Serving Seniors is committed to helping seniors in poverty live healthy and fulfilling lives. The upcoming election is an excellent time for candidates to share their personal vision of a better future for San Diego’s low-income seniors. Since COVID has made it difficult to host in-person forums, we provided the candidates for Mayor of the City of San Diego an alternative opportunity to share their plans to address senior homelessness in San Diego.
Senior homelessness is on the rise across the nation. San Diego’s latest 2020 Point in Time Count (PITC) recently captured this unsettling reality and reports, of San Diego’s homeless seniors, 43% are experiencing homelessness for the first time in their lives. Many of them (54%) are sleeping on the sidewalk or street each night while still trying to manage chronic health conditions (50%) and physical disabilities (55%).
Here is what Mayoral candidates had to say about addressing senior homelessness in San Diego:
Q1: The latest PITC reports 88% of homeless seniors became homeless in San Diego. How will you demonstrate your commitment to reducing the risk of older adults aging on the streets of San Diego?
Todd Gloria, CA State Assemblymember
First and foremost, I believe that housing is a fundamental, basic human right. We cannot claim to be America’s Finest City when thousands of people live unsheltered on our streets, especially when it comes to our most vulnerable residents – our seniors.
Our City’s residents have had enough of a band-aid approach to this issue. No more temporary tents without a plan. No more criminalizing the existence of San Diego’s poorest, oldest, and sickest residents. It’s time we work to end chronic homelessness. This problem is solvable with strong leadership, data-driven decision-making and accountability for all stakeholders.
I believe in the housing first model of helping the homeless. We can’t expect people to manage health, mental health, and substance use problems while living on the streets. We must house them first while providing the treatment and services they need.
As a former City Councilmember and member of the California State Assembly, I have consistently made combatting homelessness, increasing our affordable housing stock, and protecting renters my core legislative priorities.
As Mayor, I will make fighting homelessness my top priority. A problem as large and complex as homelessness can only be solved if it is understood to be the City’s top priority. Cities that are making progress toward ending homelessness have mayors who are directly and personally involved in the matter. That’s why I will move homeless services into the Mayor’s office in my first 100 days. This action is meant to send an unambiguous message to the entire city that putting a roof over every San Diegan’s head is the focus of my administration. I will personally ensure we make progress on homelessness and hold those carrying out the work of housing the homeless accountable every single day. We have to put our dollars into proven strategies and service providers.
I plan to focus our City’s energy and resources on results-oriented, upstream programs proven to not only get homeless people off the streets, connected to services and back on their feet, but also to keep those at the risk of becoming homeless in their homes. We all know the easiest way to end homelessness is stopping people from becoming homeless in the first place. That’s why our strategy will be focused on making it more affordable for people to stay in their homes as well as making critical investments in permanent supportive housing instead of temporary shelters.
We also must acknowledge the impacts the COVID-19 pandemic is having on our City’s housing and homeless landscape. Data and experience tell us that a downturn in the economy usually leads to an increase in the homeless and unsheltered populations. As our city, region, and state combat the long-term ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, we need a mayor with a proven track record of actively taking on this issue who can hit the ground running on day one.
My full, comprehensive policy proposal for how I plan to address the issues of homelessness and housing affordability as Mayor, which can be found on my website at www.toddgloria.com.
Barbara Bry, Council President Pro Tem
It starts with addressing the root causes of homelessness, which can be different for every individual. Promises of simplistic solutions — “just build more housing” — will not solve this difficult and complex problem. Press conferences and slogans will not solve it. We need a data-driven, comprehensive and collaborative approach that most effectively mobilizes local, state, federal and private-sector resources to address the real causes of homelessness. I will put trained professionals on the street — professionals who can confront the everyday problems our unsheltered population faces and connect them to the help they need. I will invest in programs with proven results and eliminate programs that can’t document their effectiveness. I will provide shelters, transitional housing and safe parking options in the interim. As your next mayor, I will implement this approach as one of my top priorities.
Q2: Once homeless, San Diego’s older adults must continue to manage chronic conditions, physical disabilities, and nutritional needs without the security and dignity offered by a home. How committed are you to redesigning San Diego’s shelter system(s) to accommodate the needs of an aging populations?
Barbara Bry, Council President Pro Tem
We need to redesign the entire system. First, there needs to be one phone number that individuals can call that will be open and answered by a real person 24 hours a day. Second, the City and the County of San Diego need to do a better job working together. The pandemic has improved the outreach to homeless individuals. The City has been able to offer almost every person a bed at the convention center, and has then been able to treat the root cause of homelessness for each individual — this is the core of my plan to solve homelessness and the reason that Father Joe Carroll has endorsed me for Mayor. It is inhumane for seniors, or anyone else, to live on the streets, and as Mayor I will help to create a seamless system to help those living on the streets get the help and resources they need.
Todd Gloria, CA State Assemblymember
I believe our City’s strategy to combatting homelessness needs to be centered around prevention, response, and ultimately long-term housing and rapid supports. My administration will be fully committed to making San Diego’s homeless response system meet the needs of our older and senior unsheltered populations.
It is my belief that San Diego’s shelter system should be used for triage and short-term stays while more permanent solutions are brought forward. A shelter should operate as the front door to the system, rather than being the long-term solution. Bringing individuals into the shelter/emergency response system presents our City with the opportunity to connect them to critical medical treatment, social supports, and permanent re-housing options, but it can’t offer the comfort and stability of a permanent home.
For those older individuals living with chronic health conditions, such as physical ailments, mental health challenges, and substance use disorders we must work to place them in supportive housing environments where their underlying health issues can be addressed. This is especially true for the 43% of our homeless living with a mental illness or substance use disorder.
There are no quick fixes for these behavioral health conditions but there is funding available to address them. Our County has tens of millions of dollars in unspent Mental Health Service Act (MHSA) funding that could be utilized to help create permanent supportive housing for this population. As Mayor, I will work collaboratively with our County partners to match MHSA funds to City housing dollars to incentivize the creation of housing opportunities for this population. We need to ensure that those who need supportive services receive the treatment and care necessary to stabilize and not return to the streets.
There are also many in our City who need relatively modest assistance to become housing secure. The City should make investments in programs for those who need relatively modest assistance to get back on their feet. Often a security deposit, first/last month’s rental payment or credit check fee can be all that holds a person or family back from becoming housing secure. Smart prevention and diversion solutions like this can save many from homelessness and place less strain on our existing shelter capacity.
In closing, San Diegans deserve better outcomes, not only with the City’s shelter system but our housing strategy overall. Our City must work collaboratively with the County, community-based organizations, landlords and service providers to help San Diegans navigate through the system and into long-term, permanent housing opportunities as quickly as possible. If we want to join the communities across the world and nation making real progress on solving the issue of chronic homelessness, we need to implement an aggressive housing first strategy that combines housing with critical services such as medical care, mental health/addiction treatment, food and nutrition access, and other key social services.
It will take focus, dedication, funding, and compassion to end chronic homelessness in San Diego. You have my sincere word that it will be my top priority as your Mayor.
Learn more about San Diego's 2020 Mayoral Candidates