The Regional Task Force on Homelessness (RTFH) hosted its second annual conference, “Peers, Partners, and Practices,” on December 5th and 6th at the San Diego Hilton Bayfront. Nearly one thousand people, representing more than 165 organizations, attended this year’s convening, showing our region’s incredible appetite and enthusiasm to make progress on homelessness. RTFH took the lessons and suggestions from the inaugural event to create two days of impactful engagement that we hope left everyone feeling refreshed, excited, and determined to do this work with passion and purpose in 2024.

With keynote addresses by Iain De Jong and Dr. Margot Kushel, panels featuring national, state, and local leaders, San Diegans with lived experience, RTFH and CoC board members, elected officials, and frontline staff members. RTFH was honored to put together a rich conference that increased collaboration and knowledge sharing and left many participants feeling energized and reconnected to the work and each other. Here’s some feedback from attendees after we wrapped up our two-day event.

“My team came back from the conference brimming with excitement and ideas. I know it’s a gargantuan task putting on an event of that size, so I wanted to express our sincere thanks for all the work your team put into the event.  It was enriching, encouraging, and inspiring.”

“Just wanted to dash off a quick note and say INCREDIBLE WORK on the conference. So many panels chocked full of great experts and rooms chocked full of San Diego providers excited to lean in, learn, and share their expertise from the ground level. Y’all absolutely rock and San Diego is lucky to have you.”

“Thank you all at RTFH for an excellent conference and a fantastic venue this year. I absolutely left inspired and connected to a wonderful network of inspirational people!”

Keep reading to recap the events that made the second conference one to remember.










Powerful Lineup of Speakers

RTFH was proud to assemble an all-star cast of national experts, policy leaders, frontline service providers, and elected officials. Here are a few of the folks who headlined our event:

  • Ann Oliva: CEO, National Alliance to End Homelessness
  • Jeff Olivet: Executive Director, US Interagency Council on Homelessness
  • Donald Whitehead: Executive Director, National Coalition for the Homeless
  • Helene Schneider: United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH)
  • Keith Harris: VA Homeless Program, National Director and Senior Ex. Homeless Agent LA
  • Darlene Mathews & Michele S Williams: Principles of Equity in Action, Nationally Recognized Racial Equity Experts
  • Iain De Jong: President & CEO, OrgCode Consulting, Inc.
  • Margot Kushel: Professor of Medicine at UCSF and Director of the UCSF Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative, University of California San Francisco
  • Ed Boyte: The Listening Group Founder and National Expert on Diversion

Notably, 40% of our 88 local speakers or presenters are individuals with lived experience, ensuring we centered their voices throughout our two-day event.


Keynote Addresses


Over the two-day conference, RTFH hosted two unique keynote addresses. December 5th featured the President and CEO of OrgCode Consulting, Iain De Jong, an internationally known expert in homeless system transformations, leadership development in homeless services, and technical assistance. He discussed the normalcy of wanting to quit this work at times. He identified five types of people to thank, using the pandemic as the benchmark: ”lifers,” or those who have been in this work since before the pandemic, those who joined this work during the pandemic, those who left the work but returned, those who have joined after the reality of this work changed as a result of the pandemic, and last but not least, those who work on systems instead of within systems. Funny, thoughtful, and engaging, you can watch his entire address here.


The second keynote address featured Dr. Margot Kushel, Director of the Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative, who spoke about the California Statewide Study of People Experiencing Homelessness from the Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). This was the state’s largest representative study of homelessness since the mid-1990s and the first large-scale study to use surveys and in-depth interviews to provide evidence to shape programs and policy responses to the homelessness crisis. Dr. Kushel provided sobering statistics and data to inform attendees about the realities of homelessness in the Golden State. You can watch her keynote address here.


Policy Leaders and Elected Officials

Day 2 of our conference started with an in-depth discussion with state leaders led by U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness Senior Regional Coordinator Helene Schneider. This panel featured some of the brightest minds on homelessness, discussing root causes, hopeful outcomes, and thinking outside the box. Additional panelists included:

  • Alex Visotzky: National Alliance to End Homelessness, Senior California Policy Fellow
  • Jevon Wilkes: California Coalition for Youth, Executive Director
  • Dhakshike Wickrema: California Business, Consumer Services, and Housing Agency, Deputy Secretary, Homelessness
  • Sharon Rapport: Corporation for Supportive Housing, Director, California State Policy
  • Glenn Tsang: CA Department of Health Care Services, Policy Advisor for Homelessness and Housing

