New initiatives to fight homelessness and addiction, boost housing and improve childcare are on the horizon for San Diego County next year, Board of Supervisors Chair Nathan Fletcher said in his State of the County speech Tuesday.
Despite the pandemic, Fletcher said the county has added affordable housing, mental health services and jobs.
“On homelessness, we’ve focused on the tough work for long-term solutions around mental health and substance abuse…and we see progress,” he said. “We’ve raised wages on local infrastructure projects and are committed to putting San Diegans to work like never before.”
Moving forward, Fletcher said, the county is opening a new homeless center with the city of San Diego, and will streamline the process and provide financial support for other cities to do the same.
With support from the Lucky Duck Foundation, the county and city will place a tent shelter in the Midway District. And it is offering all 18 cities the chance to rapidly open similar homeless support sites.
“You provide the structure and your county government will be there to provide the services,” he said. “We’re making available $10 million in grants for cities to kickstart their efforts. If your city government is ready to act on homelessness, your county government is here for you. Cities, it’s your move.”
Supervisor Joel Anderson said in a statement that those measures would help his constituents in rural East County.
County efforts will “help get folks off the streets instead of sweeping the problem under the rug,” Anderson said. “I am confident that the Board of Supervisors can work together in this coming year to address East County’s most pressing needs, including the issue of homelessness.”
To break the cycle of mental illness, addiction and homelessness, the county has formed Mobile Crisis Response Teams to dispatch counselors and mental health clinicians rather than law enforcement officers, and opened crisis stabilization centers to help people with mental health or substance abuse emergencies.
Officials plan to launch a program to train substance abuse counselors, will support training programs for childcare workers and make transition plans to switch workers in fossil fuel jobs to renewable energy careers, he said.
“It is time we align behind a regional plan which must include affordable childcare and better pay for our workers,” he said, noting that lack of affordable, high-quality childcare remains one of the main barriers to women’s employment and professional advancement.
Fletcher, a Marine veteran, introduced his former drill instructor who is now working as an adult protective service specialist for the county, and said he aims to hire many more veterans into county jobs.
“Veterans make great county workers,” Fletcher said. “But sadly they make up only 6 percent of our county workforce. Together with fellow veteran Supervisor Jim Desmond, we will launch an effort to increase hiring of veterans.”
Fletcher said his childhood experiences of financial hardship and domestic violence in a working-class family has shaped his efforts to address those problems in San Diego.
“I know the struggles families go through … because we lived them,” he said. “I saw firsthand exactly how the deck got so stacked against working people.”
With housing prices spiking, Fletcher said the county will dedicate government-owned land for affordable housing. The San Diego Foundation provided a $10 million grant to jumpstart that process, he said.
“We’ll use county-owned lands in urban areas to build affordable housing,” he said, noting that the plan aims to add 10,000 new housing units though that program. “Let’s do it at scale.”
County officials are also working with faith congregations to recruit and support foster families who can care for older children and multiple siblings.
Fletcher praised San Diego’s COVID-19 response as one of the most effective in the nation, stating that the region has achieved a 93 percent vaccination rate and experienced half the death rate of the state of Florida.
“In the face of disinformation and division, we did not give up and we did not give in,” he said.
In addition to public health, the county will invest in public safety, Fletcher said, announcing his goal of allocating $15 million for a dual engine fire-fighting helicopter that can fly at night and transport more water than current models.
In a message that alluded to bitter conflicts that have surfaced in recent years and flared during the pandemic, Fletcher called on government and community leaders to work across political divides toward those goals.
That path won’t eliminate disagreements, he said, “But it does mean that we will never lose sight that there remains something bigger than our differences that holds us together,” he said. “The love of our children, our neighbors…the basic belief that the path to a more perfect union requires us to ensure justice, fairness and opportunity. For all.”