County commits to ending homelessness among San Diego County veterans

Veterans line up in a photo of the 2019 Stand Down for homeless veterans.
In this photo from 2019, people line up for the annual Stand Down to help local veterans in San Diego. County supervisors on Tuesday agreed to pursue a plan to end homeless for all local veterans.
(Howard Lipin/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Supervisors unanimously agreed to pursue a coordinated approach with partners throughout the county to reach the goal


The county will take an all-hands-on-deck approach to end veteran homelessness through a coordinated effort that will include various agencies working together throughout the region.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Feb. 7, unanimously endorsed the effort proposed last month by Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, a former Marine.

“It’s very common for people to say, ‘Thank you for your service,’ but I think that needs to actually mean something,” Fletcher said in introducing a motion to direct the county chief administrative officer to create a plan that identifies resources that are needed to achieve the goal of ending homelessness among local veterans.

The board also directed the CAO to work with the Regional Task Force on Homelessness, the Department of Veterans Affairs, community organizations and non-county resources on the regional effort.

There was no immediate cost identified in the proposal, and Fletcher called for monthly progress updates on the plan.

The goal is to reach functional zero, defined as when a community is able to house its homeless population with room to spare on any given month.

A focus on homeless veterans has been effective in recent years. Fletcher noted that there has been a 30 percent reduction in the county’s homeless population over the past four years.

Zach Schlagel, senior director of public policy for People Assisting the Homeless, called into the meeting in support of the plan and said only 9 percent of the county’s homeless population identity as veterans.

“This progress has happened thanks to the VA, with the support of the federal government and local leaders who have moved deliberately over the past decade to provide greater investment and coordination on this issue,” he said. “Yet more work is needed. It’s unacceptable for those who bravely served our country to end up on the street.”

Nationwide, the population of homeless veterans has dropped by 55.3 percent since 2010 and dropped another 11 percent between 2020 and 2022, according to data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.

That still leaves about 33,000 homeless veterans nationwide, however, and a February 2022 count in San Diego County found about 700 local homeless veterans.

Fletcher and other supervisors agreed that functional zero may be within reach with a more coordinated effort.

“Here in San Diego, we have a very aggressive and engaged VA office locally,” he said. “So, I believe there is a path for us, if we can get all of these pieces aligned.”

Part of the plan calls for creating a by-name list of homeless veterans to learn their actual number and individual needs, Fletcher said.

“Then, we figure out every person in that coalition,” he said about the different organizations that will be involved. “What is their role and what is their responsibility?”

Although it hasn’t been set yet, Fletcher said the county plan will involve a timeline that will put pressure on the coalition.

Board of Supervisors Chair Nora Vargas seconded the motion to pursue the plan.

“There are so many folks who have given so much to our country, and they absolutely should not be unhoused,” she said. “And so anything that we can do, I’m happy to support.”

Jordan Beane, director of policy and communications for the Regional Task Force on Homelessness, also called into the meeting in support. Beane said the new coordinated effort could solve gaps in the system.

As an example, he said fully funded housing resources for veterans exist, but veterans may need someone to help them find those resources in a tough housing market.