An intern learns about the relationship between affordable housing and homelessness.

By: Veronica Ma

student of Social Studies at Harvard University,

What I’ve Learned

As a student of Social Studies at Harvard University, I have spent the past two years studying the economic, social and political forces that challenged societies throughout history and continue to challenge cultures around the world. To complement my education with the experience of working in the social sector, I took on a six-week opportunity at Father Joe’s Villages. During my time here, I researched and presented information on the issues of homelessness, affordable housing and poverty. Importantly, I learned about how the agency creates solutions to help people who are homeless.

The research I did at Father Joe’s gives me a deeper understanding of how complex and deep-rooted the causal factors of poverty and homelessness are. A major part of my work was illuminating the connection between lack of affordable housing and homelessness.

The Facts

Inflation-adjusted, the median rents in San Diego have increased by over 35% since 2000, while median incomes have increased by a comparatively modest 4%. Low income and severely low-income households spend over 60% of their income to pay for a place to live. With their proportion of income spent on housing soaring above 30%, these households are considered severely rent burdened. With less available funds to buy food, clothing, education and other important needs, their quality of life is often significantly lowered.

In San Diego, hundreds of thousands of households work tirelessly just to afford a home in a housing market that becomes more expensive each year. This issue is worsened by the severe lack of affordable housing in San Diego: with vacancy rates of apartments priced under $1200 at a low of 2.2%, finding affordable housing can seem impossible. Furthermore, many of these San Diegans are just steps away from experiencing homelessness: according to the city’s Housing Commission, 46,000 households in San Diego are on the waiting list for the Housing Choice Voucher, the federal government’s system of awarding affordable housing in the private market.

Why It’s Important

We see and hear about homelessness nearly every day. Driving around downtown, we notice many individuals and families who are experiencing homelessness. Reading through the Union Tribune or watching News 8, we are stunned by yet another report about the severity of this issue in our city. However, the systemic socioeconomic impact of San Diego’s housing market is less visible and rarely covered by media.

To have a proper level of empathy and understanding for our neighbors in need, it is our responsibility to learn about the socioeconomic causes of poverty and homelessness. Even more importantly, we must actively listen to the voices of people experiencing homelessness and seek to understand how we can contribute to solutions. During my time at Father Joe’s Villages, I have become absolutely certain that the staff and volunteers I have met are committed to those important goals.

From my experience, I know that getting involved with Father Joe’s Villages is an excellent way to educate and dedicate oneself to helping our neighbors. Whether you work here, volunteer here or donate to the cause, you are serving the mission.

I am a college student from the other side of the country, completely new to San Diego and far less knowledgeable than any of the people who work in this office. Despite my naiveté, I was welcomed with warm smiles and willingness to teach. The same people who get up before the crack of dawn to come to the office were the ones who patiently answered my questions and encouraged me to learn. For that, I am not only grateful but also confident about how Father Joe’s Villages plays a leading role in ending homelessness, one life at a time.

About Turning the Key

Turning the Key will add 2,000 units of much-needed affordable housing specifically designed to serve people who have fallen into homelessness. Through our 67 years of experience, we’ve learned that sleeping on the street is often the final leg of an otherwise complicated path of unpredictable circumstances. Turning the Key makes easily accessible supportive services a core component to housing, which helps ensure lasting self-sufficiency for each individual.

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