Dec. 1 2015 09:56 PM

San Diego is failing at getting people off the streets

Photo by Adrian Fallace / Flickr

The polarity of perception that individuals have of street people is astounding. That’s a problem that leaks into the way we legislate, administer and act on the overall problem.

Sadly, San Diego lacks credible political will to fully transition to solutions that could end the cycle of homelessness here. We saw a 3 percent rise countywide in homelessness this year and now have the fourth biggest homeless population in the country, according to a federal count. Also this year, the downtown population surged 26 percent. And our so-called Navy Town trails other U.S. cities in the quest to get veterans off the street.

Advocates who stand in the corner of the less fortunate interact with CityBeat on a regular basis. We sometimes even receive and run letters from homeless people. In this issue, there’s a letter from a homeless man commenting on a previous letter from a fellow street soul who had a bad run-in with Rural/Metro ambulance staff.

Yes, we lean from the left around here. There’s another segment of our society that sees the sum of the homeless population—in San Diego that was 8,742 at last count—as bums. A bunch of lazy drug fiends who sponge off the rest of us who pay taxes and work for a living.

In general, it’s best to ignore the screeching trolls who post that kind of inhumane dreck on social media and in comments sections on media websites. Discourse consisting of such black-and-white exhortations is toxic and exhausting. Whether you’re ranting about Muslims or Christians, blacks or whites, women or men, or homeless people, a broad brush rarely paints an accurate picture of a demographic.

How does your heart not ache for the men, women and children who have no place to go but the streets? There are veterans suffering from PTSD out there. There are mentally ill; people who lost their jobs through no reason of their own; and folks who got sick and couldn’t pay medical bills. Not everybody has a family safety net.

Admittedly, there’s a segment of the homeless population with no desire to clean up and get off the streets. A few are indeed just camping out like urban cowboys.

But here’s a hypothetical test question for those who see things as all-or-nothing. What if there are 10 homeless people living on a block? Half of them are “bums” and half are down on their luck and need support to rejoin the working world. Ignoring them isn’t an option here. You have two choices: Give each of them $1,000 and bus them all to another location; or house every one of them and give them individual counseling.

What would you do? Discuss. (And yes, it would be hypocritical to say all Democrats would house them and all Republicans would ship them.)

Note that sweeping the homeless away has been the failed solution of the past. If you chose to bus away the block of 10 human beings know this: You’re immediately out $10,000 and a new homeless population will be back soon to perpetuate the cycle.

Housing-first options have been shown to work, and to save communities money—as ambulance trips to the ER decrease and cops spend less time arresting and booking recidivists with no roofs over their heads.

It’s been an industry that we managed. It should be viewed as a condition that needs to be eradicated.

Our region is filled with well-intentioned governmental, nonprofit and faith-based organizations that do what they can. As of yet, however, no one has stepped forward to carry the flag of eradication. Not the mayor, not a paid consultant, not a community stalwart.

San Diego’s Regional Continuum of Care Council is on the right track. This group is attempting to coalesce all the current forces. But the RCCC needs and deserves public support and attention for trying to house the homeless; more so than the local NFL team deserves to be in the spotlight for its quest for a bigger, glitzier home.


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