Mayor Gloria, in OB, Pledges Caseworkers – Not Cops – Will Reach Out and Assist Homeless Community; OB to Be the Test Case

by on March 12, 2021 · 6 comments

in Homelessness, Ocean Beach, San Diego

Mayor Todd Gloria was in Ocean Beach Wednesday, inside the OB Rec Center touting a new approach to San Diego’s homeless population. The city, he said at a press conference, has put together a coordinated outreach program that will send out 12 outreach caseworkers into neighborhoods across the city to provide help to those living on the street.

The coordination will be through the People Assisting the Homeless (PATH) program whose team members will have the ability to connect the houseless with the assistance they need – that day. Gloria said:

“With this new coordinated outreach program, we’re acknowledging that we need to provide a whole toolbox of options to the people who interact with our homeless.”

In referring to the outreach team, he said:

“They will help them overcome the unique challenges, whether it’s drug or alcohol addiction, mental illness, physical health problems or other legal entanglements. We call it ‘person-centered, neighborhood-based, trauma-informed, housing focused approach.”

The new PATH outreach teams are made possible by City Council funds allocated last summer. Gloria claimed the new approach is a substantial change in how San Diego has dealt with the homeless crisis – and implying that city-led programs have not been able to alleviate the crisis for over a decade.

And it appears, in a sense, Ocean Beach will be the test case. Regional Task Force on the Homeless CEO Tamera Kohler said:

“By putting these policies into practice in Ocean Beach, they will serve as a model for the other communities to follow. Building those relationships and focusing on the individual and their specific needs is the way outreach should be done.”

Much of the old, failed approach centered around law enforcement, forcing police officers into being the last line of defense against a societal problem. Police would ticket houseless individuals and conduct sweeps of areas harboring those without shelter, but the overall problem and crisis was not resolved. Gloria says the city will now lead with a “housing first” model that has worked in other cities across the world, connecting people with immediate services.

There have been teams in the past but they were made of city workers and police officers.

A good part of the problem has been the generalized “criminalization” of the homeless by the city, its departments, the media and much of the general opinion of the housed population. KPBS

Here’s the full press release from Mayor Gloria’s office:

SAN DIEGO – Following through on his vow to change the status quo on the City’s response to homelessness, Mayor Todd Gloria today announced a new approach to establishing relationships with hard-to-reach unsheltered San Diegans to put them on a path toward permanent homes.

Joined at Ocean Beach Recreation Center by City Council President Dr. Jennifer Campbell, San Diego Housing Commission President and CEO Richard C. Gentry, Regional Task Force on the Homeless CEO Tamera Kohler and Jonathan Castillo, chief regional officer of PATH (People Assisting the Homeless), Mayor Gloria highlighted the City’s Coordinated Street Outreach Program, which uses trained social workers and peer specialists to connect unsheltered residents with housing and supportive services.

“For too long, the City has not had enough outreach workers in the field, and has not given them the tools they need to build trust and be successful in connecting those living on the streets to housing and services. That changes today,” said Mayor Gloria. “Our new outreach program puts compassion front and center of how San Diego confronts homelessness.”

The Coordinated Street Outreach Program, administered by the San Diego Housing Commission, incorporates nationally recognized best practices to shift the focus of the City’s homelessness outreach efforts. It employs a neighborhood-based, person-centered approach to meeting the unique needs of San Diego’s unsheltered population. It’s aligned with the principles of the successful housing-first strategy to ending chronic homelessness.

“Meaningful outreach in our beach communities has been a missing piece to our homeless strategy,” said Council President Campbell. “By putting people on the ground, building relationships every day, we can make a meaningful impact on this crisis.”

“This program focuses resources toward neighborhoods highly impacted by homelessness and helps connect those in greatest need to permanent and longer-term housing opportunities.” said SDHC President & CEO Gentry, who also serves on the Leadership Council for the City’s Community Action Plan on Homelessness. “With this program, Mayor Gloria and the City Council are advancing the City’s strategy to address homelessness through a client-centered, system-based approach.”

Operated by PATH, the program comprises two distinct and complementary sets of teams. One is proactive and the other is reactive, and they work in concert.

