To say we're disappointed with the comments on what to do about homelessness that the candidates for mayor of San Diego have given during the campaign would be an understatement.
In September, at the Spirit of the Barrio candidates forum put on by Family Health Centers, David Alvarez, Kevin Faulconer and Nathan Fletcher were given two minutes to respond to this: "If you are elected mayor, what homeless programs do you intend to fund? What strategies do you believe would be most effective in reducing homelessness here in San Diego?"
Alvarez talked about how his family lost their home when he was a senior in high school and he had to stay with a family friend. He praised himself and the rest of the City Council for approving year-round funding for an emergency shelter and for opening the Connections Housing center, which provides some permanent and transitional housing plus social services.
"We need to start deciding whether we care to actually do something about this issue and have more shelters, more facilities like the World Trade Center facility, or if we're going to just talk a good game."
Alvarez wasn't talking a good game. He didn't refer to Connections by name, and he said "critically homeless" when he meant "chronically homeless." Nitpicking? Maybe, but it sounded as if homelessness wasn't top of mind for him. His only reference to doing something different was saying that there's more the city can do with federal Housing and Urban Development money and other resources, but he didn't say what.
Fletcher also started by tugging at the heart strings, recalling his disenchantment at the U.S. government's neglect of homeless veterans and describing people he met when helping with San Diego's annual count of homeless people. He said the next mayor has to bring together all the service providers and say, "How do we come up with a comprehensive plan that goes person-to-person?" He suggested first-and-last-month's-rent subsidies and working with the state to fix parole-violation issues.
Faulconer has the clearest record in San Diego on homelessness, having been on the City Council since 2006, and it's a lousy one. He called himself a champion of Connections Housing in the face of opposition. "The council stood up when folks did not want to have the Connections Housing center Downtown. We said we have to do it; we have to bring people together," he said.
But Faulconer was one of the biggest obstacles. In 2010, he was on a council committee that delayed approval of the project. A sticking point was a court order banning police from ticketing people for sleeping outdoors; Faulconer had long tried to get that ban lifted despite an insufficient number of available shelter beds. Ultimately, Faulconer wanted the committee to forward the Connections project to the full City Council without a positive recommendation, but he was rebuffed and the committee recommended approval.
Faulconer said the city should replicate the Connections model throughout San Diego and vowed to support the Downtown check-in center where people can store their belongings, the Neil Good Day Center and the Monarch School for homeless kids.
Neither Alvarez nor Fletcher demonstrated having given homelessness— which is an enormous problem in San Diego—more than superficial consideration. Faulconer's given it plenty of thought and has demonstrated that he gives a damn only about the Downtown business and condo owners who are inconvenienced by homelessness.
It's widely accepted that permanent supportive housing—subsidized housing plus social services—is the best way to tackle chronic homelessness, and entities like the United Way and the Downtown San Diego Partnership have limited programs underway. We want to know how the candidates will maximize funding to bring the supply closer to the demand. We also want to know how they'll increase San Diego's stock of affordable housing so that folks who struggle with periodic homelessness doesn't slip into chronic homelessness.
And we want to hear them talk about how to beef up services aimed at breaking down barriers to housing. The Connections center contains agencies that help only people living there; they're not adequately staffed to take on more clients. And, lastly, we want to hear something about creating a more efficient and responsive data system that monitors available beds and tracks outcomes in order to make sure precious dollars are being spent as effectively as possible.
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