- Spending on homelessness increased 2,015% between 2009 and 2018 in San Diego County, but no correlation between spending and local homeless numbers is evident, according to a study by the San Diego County Taxpayers Association.
- The study indicates the homelessness data collection methods used by the individual cities within San Diego County is inadequate. As such, the collected data doesn't hold much statistical integrity to track the issue over time or evaluate the effectiveness of tax dollars spent to mitigate homelessness. The methodology makes it difficult to determine if the spending on homelessness mitigation programs was effective in reducing the homeless population.
- The study gives three recommendations for the San Diego municipalities:
- Leaders across the county have to agree on data standards and create one model for tracking homelessness.
- Cities need homelessness experts on hand to monitor programs and ensure they're operating efficiently.
- Cities need to collaborate on a 10-year action plan with incentives for local governments that make a significant impact in accordance with the agreed upon data standards.
This study examined a very specific problem in a targeted area, but the implications are wide reaching across the country and for a variety of topics. It highlights the importance of using solid methodology and data to reach conclusions. The amount of data available for municipalities to analyze grows practically every day, but it's nearly useless if not applied correctly.
Almost universally, cities report their resources being stretched thin. That's an even stronger reason to conserve the resources they already have and make sure taxpayers' money is spent on solutions that are proven to have an impact. Meaningful data collection and analysis is the first step.
The study notes that even though resources are in short supply, cities have access to cost-effective ways of gathering and analyzing data and using the results to drive future programming. The recommendations of creating data standards and a long-term plan can be applied across a host of cities, departments and initiatives.
Besides the data discrepancies, this situation highlights that fragmented responses among municipalities in a region can be detrimental. In San Diego's case, the lack of sufficient tracking of homeless individuals between cities has watered down data that have been used to better the community. Global leaders increasingly report collaboration with neighboring cities to solve big problems that don't end at one city's borders. Climate change, transportation, housing and homelessness mitigation are among the topics frequently addressed through cooperative efforts.
It's worth noting that this study doesn't necessarily say that San Diego County's efforts to mitigate homelessness were a complete failure in reaching their goals. However, conclusions about effectiveness are difficult to reach without strong data sets. It can be assumed that the absence of adequate measurement strategies led to overspending on an issue that might be solved with a lower financial investment.