The Mobile Homelessness Response Teams, trained in crisis intervention, embeds outreach workers in neighborhoods throughout the city with higher concentrations of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness. These teams will also work to locate and engage with people the Regional Task Force on the Homeless has identified as most vulnerable and prioritized for resources such as supportive housing. These skilled outreach teams will provide ongoing, intensive case management aimed at breaking down barriers and connecting clients to services and permanent housing.

The Rapid Response Team will focus on areas of high concentration and respond to community referrals across the city, providing immediate intervention and problem-solving activities. They will also work to improve the individual’s sense of safety and help them meet their basic needs, connecting them to ongoing case management through the Mobile Homelessness Response team(s).

“As one of the largest homeless service providers in the state and one of the most impactful providers in San Diego, PATH is excited to expand our successful outreach model citywide,” said PATH’s Castillo. “PATH’s coordinated street outreach is trauma-informed, highly person-centered and focused on Housing First. Our specialists focus on building relationships, working with the community, and finding individualized solutions to ending a person’s episode of homelessness.”

The PATH program employs 18 people, including two team leaders (one for each team), approximately 12 outreach specialists (approximately six for each team) and four peer support specialists.

To coordinate outreach efforts citywide, the Housing Commission has worked with PATH and additional City-funded outreach resources, such as outreach staff from programs that Father Joe’s Villages and Alpha Project operate and the Downtown San Diego Partnership, to identify how to best allocate resources in areas across the city with high needs. This has included identifying areas for neighborhood-based outreach assignments.

In addition, intakes into shelters are centralized and coordinated through Housing Commission staff. This identifies shelter-bed availability on a daily basis to serve people in need and help staff connect people experiencing unsheltered homelessness to the most appropriate available bed to meet their needs as quickly as possible.

“This coordinated approach follows the new outreach polices and standards developed by the RTFH for the San Diego region, said Regional Task Force on the Homeless CEO Kohler, “By putting these policies into practice in Ocean Beach, they will serve as a model for the other communities to follow. Building those relationships and focusing on the individual and their specific needs is the way outreach should be done.”

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Avatar GML March 12, 2021 at 11:07 am

I think this is a great step in the right direction. However, they still haven’t addressed what will happen when someone refuses assistance and is a menace to the community. Until this is done, OB will still have a significant “homeless issue”.

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Avatar Sam March 12, 2021 at 11:26 am

Its about time that the people who truly need this help are going to get it. But as GML points out, it won’t do much good on a local societal level until you get rid of the drug dealers, migratory panhandlers and generally bad actors. A huge step forward would be to indict all of OB to get rid of the drug dealers. They are the source of most of the malfeasance.

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Avatar Geoff Page March 12, 2021 at 12:17 pm

Having listened to Community Relations Officer David Surwilo over the years explain how they were approaching the problem, I don’t see how this will be greatly different. The SDPD would come out along with a group to contact the homeless that offered much of what this piece described. Surwilo said the refusal rate was depressingly high. The main problem with most of these offers is the requirements to behave, to not drink, to not do drugs. Too many preferred the streets for that freedom and they could not be compelled to take the assistance. Gloria has dressed this up as something new but it still boils down to the same thing. Those who want help are able to find it. Those who don’t are the problem. This city created the problem by knocking down all the SROs and putting up luxury condo towers. Now, we need to rebuild some SROs.

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Avatar Sam March 12, 2021 at 12:31 pm

Good point on the SROs. Personally, I think they should turn NAVWAR into SRO housing, especially considering its proximity to the mental health facility and existing public transit. I would much rather see that than building some ridiculous mixed use transit hub in that location. I still can’t quite get my head around the logistics of how that location could become a transit hub, there simply is not enough room to run additional rail tracks in and out of that area.

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Avatar Will March 13, 2021 at 5:34 pm

But Sam, nobody wants to take public transit. So why are we spending so much of our money on services that most people don’t want…unless you force people into a bus or trolly, they won’t ride it.

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Avatar Chris March 13, 2021 at 6:30 pm

The reason most people don’t want to take public transit is because of lack of convenience and reliability and it’s time consuming. Personally, I would love to not have to use my car every single day and so do most people I know. That doesn’t mean we want to completely eliminate using our own vehicles but we would like to not have to use them every single day. How to make public transit in San Diego more usable in San Diego I have no idea. Perhaps it’s just not possible but if that’s the case it’s just sad.

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