Homelessness Services

From San Diego Public Policy and Fiscal History

In 2017, the homeless population in San Diego County exceeded 9,000 individuals on any given night, decreasing slightly over the next year.[1] Over the past ten years, there has been little real change homelessness, taking a toll on a jurisdiction’s economy, the environment, its housing policy, and its health care and criminal justice systems. The San Diego County Taxpayers Association conducted a study to inform the public, government agencies, philanthropic organizations, and other funders about trends on homeless-specific funds and their allocations to improve policy and practice.

"While data limitations prevent us from confirming causal links in observational data, we explore how homelessness fluctuates and how it relates to spending at an aggregate level to note that higher spending is not necessarily correlated to lower homeless population counts. SDTEF also finds that local spending relative to total spending has increased by 2,015% over the last 10 years. Agencies heavily rely on the Regional Task Force on Homeless’ data to inform policy decisions and funding allocation. This reliance, in turn, creates severe data records issues that can be traced back to reporting and administrative deficiencies that undermine the validity of the trends hereby observed."[2]

When approaching the policy issue of homelessness as a voter, it is helpful to understand the landscape of the entities addressing homelessness in the region.


San Diego County government, led by the Board of Supervisors, is divided among four main branches: 1) Public Safety, 2) Land Use, 3) Finance & General Government, and 4) the Health and Human Services Agency (HSSA).[3] The fourth branch, HHSA, is the umbrella under which homelessness services fall. Particularly, these services are handled by the Homelessness Solutions and Equitable Communities division, which was established by the county Board of Supervisors on July 1, 2021 to “achieve enhanced coordination of existing and new County homeless and equitable community efforts and to serve as a central point of collaboration for outside partners to ensure equity among all San Diegans and to reduce homelessness in the region.”[4]

The HSSA reports four specific goals for its Homelessness Services and Equitable Communities (HSEC) division: 1) reduce homelessness and increase housing supply “in collaboration with the Public Housing Authority and cities across the regions,” 2) expand supports for those struggling with homelessness, mental illness, and substance abuse “in collaboration with Behavioral Health Services, community providers and public agencies across the region,” 3) increase contracting opportunities in under-invested communities to alleviate poverty “in collaboration with the Department of Purchasing and Contracting and the Office Equity and Racial Justice,” and 4) address the needs of immigrant and refugee populations through the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs [also a division within the HSSA, but a separate division from HSEC].[5]

As of 2021, the Homeless Solutions and Equitable Services division allocated “185.00 staff years and a budget of $48.0 million” toward the four goals above.[5]

Additionally, the San Diego County Sheriff's Department has a Homeless Assistance Resource Team (HART), which "provides assistance with homeless related issues in the unincorporated  areas of San Diego County" with a team of eight deputies and a sergeant. HART "works collaboratively with several San Diego County entities including the County of San Diego's Department of Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA), Department of Public Works (DPW), Veteran Affairs, La Maestra Family Health Centers, ResCare, Crisis House, Home Start, People Assisting the Homeless (PATH), Salvation Army and McAlister Institute Substance Abuse Treatment and Education."[6]

Cities within San Diego County. Within the county, most cities conduct their own homelessness services. This results in a layering effect of homelessness services provisions in a region, since there are various entities (state, county, municipal) approaching the homelessness issue. Note that city responses to the homelessness issue are dynamic, but a brief overview of available city programs as of September 2022 are as follows.

