A homeless man sits against a brightly covered wall across the street from San Diego City College. Photo by Chris Stone

Mayor Todd Gloria Thursday released a report by the former executive director for the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness that includes findings and recommendations to strengthen the city’s approach to the crisis.

The expert, Matthew Doherty, concluded that the city lacks capacity and expertise to make progress on its homelessness goals, along with a clearly articulated vision for what Gloria wants to achieve. Opportunities exist though, he added, thanks to new state and federal funding.

“After taking office as mayor, I wasted no time in bringing on Mr. Doherty to give me a warts-and-all assessment of the city’s current homelessness efforts,” Gloria said. “His analysis is already guiding our administration’s new approach on homelessness and helps ensure we are set up for success to achieve our ultimate goal: ending chronic homelessness in San Diego.”

Gloria retained Doherty’s services in January, soon after announcing his intentions in his Jan. 13 “State of the City” address.

“Mayor Gloria and his team have been extremely open to my assessment of how the City of San Diego has approached its work through the years and my identification of gaps in current capacity and expertise,” Doherty said in a statement.

“I am confident that by addressing these findings and implementing these recommendations, the city can, right now, seize its leadership responsibilities in more purposeful and proactive ways and deliver greater progress for the community and, most importantly, people experiencing homelessness in San Diego,” he said.

The four main findings of the report:

  • The Mayor’s Office and the Homelessness Strategies and Solutions Department lack adequate capacity, documentation of activities and expertise to establish best practices, and achieve proactive leadership or strategic partnerships with regional partners. Must create and recruit additional, senior-level positions to expand capacity in key areas and to increase in-house expertise.
  • The city lacks a clearly communicated narrative or vision that expresses Gloria and the city’s priorities and differentiates them from those of prior mayors, that delineates roles and responsibilities among partners, and drives action.
  • The city needs to strengthen partnerships across departments and teams, and external partnerships with key stakeholders, including housing and service providers, and those with current and past experiences of being homeless.
  • There is an openness and eagerness for more engagement of the city among partners and stakeholders, along with resources being made available through the American Rescue Plan and state budget. The city also can choose among multiple options for providing leadership and support to key local efforts and initiatives.

To address those findings, Doherty makes 16 recommendations. Some have been implemented.

For example, Gloria included in the budget for the new fiscal year, which began Thursday, funding for the creation of the homelessness department cited by Doherty. A national search for the first director is nearing conclusion. Plans include hiring three senior-level staff positions.

In addition, the city, in collaboration with San Diego County and nonprofit providers, launched an outreach effort on Monday to connect people living unsheltered on downtown streets with housing and services.

Much of Doherty’s report focuses on the need to better align the city’s efforts with the Community Action Plan on Homelessness, adopted in 2019.

Doherty has nearly 30 years of experience focused on ending homelessness and the implementation of housing, services programs and economic opportunities. As executive director for the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, for four years he led the agency charged with coordinating the federal response to homelessness.

Doherty has connections to the region. While living in La Mesa, he attempted to address homelessness and housing issues in the community for more than 14 years, working with the San Diego Housing Commission and the Corporation for Supportive Housing.

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