A $200,000 grant from Funders Together to End Homelessness will establish The Shared San Diego Housing Collaborative, a joint venture by the nonprofits Townspeople and Adjoin aimed at matching homeless individuals and families with apartments they can share as roommates.
“San Diego is unfortunately one of the most expensive housing markets in the country. We also have one of the highest homeless rates in the country and I don’t think that’s coincidental,” said Melissa Peterman, Townspeople executive director.
“If we really want to be able to maximize every housing opportunity to get people housed, roommates is the way to go,” Peterman said. “It opens up new housing when we’re talking about two incomes verses one.”
The size of San Diego’s homeless population is growing. The 2022 Point-in-Time Count done in February by the Regional Task Force on Homelessness found 8,427 people who were homeless – a 10% increase from the last count done in 2020. (There was no count in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.)
Of those included in the 2022 count, 4,106 were unsheltered and 4,321 were living in shelters.
“We’ve got to get people housed and housed fast,” Peterman said. “This is really a great way for folks who own property to continue earning an income by helping to solve homelessness. There are lots of property owners who understand that the homeless crisis in our community has an impact on the quality of life for everyone. I’m not too worried about people wanting to be part of the solution.”
Building on Experience
The idea of helping people find roommates to avoid living on the street is nothing new.
Founded in 1983, Adjoin has been doing it with military for veterans for some time, said Nese Mitchell, Adjoin director of community engagement and development.
“The San Diego Shared Housing Collaborative will not only provide long-term stability but will also support the expansion of high-quality housing opportunities that are accessible for the unhoused population in San Diego,” Mitchell said. “Townspeople and Adjoin aim to implement long-lasting solutions and increase housing affordability throughout the county’s regions. It is our belief that everyone should have access to a place they can call home.”
What is new is the formation of an organized system that connects a variety of social service agencies with property owners throughout San Diego County.
“What we’re going to do is facilitate the process more effectively,” Peterman said. “We do not want to duplicate any projects or programs that already exist. This is meant to expand them and increase their impact. We’ll start small with Townspeople and Adjoin and our clients with an eye for scaling.”
Founded in 1984 to help people with AIDS, Townspeople has since expanded to help people who are homeless.
“We’ve been a small but mighty ‘engine that could’ in the Hillcrest community,” Peterman said.
Townspeople has three affordable apartment projects, according to its website, and owns and operates a total of 118 apartments.
Peterman said the Housing Collaborative will likely be modeled after systems colleges and universities use in pairing roommates and dormitories.
“Part of what we’re hoping to achieve is to create an ongoing system where landlords can enter the units they have available and people who are interested in sharing housing can create a profile and be matched,” Peterman said. “We’re talking with various software companies that already do this kind of work, but primarily with the university systems.”
To work, Peterman said it’s critical that Townspeople and Adjoin team up with many other social service agencies in listing available housing.
“If you were in an online dating pool and only 20 other people are participating, you’re not likely to find a good match,” Peterman said. “We don’t want to duplicate any projects or programs that already exist. This is meant to expand them and increase their impact.”
Part of the problem is that in San Diego’s tight housing market, finding one-bedroom or studio apartments to get people off the streets is especially difficult, Peterson said.
The Shared Housing Collaborative would instead place people in larger two-bedroom or three-bedroom apartments.
Amy Denhart, director of Funders Together, said the hope is that the collaborative “will bring us one step closer to ending homelessness.”
“As a community, we must continue to invite and welcome new programs, resources and services to our approach on homelessness in order to create long-lasting solutions that are accessible to everyone,” Denhart said.
Founded in 2014 and based in UTC, Funders Together is an alliance of philanthropists and private grant-makers that invest in programs to end homelessness. To date, Funders Together has awarded grants of more than $2.5 million in San Diego County.
Executive Director: Melissa Peterman
Headquarters: North Park
Business: Nonprofit providing housing and assistance for the homeless
Social impact: Townspeople is a member of the San Diego Housing Federation, San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, San Diego County Taxpayers Association, and the San Diego Regional Task Force on Homelessness
Notable: Formed in response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, Townspeople follows the principles of Housing First and provides access to affordable housing and supportive services for San Diego’s most vulnerable members including people living with HIV/AIDS and those experiencing homelessness.
CEO: Wendy Forkas
Headquarters: Kearny Mesa
Business: Nonprofit social service agency
Social impact: Since its founding nearly 40 years ago, Adjoin has primarily helped veterans and individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities find communities where they feel safe and respected and be themselves in every aspect of their lives.
Notable: Adjoin began as an extension of the Escondido Special Education Department.