  • Carlsbad formed its Housing and Homelessness Services Department in 2021 to “elevate and enhance coordination among the city's affordable housing and homeless response services.”[7] This department is executing the city’s Homeless Response Plan which was developed in 2018 (and has been amended/supplemented by subsequent City Council initiatives)[8] in collaboration with “community members, service organizations, churches, caring residents, businesses, state and federal agencies.” Carlsbad has a series of action plans to address homelessness, including preventing and reducing homelessness, supporting and building capacity within the city to address homelessness, encourage collaborative partnerships, and retaining & increasing the supply of housing within Carlsbad.[9] Carlsbad's Homeless Response Plan reports that "If we use the count of 100 unsheltered homeless residents in Carlsbad, this has a related medical response and service cost of $4,500,000 to $5,000,000 on an annual basis."[9] The city publishes quarterly progress reports concerning these goals.
  • Chula Vista’s Homeless Outreach Program falls under its Police Department[10]. For homelessness services, the city website directs visitors to 211 San Diego. Chula Vista's "Rights, Responsibilities, and Resolutions" presentation for their Homeless Outreach Program specifically includes a focus on the rights and responsibilities of local business owners in relation to homelessness.
  • Coronado's website does not detail any programs or strategies aimed at homelessness. In 2016, "volunteers counted two people living on the streets, two in their vehicles and two in tents or makeshift housing" in Coronado.[11] In 2014 The Coronado Times reported, quoting Commander Mike Lawton of the Coronado Police Department, that "when a homeless person is found sleeping on the street between 9 p.m. and 5:30 a.m., the police try to find a bed at a shelter, and will even offer to drive them to the shelter."[12]
  • Del Mar's mayor co-authored a letter in support of SB1338, a bill to "enact the Community Assistance, Recovery, and Empowerment (CARE) Act, an important measure to provide California's civil courts with a new process for earlier action, support, and accountability to protect and care for some of our State's most vulnerable residents." County of San Diego Board of Supervisors Chair Nathan Fletcher and San Diego mayor Todd Gloria were the other two co-authors. A 2021 report stated that during that year, "43 new Persons Experiencing Homelessness (PEH) were contacted during The County of San Diego’s Office of Homeless Solutions (OHS) Outreach efforts for the City of Del Mar," and the report outlines the response.[13]
  • El Cajon reports its mission to “com[e] together to address the crisis of those currently experiencing homelessness move into safer places and toward a permanent home and better future.” The city reports that since 2017 they have made “tremendous” impacts by “help[ing] house those who are currently experiencing homelessness” and “initiat[ing] clean-up efforts in [their] parks and neighborhoods."[14] El Cajon reports that while they allocate a variety of federal funds for housing services, they are not currently utilizing funds from the state of California, although periodically the state offers competitive grants[15].
  • Encinitas “collaborates with many agencies and non-profit organizations to provide resources to those experiencing homelessness, as well as develop solutions for reducing or preventing homelessness.”[16] The city reports that the 2020 Point-In-Time count for their homeless population was 80 people, the lowest count in the five previous years.[17] In 2019 the city started developing a Homeless Action Plan, which it adopted February 24, 2021.[18] Encinitas’ Homeless Outreach Program for Empowerment (HOPE) teams Sheriff's Deputies and HHSA social workers to assist the homeless; the Homeless Action Plan reports that HOPE served 110 individuals from June to December 2020[17]. Additionally, the city facilitates a Safe Parking program to provide “a safe environment for unsheltered homeless living out of their vehicles while offering resources and services,” and a program called Open Doors with the aim of securing permanent housing.[18]
  • Escondido reports that “of its North County counterparts, Escondido has the highest total homeless population (429), followed by Oceanside (408) and Carlsbad (147)” as of 2022.[19] Escondido highlights the statistic that in Southern California, "the annual cost per homeless individual can range from $40,000 to over $60,000."[20] The city has laid out a Strategy for Addressing Homelessness and Transiency, which includes a robust list of Partnership Entities the city works with on the homelessness issue. Escondido involves its police, public works, fire, park rangers, housing, code compliance, environmental programs, city attorney, and economic development departments in its homelessness task force.
