Pilot program focuses on homelessness in the Hillcrest neighborhood

San Diego city and county officials on Monday announced a pilot program that will provide an intensive outreach effort to connect homeless people in Hillcrest with services that could lead to self-sufficiency, better health and housing.

Starting this week and running through mid-March, Connect Hillcrest will see representatives from various county departments working with service providers and others in escalated outreach efforts throughout the community on Wednesdays and Fridays, said Nick Macchione, director of the county Health and Human Services Agency.

In another component similar in some ways to the city’s planned homeless navigation center expected to open downtown this spring, Connect Hillcrest will include a temporary one-stop center where homeless people can drop by to receive health services and learn about shelter and housing opportunities, food programs and more, Macchione said.

The Center in Hillcrest, located at 3909 Centre Street, will provide space for the program each Wednesday, he said.

Homeless outreach in Hillcrest isn’t new — crews from the Alpha Project have worked in the community for years — but the new effort will include more than a dozen people on the street all focused on one geographic area.

San Diego City Councilman Chris Ward, chair of the Regional Task Force on the Homeless, said the task force will examine results in about a month to possibly replicate the effort in other areas.

“It’s our hope that with the success of this model we can expand to other impacted communities in the region so we can see a Connect El Cajon, we can see Connect Ocean Beach, a Connect Midway, Oceanside and so on,” he said at a news conference Monday morning at The Hub in Hillcrest, a shopping center on University Avenue.

Ward called the new effort a step away from traditional “enforcement first” practices and toward an approach that focuses on individuals and leverages existing community services.

The program is coordinated by the city of San Diego’s Housing Commission. Lisa Jones, senior vice president of homeless and housing innovations with the commission, said Connect Hillcrest’s coordinated outreach aims to fill a gap in the city’s homeless response system.

“Connect Hillcrest recognizes that those who are most in need of care are often unable to advocate for themselves and face additional challenges trying to navigate the current homeless crisis response systems,” she said.

County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher quoted President Franklin Roosevelt at the news conference as he praised the new approach.

“FDR talked about the need for bold, persistent experimentation,” Fletcher said. “He said it is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it and try another, but above all try something.”

Regional Task Force on the Homeless CEO Tamera Kohler said the program is similar to the “hot-spotting” approach in healthcare. Originally launched as a program in Camden, New Jersey, hot-spotting involves reallocating resources to a small subset of high-need, high-cost patients to have the greatest impact on the population.

Macchione, from county Health and Human Services, said Monday that there was not a cost estimate for the pilot program, but the expense relatively low because it involves reallocating resources already in place.

“We’re going to be working shoulder to shoulder in teams,” he said. “We’re going to be committing and providing eligibility services, providing people needed public assistance. Things like food, things like water, things like health insurance, things like housing.”

Macchione said county workers will be trained in outreach by people from the Alpha Project, PATH Connections Housing and Father Joe’s Villages. The San Diego Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Team also will be involved, and the county’s Psychiatric Emergency Response Team also will be on call during the outreach effort.


Twitter: @GaryWarthUT


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