doing that. We're just asking for anonymized data that they've already shared with us.”

Team 10 investigative reporter Austin Grabish can be reached by email at austin.grabish@10news.com