  • Imperial Beach has a housing program with the aim of “assist[ing] the homeless with resources towards the ultimate goal - obtaining safe shelter.”[21] The city website directs people experiencing — or at risk of experiencing — homelessness to the San Diego Regional Task Force on Homelessness.
  • La Mesa offers a program called Homeless Outreach and Mobile Engagement (HOME), operated in conjunction with People Assisting the Homeless (PATH). HOME will function within “the framework provided by the City of La Mesa Citizen Task Force on Homelessness (“CTFH”), with the goal to “better connect those experiencing homelessness with existing County services.” In February 2021, the City Council “unanimously adopted the 2021-2026 Homeless Action Plan.” In addition to working with RTFH, the city of La Mesa has partnered with the East County Homeless Task Force (ECHTF) to secure “20 hours of outreach per week provided by PATH whose work was funded by a Homeless Emergency Aid Program (“HEAP”) grant.”[22] The city also lists the federal CARES Act and the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) as sources of funding.[23]
  • Lemon Grove’s City Council “has directed staff to explore partnerships with non-profit organizations to aid in providing behavioral health services as well as long and short term housing solutions.”[24] The city has partnered with Crisis House, HomeStart, The Salvation Army and Family Health Centers of San Diego as part of its Lemon Grove Homelessness Partnership Plan. Like La Mesa, Lemon Grove is also partnered with the East County Homeless Task Force (ECHTF).
  • National City has a Police Homeless Outreach Team which “works with various service groups to assess and identify issues related to homelessness, in an effort to develop permanent solutions.”[25] The city website’s Housing Resource Directory directs visitors to San Diego County Housing & Community Development Services and the San Diego Housing Commission.
  • Oceanside has a Comprehensive Homeless Strategy, published in 2019. In addition to listing various partnerships, the Homeless Strategy document explains city outreach efforts and actions the City Council has taken to address homelessness in Oceanside. The city partners with “Alliance for Regional Solutions, a coalition of nine cities and more than 50 non-profit service providers and funders,” as just one of its partnerships. The Oceanside Police Department also engages in the effort, having a Homeless Outreach Team and a partnership with Psychiatric Emergency Response Teams.[26] Housing voucher programs are administered through Oceanside’s Housing Authority.[27]
  • Poway does not list any comprehensive homelessness strategies or plans, but the city does have a HomeShare and Community Connections program for those in need of emergency housing and shelter.[28]
  • San Diego’s Homelessness Strategies and Solutions Department mission statement is “to prevent and end homelessness through person-centered, compassionate and equitable services.” The City of San Diego has a Community Action Plan on Homelessness, authored by the Corporation for Supportive Housing. The plan lists three specific goals to reach within three years: 1) decrease unsheltered homelessness by 50%, 2) end veteran homelessness, and 3) prevent and end youth homelessness. Two elements of the Community Action Plan's execution are a Leadership Council and Implementation Team. The San Diego Housing Commission is an important entity in executing this Action Plan, since it “administers shelter, transitional housing, supportive services, and rapid rehousing (RRH) programs on behalf of the City.”[29] San Diego also works with the County and the RTFH to coordinate its approach. The city’s 2022-23 Adopted Operating Budget for Homeless Strategies and Solutions is just over $25 million.[30]
  • San Marcos does not list any homeless strategies or task forces, but does facilitate an affordable housing program.
  • Santee's City Council approved a Memorandum on homeless solutions in May 2022.[31] In March 2021, East County Magazine reported that Santee Point-In-Time count for the homeless population was 55 individuals.[32] The Santee city website directs people to 211 San Diego.
  • Solana Beach does not list any homeless task forces or action plans on the city government website as of September 2022.
  • Vista has a Housing and Homeless Services Division. Vista's Homeless Response Plan describes an internal Homelessness Task Force, a Homelessness Prevention Pilot Program, a Home Share Coordination Service, and a Downtown Daytime Outreach Program, all led by the Housing division. The Public Works department is responsible for Encampment Clean-Up programs which occur quarterly. Vista reports that from October 2022 - June 2022, 77 individuals were sheltered totaling 4,089 nights, and there were 2,426 instances of service by a social worker.[33]


