In the News

A formula that has resulted in San Diego County receiving less federal money for homeless services than cities with fewer homeless people is being revised.

“I think it’s great news,” said Regional Task Force on the Homeless Executive Director Dolores Diaz, who was reached Monday in Washington, D.C., at the annual National Conference on ending Homelessness. “Over time, it’s going to make a huge difference to our community.”

Scott Peters, D-San Diego, for years led the push in Washington to get the formula changed. Peters, who this week is in Philadelphia for the Democratic National Convention, announced the proposed change last week.

“I have been committed to fixing this broken formula to ensure that every community receives their fair share of resources to get people off of the streets and into permanent housing,” Peter said in a statement.

Peters thanked Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro and his staff for creating four alternative funding formulas to replace the one that had been used for years.

Castro in turn thanked Peters.

“Every person deserves a safe, stable place to call home,” Castro said in a news release. “In high-cost cities like San Diego, that is an urgent challenge in this time of limited resources. That’s why we’re working to improve our funding formula to better target the root causes of homelessness. I thank Congressman Peters for his leadership on this issue and continued partnership as we work to finally end homelessness.”

For the next two months, HUD will accept comments about the four alternative formulas from service organizations, housing providers and local leaders. Just when HUD will make a decision on a new formula is unclear, but any of the four is expected to bring more money to San Diego.

HUD provides money to areas that have continuum of care programs designed to take a communitywide approach to ending homelessness.

San Diego and other communities with such programs must conduct regular counts of homeless people on the street and in shelters. This year’s count found about 8,700 homeless people in San Diego County.

Thomas Theisen, president of the Regional Task force on the Homeless, said the revision was welcome news because it means more money for the region, although it would not make much of an immediate impact.

Theisen estimates that at least $100 million is spent on helping the homeless each year in San Diego County, and HUD provided about $18 million to the region this year. The revisions are expected to bring another $2 million or $3 million, he said.

As Theisen explained, HUD has been using a formula that is based on criteria for community development block grants. Under that formula, communities receive more if their housing is older and their population is decreasing or not growing as fast as the rest of the country.

“That makes perfect sense when you’re talking about revitalizing communities, but not as much sense as when you’re talking about the homeless,” he said.

In fact, the formula may have given more money to areas that needed it less because cities with older housing and decreasing population are likely to have an easier time helping the homeless because housing is cheaper and more available, Theisen said.

The newly proposed funding formulas are complex, but Theisen said they take the causes of homelessness into consideration more than the current formula.

Theisen said all the proposed formulas will bring more money to San Diego, and of the four, he liked one in particular because it put more weight on the difficulties a community faces in solving homelessness, such as the high cost of housing.

Local businessman and homeless advocate Michael McConnell, also in Washington for the homeless conference, said the revision was good news but would not make a significant difference immediately.

“I don’t want people to have the impression that this alone is going to solve homelessness,” he said about the formula change. “What’s going to solve homelessness is how we use that money efficiently and effectively.”

McConnell said San Diego should not invest in transitional housing, which he sees as an extension of shelters and not effective in the long run, but rather fund more permanent or supportive housing.

He also said it’s important to recognize that San Diego’s continuum of care program covers a large geographic area, so it includes a large number of homeless people. When looking at the per capita figure, San Diego has about 28 homeless people per 100,000, while San Francisco has about 80 per 100,000, he said.

McConnell also said the homeless population alone should not determine the amount of HUD funding a community receives. A large homeless population, he reasoned, could mean that a community is doing a poor job of trying to end homelessness.