Opinion: Prevention Is the Missing Piece in San Diego’s Struggle Against Homelessness
Since December 2020, the city of San Diego has massively increased efforts to address and reduce homelessness. My City Council colleagues and I have partnered with Mayor Todd Gloria to significantly increase the supply of shelter beds, we’ve purchased hotels that have been converted into temporary homes for people experiencing homelessness, and we’ve budgeted millions to alleviate the suffering of those on the streets and the corresponding impacts neighbors often experience when people are living on sidewalks or in canyons. Our partners on the County Board of Supervisors have also invested more and expanded their efforts in an unprecedented way.
The results of these monumental efforts are surprisingly impressive. According to the Regional Task Force on Homelessness, over the past year, 11,861 people who were experiencing homelessness were housed. Not just sheltered, housed. That means nearly 12,000 San Diegans moved from severe vulnerability and lacking of one of human beings’ essential needs to the stability of a permanent home.
Unfortunately, as we can all see, the homelessness crisis has only gotten worse. At times it can seem so bad that it is almost impossible to believe that any efforts are being made at all, let alone any successful efforts. Nobody wants to talk about “success” when they see encampments growing and suffering increasing. Our eyes tell us all we need to know and the data confirms what we can see.
The reason is simple. Too many people are becoming homeless on a daily basis. The 11,861 people who were housed over the last year are overshadowed by the 15,327 people who became homeless for the first time. Put simply, for every 10 people who are connected with housing, 13 people fall into homelessness.
It’s as if we were on a ship that’s taking on water. We’re bailing the water out furiously, but we’re not stopping the water from rushing into the boat. This is what it feels like trying to address homelessness as our city builds shelters, affordable housing and funds outreach programs. Despite these efforts, more and more people are forced to live in the streets. We must close the gaping hole in our ship that allows San Diego residents to fall into homelessness.
A Strong Tenant Protections Ordinance
Earlier this year, the City Council passed a no-fault eviction moratorium, mostly banning evictions of tenants who are keeping up with rent payments and complying with the terms of their lease. While it’s difficult to determine the direct impact of that moratorium on homelessness, numbers from the regional taskforce show a dip in the number of first-time homeless people after the moratorium became effective at the end of May.
The moratorium expired after Sept. 30 and now we’re hearing from constituents and tenant advocates that some landlords have issued eviction notices even to people who are paying their rents and complying with the terms of their leases. Even before the moratorium expired, dozens of tenants in a Linda Vista apartment building were sent eviction notices from the new owners.
With sky-high rents continuing to climb and a low supply of available housing, an eviction could mean that individuals and families need to have $8,000 to $10,000 for first and last month’s rent and a security deposit. That’s an amount that many people don’t have available even with several weeks’ notice.
That’s why on Monday, Oct. 31, we will take a first step in creating a new ordinance to protect renters from being evicted and risk being thrown out on the street. This will be a transparent and inclusive process with an informational item allowing members of the public and San Diego City Councilmembers to offer suggestions on what the best Tenant Protections Ordinance might look like.
Considering the number of people who have lost their homes for the first time in the past year, it is painfully clear that we must take steps toward preventing needless evictions that place people in danger of becoming homeless. This could take the form of rent relief like the Housing Instability Prevention Program included in this years’ budget, or stronger Tenant Protections Ordnance which I hope will return to the City Council to pass as soon as possible.
A Resolution Declaring Housing as a Human Right
At the heart of our struggle to solve this housing and homelessness crisis is committing ourselves to that goal. That’s why my office has partnered with Council President Pro Tem Monica Montgomery Steppe, Councilmember Joe LaCava and Councilmember Raul Campillo in introducing a resolution declaring Housing as a Human Right, which will demonstrate this council’s commitment to acting to uphold these rights for our residents.
This resolution is not a new idea. The United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights in 1948 identifies adequate housing as a fundamental human right, defining it as “the right to live somewhere in security, peace and dignity.” Pittsburgh, PA, Aurora, CO. and Berkeley, CA, have made similar declarations.
If this declaration is adopted, the city of San Diego will pledge to address the root causes of homelessness to keep people housed through affordable, accessible, and habitable homes, and to provide pathways to housing for people experiencing homelessness.
This resolution is a value statement and invitation for accountability for this and future councils to uphold the dignity and rights of our residents. It is one of many promises we must keep if we’re going to navigate our city out of this crisis.
City Councilman Sean Elo-Rivera represents District 9 and serves as president of the council.