The San Diego Regional Task Force of Homelessness (RTFH) is a major player in the San Diego region's homelessness response. RTFH "engages stakeholders in a community-based process that works to 1) End homelessness for all individuals and families throughout the region, 2) Address the underlying causes of homelessness, [and] 3) Lessen the negative impact of homelessness on individuals, families and communities. The RTFH is made up of representatives from the County of San Diego, non-profit service providers, religious organizations, law enforcement and other interested parties."[34] The RTFH is therefore a Continuum of Care (CoC), a "regional or local planning body that coordinates housing and services funding for homeless families and individuals"[35] which also makes reports to agencies such as the federal department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Details from HUD about Continuums of Care can be found here.

For a San Diego county voter looking for a quantified understanding of the homeless issue and services landscape, RTFH's reports are a helpful starting point. These include Community Analysis and Performance dashboards, Performance Measures reports, Housing Inventory Counts, and homeless individual Point in Time counts.

Notable non-public entities working within the landscape of the San Diego region Continuum of Care are UPLIFT San Diego, Home Start, the Legal Aid Society of San Diego, 211 San Diego, Downtown San Diego Partnership, NAMI San Diego, and Dreams for Change San Diego. Each is a non-profit organization.

  1. (2017). Comprehending the Plight of San Diego’s Homeless: Is There a Sea Change Coming? 2016/2017 San Diego County Grand Jury.
  2. www.sdcta.org/foundation
  3. https://www.sandiegocounty.gov/content/sdc/cao/organization.html
  4. https://www.sandiegocounty.gov/content/sdc/hhsa/programs/hsec/about.html
  5. 5.0 5.1 https://www.sandiegocounty.gov/content/dam/sdc/auditor/pdf/adoptedplan_21-23.pdf#page=315
  6. https://www.sdsheriff.gov/community/homeless-outreach
  7. https://www.carlsbadca.gov/departments/housing-homeless-services
  8. https://www.carlsbadca.gov/departments/police/programs/homeless-outreach/homeless-response-plan
  9. 9.0 9.1 https://www.carlsbadca.gov/home/showpublisheddocument/4911/637527965019770000#page=5
  10. https://www.chulavistaca.gov/departments/police-department/crime-prevention/homeless
  11. https://patch.com/california/coronado/report-reveals-number-homeless-coronado-san-diego-county-0
  12. https://coronadotimes.com/news/2014/07/26/down-and-out-in-coronado-homeless-try-to-eke-out-a-few-feet-of-paradise/
  13. https://www.delmar.ca.us/DocumentCenter/View/8109/Item-15---CARES-Court-and-Homelessness-Update#page=11
  14. https://www.elcajon.gov/resident-services/public-safety/homelessness/homeless-overview
  15. https://www.elcajon.gov/your-government/departments/community-development/housing-division/funding-sources
  16. https://encinitasca.gov/Residents/Housing/Homeless-Resources/Homeless-Programs
  17. 17.0 17.1 https://encinitasca.gov/Portals/0/City%20Documents/Documents/Development%20Services/Planning/Advanced%20Planning/Homelessness/FINAL%20Homeless%20Action%20Plan%20Feb2021.pdf?ver=2021-03-02-091708-950#page=3
  18. 18.0 18.1 https://encinitasca.gov/homelessactionplan
  19. https://homelessness.escondido.org/
  20. https://homelessness.escondido.org/pages/funding
  21. https://imperialbeachrebuild.govoffice2.com/housing_programs?&pri=0
  22. https://www.cityoflamesa.us/DocumentCenter/View/17134/Homeless-Action-Plan#page=12
  23. https://www.cityoflamesa.us/DocumentCenter/View/17134/Homeless-Action-Plan#page=13
  24. https://www.lemongrove.ca.gov/community/homeless-services
  25. https://www.nationalcityca.gov/government/police/homeless-outreach
  26. https://www.ci.oceanside.ca.us/gov/ns/housing/homeless/actions.asp
  27. https://www.ci.oceanside.ca.us/gov/ns/housing/default.asp
  28. https://poway.org/Faq.aspx?QID=163
  29. https://www.sdhc.org/homelessness-solutions/city-homeless-shelters-services/
  30. https://sandiegoca.opengov.com/transparency/#/7714/accountType=expenses&embed=n&breakdown=8f5df8ff-b23a-4abb-8ed8-bb74d0fb05a3&currentYearAmount=cumulative&currentYearPeriod=years&graph=bar&legendSort=desc&proration=true&saved_view=null&selection=2DDD843ADDE797B11B5D0D39F020D015&projections=null&projectionType=null&highlighting=null&highlightingVariance=null&year=2022&selectedDataSetIndex=null&fiscal_start=earliest&fiscal_end=latest
  31. https://eccalifornian.com/santee-approves-memorandum-on-homeless-solutions/
  32. https://www.eastcountymagazine.org/homeless-count-shows-higher-numbers-santee
  33. https://www.cityofvista.com/city-services/housing-homeless-services/addressing-homelessness/by-the-numbers
  34. https://www.sandiegocounty.gov/content/sdc/sdhcd/ending-homelessness/cofc.html
  35. https://endhomelessness.org/resource/what-is-a-continuum-of-care/