Guest commentary: San Diego County’s plan to end homelessness is welcome and overdue

A homeless man sleeps on the sidewalk in San Diego in 2019.
A homeless man sleeps on the sidewalk in San Diego in 2019.
(K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Bravo to the San Diego County Board of Supervisors for adopting and funding a framework to end homelessness for many of our neighbors (“County supervisors adopt comprehensive framework for ending homelessness,” Nov. 11, La Jolla Light).

It’s long overdue, particularly given increased homelessness as a result of the pandemic. Having guided the development of a plan to end homelessness in Minneapolis and Hennepin County a decade ago, I applaud the board for their focus on prevention, outreach, services and housing.

There’s no argument that the best way to end homelessness is to prevent it in the first place, and there’s enough data now to identify who’s at risk and the steps that can be taken to minimize that risk. So many people live on the brink of homelessness, but most don’t fall over the cliff. For those who do, it could have been prevented had help come sooner.

Homelessness, when it does occur, shouldn’t be a chronic condition. There should be supports in place to assure that homelessness is brief and doesn’t repeat. There’s nothing worse than a life cycling through costly government systems, from hospitals to jail to rehab to homeless shelters and back again. A sound framework like the one adopted by the county board can break that cycle.

I’ve found that most people experiencing homelessness welcome help and are often eligible for existing public assistance programs (due to their age, military service, health conditions, etc.), but navigating government systems, determining eligibility and getting connected is near impossible. One-on-one personal outreach is critical to building trust and getting people connected to the services they need.

For people living on our streets who are struggling with mental health and chemical dependency issues, it’s tough to know whether their drinking/drugs/mental illness caused their homelessness or whether the conditions of homelessness caused their illness and addictions. People on the streets, particularly young people, are vulnerable to predators and violence. A good night’s sleep is impossible. Staying healthy is impossible.

People experiencing homelessness want the same thing we all want for ourselves and our families — a safe place to call home and the supports necessary to keep that housing. Thankfully, the city, county and nonprofit organizations, working together, now have plans and funding in place to end homelessness for our neighbors on the streets.

That’s a great way to start this holiday season!

Gail Dorfman is a La Jolla resident and a former member of the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners in Minnesota.