Homeless Find a New Home


The building looks like many others in downtown San Diego.

But the burnt-red, apartment complex on the corner of Cedar Street and Fifth Avenue has one unique aspect. It will be the home of 23 formerly homeless individuals.

Slated to open in January, the Cedar Gateway project will include 23 one-bedroom apartments, which are part of the County’s Supportive Housing program. Another 40 two and three-bedroom units will go to low-income families.

The supportive housing units, which will be scattered throughout the seven-story complex, are designated for people who were homeless or at risk of being homeless and have been diagnosed with a mental illness or substance abuse disorder or both.

The tenants will come from the IMPACT Program for Homeless with Serious Mental Illness, a program operated by the Community Research Foundation. The program serves 225 clients and is funded by the County through the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) or Prop. 63.

Approved by California voters in 2004, MHSA imposes a 1 percent tax on personal income of more than $1 million to support county mental health programs.

“It’s remarkable,” said Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg who Tuesday visited San Diego to tout the success of Prop. 63, which he co-authored.

“It’s evident that it’s helping thousands of people across the state. We must fend off efforts to take away the money because it’s really important in terms of the lives saved and people helped,” Steinberg added, referring to two previous attempts to divert Prop. 63 money to help solve the state’s financial crisis.

Through supportive housing, clients receive mental health services including a permanent place to live, medication management and employment services, and other social services. Typically, tenants pay 30 percent of the rent and receive a subsidy for the rest from MHSA funds.

“The lease is like any other lease. Tenants get their own house. Their own key,” said Piedad García, Director of County Mental Health Services for Adults and Older Adults. “Programs like this have been a success. The clients also receive supportive services to make things run smoothly.”

Studies show that people with a serious mental illness who don’t receive treatment are frequently hospitalized or incarcerated, representing a higher cost to taxpayers than community programs that help people with their mental disorder and turn their lives around. 

Typically, taxpayers pay an estimated $50,000 annually in incarceration costs per person, whereas programs like IMPACT cost about $14,000 per year and help people get on the path to recovery.

Kim Nelson thought she could handle her mental illness on her own. Instead she found herself living on the streets for seven years. Five years ago she came into the IMPACT program and in January will move into her new apartment at Cedar Gateway.

“I am looking forward to living here,” Nelson said before touring a couple of the units and the eco-friendly roof. “(IMPACT) was a godsend. It helped me focus on getting better. You’ve  given me my life back.”