June 29 2016 12:08 AM

San Diego should replicate the San Francisco Homeless Project

Thumbs up to more than 70 media outlets in San Francisco that are banding together today (June 29) to flood their market with a sea of coverage on local homelessness.

It’s an idea worth replicating here in San Diego. In fact, a plan is in the works to do just that. CityBeat, KPBS and Voice of San Diego are onboard and details will be announced in coming weeks. All San Diego media outlets are invited to join.

What is it? The San Francisco Homeless Project is the brainchild of San Francisco Chronicle Editor In Chief Audrey Cooper. In May, it was reported in The New York Times how the tipping point for Cooper came while she was pushing her young child in a stroller past a homeless couple in a tent on the sidewalk of San Francisco’s business district. A pit bull was standing guard while the couple had sex, tent flaps wide open. Cooper kinda lost it.

She started making calls to executives at Bay Area television, radio, print and online publications. The goal was to gain power in numbers in order to heighten awareness and, perhaps, find consensus on solutions. In an email to CityBeat, Cooper wrote that she expected “maybe 20 outlets and now we have more than 70. A lot of that is thanks to the NYT article.”

The San Francisco Homeless Project is loosely structured. No central organizational body is assigning stories to different media outlets. Each is doing its own thing. The goal is for rival media organizations to set aside competition for a day and collectively focus on this crisis-level issue.

Critics might call this advocacy journalism: Why homelessness as a common cause, and not something else? Who decides? And should media gang up on an issue?

Those are fair concerns.

The San Francisco Homeless Project is being called a “unified front in search for answers.” A letter addressed to the city and people of San Francisco and signed by The SF Homeless Project said: “Like you, we are frustrated, confused and dismayed by the seemingly intractable problem of homelessness in our city. Like you, we want answers—and change… Fundamentally, we are driven by the desire to stop calling what we see on our streets the new normal. Frustration and resignation are not a healthy psyche for a city. Our aim is to provide you with the necessary information and potential options to put San Francisco on a better path. Then it will be up to all of us—citizens, activists, public and private agencies, politicians—to work together to get there.”

That makes sense.

Like San Francisco, San Diego has seen its unsheltered homeless population climb. Another similarity: Both cities were also selected—years ago—to host major sporting events in 2016.

For the Super Bowl, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee publicly announced that homeless people would have to vacate certain areas, and with varied levels of success, provided alternative lodging sites.

In San Diego, as the July 12 All-Star Game approaches Mayor Kevin Faulconer has not formally announced any plan to relocate downtown homeless individuals. Instead, the SDPD oversees daily clear-outs of encampments and threatens to “bring down the hammer” on faith-based groups that do food-share programs, while the city places rocks under bridges to discourage sleeping there. It’s been a shadow sweep.

Been to 17th Street in East Village lately? The police sweep sizeable encampments there in the morning. The homeless pile their belongings into the proximal Neil Good Day Center, and then by evening return tents and tarps to the street. What’s the endgame? What’s the plan? There’s ominous potential for confrontation there on 17th Street that hopefully won’t become violent or deadly.

Maybe a San Diego Homeless Project, made up of as many local media outlets that will sign on, can help shine an amplified light, rock the boat a little harder and move the needle a little further. It’s worth a try.

Today, we stand with the San Francisco Homeless Project. I wish we’d thought of it first. Here’s to the hope that this kind of out-of-the-box effort can bear weight.

News managers can email me (rond@sdcitybeat.com) for details that will be provided as soon as they are solidified.

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