Like last year, several local elected officials joined us for our conference in 2023.   Whether they took part in our opening ceremony, moderated a panel, or introduced a keynote speaker. Each office holder who joined our conference made it more impactful, and those elected officials included:

  • California Senate Pro Tem Toni Atkins
  • Assemblymember Chris Ward, Assembly District 78
  • Assemblymember David Alvarez, Assembly District 80
  • Vice Chair Nora Vargas, San Diego County Board of Supervisors District 1
  • San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria
  • Council President Sean Elo-Rivera, San Diego City Council District 9
  • Council President Pro Tem Joe LaCava, San Diego City Council District 1
  • Councilmember Marni von Wilpert, San Diego City Council District 5
  • Councilmember Kent Lee, San Diego City Council District 6

We were also honored to have Congressmember Scott Peters send a video message, updating conference attendees about the important work he’s doing in trying to change HUD’s funding formula to ensure San Diego gets its fair share of federal dollars. You can see his remarks here.

We thank all of our elected officials for their time and insight during our two-day event!


Breakout Sessions

With sessions built around RTFH’s Regional Community Action Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness in San Diego, known as the CoC Regional Plan, the conference tracks focused on our region’s most vulnerable populations: veterans, older adults, transitional aged youth, unsheltered San Diegans, families, black San Diegans, as well as a macro-level system change series. Thanks to local policy experts, frontline workers, San Diegans with lived experience, national leaders, elected officials, and RTFH staff, these focused conversations were critical to our conference’s success.   To see the PowerPoints from every breakout session, click here.

Musical Acts and Award Winners

The 2023 Conference on Homelessness wasn’t only about learning and collaborating. The final sessions each day were designed to celebrate the frontline workers who make the lives of San Diegans experiencing homelessness better. It was also about highlighting the triumphs of those who have experienced homelessness, like the Voices of our City Choir. They performed in front of 20 million people three years ago on the program “America’s Got Talent” and received the Golden Buzzer for their performance with the original song “Sounds of the Sidewalk,” which they sang at our conference. They also debuted a new song, “Falling Upward, ” and closed out the performance with “This Christmas Day.” This choir gives voice to the voiceless, and sharing their voices filled us with gratitude. To see this inspirational performance, click here.

The closing ceremony on day two focused our attention and gratitude on those doing the work through a special awards ceremony that became the highlight of the two-day event for many attendees.

This year, we recognized a leader like no other. The “Lifetime Achievement Award” was presented to California Senate Pro Tem Toni Atkins for her years of commitment to reducing and ending homelessness, first in the city of San Diego and then across California. Helping honor Toni and opening the award ceremony was County Board of Supervisor Chair Nora Vargas. It is an inspirational and empowering beginning to an award ceremony filled with emotion and humility, leaving us with deep gratitude and hope.








From there it was time to recognize those on the ground doing the work with the six remaining awards. With 80 individuals nominated by their peers, selecting a winner for each of the six categories was one of the most difficult parts of putting together the conference, but we were honored to recognize the tremendous work that’s done every day by San Diegans across the region. These six individuals are emblematic of the oftentimes unrecognized, but undeniably impactful work of frontline staff, service providers, and lived experience advocates. As a region, we would not be where we are without what each of them – along with the hundreds of others – do every day.

Sponsors and Board Members

Our sponsors were critical to making the 2023 RTFH Conference on Homelessness possible. We were overwhelmed by the support from organizations across San Diego, with 30 organizations stepping up to provide crucial dollars that made a noticeable difference. From the generosity of our title sponsor, Blue Shield of California Promise Health Plan, to our champion class of sponsors, we sincerely appreciate the number of organizations willing to provide these funds. With our dedication to keeping a ticket price point that’s attainable by so many in our region, the only way to put on the kind of conference our region deserves is with the generous financial support of our sponsors. We cannot express our profound gratitude enough for their support.

Additionally, the support of the RTFH and CoC board members was a key component of our success. Your support, constructive feedback, and understanding of the importance of the conference focused on the regional plan were vital to what happened on December 5th and 6th.










Final Thoughts

We at RTFH want to thank everyone who made this conference a success. The speakers, the participants, the sponsors, our boards and staff, and all who attended – none of this would have been possible to pull off without all of you. We were humbled to host nearly a thousand attendees and an outstanding and inspirational lineup of speakers for this two-day sold-out conference. We heard so many people who attended leave feeling deeply connected, encouraged, energized, refreshed, renewed, and inspired to do the vital work this community depends on. Together, we are making a difference, always working to make homelessness a rare and brief occurrence. We look forward to seeing you in 2024!

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