Hoping to "reach the homeless at the street level," the San Diego County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a pilot program under which county-staffed vans stocked with clothing and food will seek out the homeless this winter.
By a unanimous vote, the supervisors approved "Project Homebase," a program, proposed by Supervisor Susan Golding, that is aimed at better reaching and serving the homeless throughout the county.
Financed by a federal grant and modeled after a similar program of the same name in Los Angeles, the 90-day, $50,000 program is designed, Golding said, to "reach the homeless who, for whatever reason, wouldn't ordinarily reach us."
"It will help as many homeless as possible get into a shelter, get to a clinic or learn about many benefits they may already qualify for but are not receiving, because they either don't know about them or are unable to get to the correct agency to find out," Golding said.
Under the program, which county officials said could begin as early as Christmas, the county will purchase two mobile vans in which county social welfare workers and mental health specialists will patrol parks, streets and other areas where large numbers of homeless congregate.
In addition to offering on-the-spot food and clothing to homeless people, the county officials who staff the vehicles also will, in Golding's words, "spread the word" about benefits for which they qualify and provide transportation to various government agencies. The homeless' acceptance of any of the offered services will be on a voluntary basis, county officials stressed.
"When it's as cold as it has been the past few days, (the vans) also will allow us to get out in the community much faster," Golding said. "This is not going to be a mobile soup kitchen. But if the food attracts them to the vans, where they can receive other services, that's fine. Whatever works."
After the three-month test period ends, county officials will review its results to determine whether to continue it or to reallocate funds in other programs to help the homeless. If the program becomes a permanent component of the county's homeless program, the annual cost is estimated at $200,000.
However, Golding argued that the program ultimately could cut county costs by helping homeless people to receive federal or state benefits, thereby removing them from county programs.
"We may find that this not only enables us to provide better service, but also to do it in a more cost-effective way," Golding said.