Don’t Believe We Can End Veteran Homelessness? Meet San Diego County

Posted July 23, 2012

By Beth Sandor

Improvement Director

100,000 Homes Campaign


With 68,000 veterans experiencing homelessness on any given night, ending veteran homelessness can seem like a lofty goal. In fact, when people hear about the 100,000 Homes Campaign’s commitment through Got Your 6 to help communities house 10,000 chronically homeless veterans in two years, many reluctantly admit that they just don’t believe it’s possible. You won’t hear talk like that in San Diego, though.  Instead, you’ll meet a countywide team that has permanently housed 65 homeless veterans in the last 68 days—and they have no plans to stop any time soon.

The San Diego County team, which consists of representatives from federal agencies like HUD and the Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as local groups like the San Diego Department of Housing and Community Development, United Way, the Continuum of Care for the Homeless, and the San Diego Housing Commission, is about three quarters of the way through a 100-day sprint to house as many chronically homeless veterans as possible. At 65, they are just ten veterans shy of their ambitious goal of 75, but don’t expect them to stop there.

The mad dash began in May at a unique event called Rapid Results Boot Camp. The two-day event, co-led by the 100,000 Homes Campaign and the Rapid Results Institute, asked communities to take a hard look at the reasons veterans remain homeless on their streets and then dream big about what it would take to overcome those obstacles. Members of the San Diego team quickly agreed that their system for housing homeless veterans was vastly overcomplicated. It was bureaucratic and redundant, and it took far too long for homeless veterans to navigate. So, the group set out to make the process simpler and faster—so much faster, they hoped, that 75 chronically homeless veterans would be able to escape homelessness in the next 100 days.

The first thing team members did was to give themselves less time to waste. Typically, housing subsidies for chronically homeless veterans have to be used within 120 days. Naturally, most communities take the full time allowed. The San Diego team created urgency by cutting the time period in half, forcing itself to house veterans faster or lose the chance to house them at all.

Second, the team developed a regularly updated list of temporary places for veterans to stay while they awaited permanent housing. This has already cut down on the time veterans have to spend homeless, while reducing the risk of veterans disappearing or dying on the streets before permanent housing becomes available.

Finally, the team has mobilized volunteers from throughout the county to donate and collect gently used home furnishings so that no veteran moves into a permanent apartment without all the comforts of home.

Today, the county’s data speaks for itself. On day 1 of the 100-day blitz, San Diego County was housing an average of 14 homeless veterans per month. Just sixty-eight days later, that number has more than doubled to 30! At this rate, the San Diego team is on track not only to exceed its initial goal of 75, but also to house as many as 100 homeless veterans before 100 days are up. That’s an average of one per day!

The best news is that San Diego County is just one success story among many. More than 15 other communities are in the midst of 100-day sprints of their own, and many are discovering that they are capable of far more than they ever thought possible. Together, these communities are proving that we can end homelessness for 10,000 veterans in the next two years, and for every veteran before long.

That’s what it means to have our veterans’ six.