Regional Task Force CEO’s message to San Diego: “We can end homelessness”

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Funders Together to End Homelessness San Diego (FTEHSD) and San Diego Grantmakers (SDG) recently organized a meet and greet for local funders with Gordon D. Walker, the new CEO of The San Diego County Regional Task Force on the Homeless (RTFH). According to Walker, “The Regional Task Force on the Homeless is the superstructure for the community—the philosophical leader. There are hundreds of wonderful ideas bubbling up in the region.”

FTEHSD Member Karen Brailean with Gordon Walker, CEO of RTFH

In Walker’s previous role, he successfully reduced chronic homelessness by 91% in Utah.

Introducing Walker was the Chair of FTEHSD, Nancy Sasaki. She explained that housing first is a system based on the tenet that if you can solve an individual’s first level of need – shelter (safety, water, warmth) – then you can begin to work on the higher needs of the person.

When asked if homelessness can really be ended, she explained, “Yes, we can effectively end homelessness by making experiences of homelessness rare, brief, and one time.” To that end, FTEHSD funds system-building efforts like building the database that supports the San Diego community to develop a region-wide system of matching people to housing in the most effective and efficient manner possible and consistent with the housing first framework. Sasaki is also the Executive Director of Alliance Healthcare Foundation and the incoming board chair for San Diego Grantmakers. 

”Housing first is the only strategy I've seen that can be scaled to house and provide services for as many people as needed.” - G. Walker

FTEHSD started as a learning group and progressed through SDG’s Learn-Plan-Act Continuum. After significant learning, pooling funding was an important progression to be able to take action. FTEHSD currently invests $400,000-500,000 each year; with its members deeply embedded in the community and committed to solving this critical social issue.

The video above developed for FTEHSD by member Andy Ballester shared some sobering statistics. Did you know that 8,209 people are currently in need of permanent housing?

"Homelessness is solvable; it's not rocket science… Unfortunately the majority of people believe homelessness to be an intractable problem; it’s not. There are pretty effective strategies to get there, but we have to work together and we have to do it as a team," urged Greg Anglea, CEO of Interfaith Community Services, during his interview.

Walker adds that “San Diego is at a tipping point. The citizens have to decide what they want... The business community is willing to put money into the effort. We need to start focusing on the ultimate solution: how do we end chronic homelessness?”

Of all the homeless population in San Diego, 12% are chronically homeless.

Chronic homelessness is defined by Walker as a person who has been homeless for a year or longer or who has had four episodes of homelessness in three years and has a debilitating condition (mental illness, alcoholism, drug addictions).

With just a few months in this role under this belt, Walker is optimistic. He concludes, “The business that we are in is the business of saving lives. Together we are going to talk, help, cajole, and everything else we can leverage to help change lives. And we will do it.”

Q&A Session with Local Funders

Q: I was really impressed by Los Angeles and what they've done on the homeless issue, passing a $1.2 billion bond, committed to build 10,000 housing units, and passed $350,000/yr for 10 years. What will their challenges be?
Political will. The time may be right now, but we need political will to go along with any funds.

Q: Does San Diego have the political will it needs?
San Diego County committed $25 million and 11 properties for developing affordable housing. San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer has more ideas bubbling up, including a recent announcement to install three temporary tent structures to house 100+ people each. There is a locally proposed ballot measure focused on solving homelessness and also State Senate Bill 2 (low-income housing funding through a recording fee) & Senate Bill 3 (would place a $3 billion bond for low-incoming housing on the 2018 ballot).

Q: What is the timeline you anticipate to get together a coalition of the willing?
Two to three years. There are a lot of resources in San Diego, but they are uncoordinated. We must begin today to coordinate efforts. Absent that focus, we'll be in the same place in three years as we are today.

Cindy Olmstead, Megan Lim Blair, Mel Katz and Karen Brailean at the Philanthropy’s Critical Role in Ending Homelessness event

Philanthropy's Critical Role in Ending Homelessness

Funders Together to End Homelessness San Diego (FTEHSD)
FTEHSD focuses on systems change and families and youth and has a pool of funds for emerging opportunities.  Since its inception, FTEHSD has both challenged and supported the system.

  • In the San Diego region, service providers  were using a different assessment tool than the one being used nationally; FTEHSD provided funding to develop San Diego’s system and required providers receiving funding to use the national tool so that we could compare San Diego results with others'.
  • FTEHSD funded staffing, e.g., the administrative assistant to a system-wide housing navigation program.
  • Bringing Families Home This County of San Diego program aims to keep families together when they are homeless or at-risk of homelessness with rapid rehousing and housing navigators. FTEHSD provided $100,000 in matching funds to draw down $100,000 in additional state dollars.

Community Standards Tool
For the first time, the region has a set of community standards that are designed to ensure service providers are following  best practices that will lead to the reduction and effective end of homelessness. These were developed by the RTFH, with input from providers. Funders can use the community standards tool developed by FTEHSD to understand if grantees are complying with or working towards these best practices that make their work a part of ending homelessness for all of San Diego.

What Can You Do?

  • Use the community standards tool to help your grantees remain or become a part of the long-term solution.
  • Join FTEHSD: sit at the table to learn and discuss, fund with us, we are able to have more clout and power together.
  • Contact Amy Denhart, Director of Funders Together to End Homelessness San Diego at [email protected] or 858-875-3331 for more information.
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