San Diego Homelessness Czar to go on leave to open Mormon temple

Posted at 12:07 AM, Oct 18, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-18 18:27:27-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - After 14 months on the job, Gordon Walker, the CEO of the Regional Task Force on the Homeless is taking a six month leave to help open a temple for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Rome, Italy.

Walker was hired in June of 2017 after successfully reducing the homeless population in Utah by 91%.

“We can do the exact same thing here,” he told 10News. “The chronic homeless problem here in San Diego is not much larger that it was in Utah.”

He took over the RTFH just after it had been consolidated with several other agencies.

One of his first big projects was overhauling an outdated software system that is used by many different agencies that interact with the homeless.

Expected to be launched in December, he says the new program will allow for easier and more streamlined data collection.

It’s an important change because they can’t fight a problem when they don’t know exactly what it consists of.

“We had a hard time answering some very basic questions, like ‘what do we actually need?’ “

For this purpose, one of the task force’s yearly projects is executing a ‘point-in-time’ count of homeless people across the county.

When the numbers were released this year, however, they were met with criticism.

“You cant just not count 1000 to 2000 people just because you haven’t done your due diligence when we’ve counted them every year,” said Michael McConnell, a homeless advocate and former member of the RTFH.

He’s referring to the homeless population that live in vehicles.

Because they were not included in the 2018 count of unsheltered homeless, the number appeared to decline from the previous year.

Walker still defends their decision, saying “here in San Diego there was a great deal of effort of counting people in vehicles without proving or showing that there was anyone living in the vehicle.”

But he said they plan on changing that next year by performing outreach beforehand, so when they encounter vehicles while doing the count they know who lives inside them.

“We are going to do more interviewing so we know the people better,” he said.

Whether or not he will be back to see that through remains to be seen. He told 10News he plans to spend no more that six months in Italy.

“My goal is to come back here, even if it’s not as CEO” he said. “We’re doing some great things.”

On Thursday, the board that oversees the RTFH will vote to confirm Tamera Kohler as acting CEO.

She worked with Walker in Utah and currently serves as the COO.

Walker said he leaves for Italy on Friday.