COAST CITIES — San Diego County has the third highest number of homeless people in the country, yet because of an antiquated government formula, it is only eligible to compete for the 18th highest amount of federal funding in the nation for its homeless services.
Under the current system, more than a dozen areas with lower homeless populations are able to receive tens of millions of dollars more in funding than the county.
Now San Diego officials are starting to take notice and are pushing for revision of how the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) allocates its funds.
“Clearly there is a funding imbalance and we need to change the decades-old, federal funding formula so we provide more transitional housing, rental assistance, shelter assistance and other programs to help the homeless,” said Chairman of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors Greg Cox.
The HUD reported that San Diego County had an average of more than 10,000 homeless people on a given single night in 2012, according to a report released last November.
Only New York City and Los Angeles County had larger homeless populations with averages of more than 56,000 and 42,000 homeless people, respectively, on a given night in 2012, according to the HUD data.
San Diego County was eligible to compete for up to $15,707,214 from the HUD last year to fund homeless services including shelters, interim housing, supportive housing, and rental assistance.
Yet the maximum amount of federal funds that the county was eligible for didn’t just fall third to New York City and Los Angeles, but also millions of dollars behind 15 other areas in the country that have thousands of fewer homeless people.
By comparison, the city of Chicago reported 6,710 homeless people on a given night, yet was eligible to compete for more than $51 million in funding from the HUD last year.
HUD funding is obtained through local bodies known as Continuums of Care (CoC), which coordinate the home less organizations for an entire city, county, region, or state to apply for this federal funding annually. The funding is used to finance homeless services including shelters, interim housing, supportive housing, and rental assistance.
The HUD relies on a decades-old formula to determine how much homeless assistance funding each CoC can compete for.
In a letter to the HUD last year, several members of Congress identified discrepancies in these formulas that placed East Coast cities at an advantage for funding eligibility.
“The current formula does not correlate with indicators of homelessness or need for homeless assistance grants,” stated the Nov. 16 letter.
“The current formula for determining levels of funding for Continuum of Care (CoC) grants,…severely disadvantages CoCs in the southern and western regions of the country.”
This imbalance came to the attention of San Diego leaders after the issue was brought to light by a Voice of San Diego article in early March.
At its March 19 meeting, the County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to lobby to change the federal formula.
As chairman, Cox subsequently sent a letter to the secretary of the HUD urging for more balanced funding for homeless services.
The number of homeless people on a given night is growing in San Diego County, according to HUD data. The number had one of the highest increases in the country, 6.1 percent, since 2011.
Many factors contribute to the county’s ballooning homeless population, such as the area’s gentle climate and position as a military hub, according to the facilitator of San Diego County’s CoC, Patricia Leslie.
The county uses HUD funding for more than 50 programs, including North County’s Interfaith Community Services, Community Resource Center and Women’s Resource Center, she said.
Local resources like private foundations and community development funds make up the financial gap not covered by federal funding.
Yet there is still a great need in the county for more resources, and that need will only increase.
The region currently lacks about 3,000 places for people to live on an average night and the wait for affordable housing is about 60,000 people long, according to Leslie.
“With sequestration, the funds that the local agencies use to match the federal homeless funds are being cut — the demands are increasing. We can stretch, can use our funds wisely, but you know the old saying, ‘You can’t get blood from a turnip’ — there are limits,” she said.