Mayor Kevin Faulconer opens the San Diego Convention Center to the homeless. Image from live stream

City officials, the San Diego Housing Commission and the Regional Task Force on the Homeless said Tuesday that regional collaboration has led to a significant drop in veteran homelessness and continues under the Operation Shelter to Home program.

This year’s Point-in-Time count conducted by the task force showed a 43% decrease in the number of veterans experiencing homelessness from 2019 to 2020. That number was reduced further after April 1, city leaders said, when the San Diego Convention Center was converted into Operation Shelter to Home — a temporary shelter to protect over 1,000 homeless individuals from the global pandemic.

More 750 individuals have been connected to housing so far as part of that project — including 175 veterans — and an additional 200 veterans matched to housing resources.

“We’ve come a long way as a region over the past few years when it comes to implementing innovative solutions to reduce homelessness and it’s paying off with real results,” Mayor Kevin Faulconer said. “Our veterans have served and protected us, and the San Diego region has made getting every veteran off the street a top priority. We’re making progress, but there’s a lot more to do to ensure every hero has a home.”

The SDHC and RTFH have implemented several strategies to increase access to resources and housing for homeless veterans, including:

— Streamlining processes in the region’s Coordinated Entry System intended to more efficiently and effectively match people with housing vouchers or subsidies;

— Collaborating with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to increase access to and utilization of Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing vouchers;

— Working with San Diego County to lower barriers and increase utilization of the “Project One for All” initiative; and

— Connecting individuals to Veterans Village of San Diego’s bridge housing program and People Assisting the Homeless’ grant per diem program, both of which provide short-term housing options and case managers to assist individuals with identifying a permanent unit.

“Through these collaborative strategies, San Diego has created additional opportunities for veterans on the streets or in shelters to have a place to call home,” said Richard Gentry, SDHC president and CEO. “San Diego is moving in the right direction, advancing toward achieving the goal of ending veteran homelessness.”

Overall homelessness has declined in San Diego County for two consecutive years. The 2020 Point-in-Time count showed a 4% overall decrease in homelessness in the city and a 12% decrease in those living unsheltered outside.

“The reduction in the numbers of veterans experiencing homelessness in the city demonstrates the results of deliberate, collective efforts to identify and implement solutions to this issue,” said Tamera Kohler, RTFH CEO. “We look forward to continuing to work with the city to achieve the bold goal of ending veteran homelessness in San Diego and throughout the region.”

In May 2020, San Diego partnered with Chula Vista to expand its successful bridge shelter model regionally by replicating it in neighboring cities.

The convention center shelter operations are slated to conclude in December to align with the opening of two hotels the SDHC purchased to transform into 332 units of permanent housing for the homeless.

The city, SDHC and service providers have also coordinated with the county on a reactivation plan for city shelters intended to prioritize health and safety precautions and provide safe shelter to as many as possible amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

— City News Service