A new West Coast Alliance of Mayors was announced Dec. 11 with an agenda of uniting cities in addressing the growing crisis of homelessness. The group is committed to data collection and sharing of best practices, and includes mayors from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland and Eugene. Noticeably absent from the list: San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer.
Three of the top 10 cities in the country with the highest populations of homeless individuals are represented in the alliance: 2. L.A. (with 41,174 homeless); 3. Seattle (10,122); and 9. San Francisco (6,775). San Diego’s homeless population (8,742) ranks fourth in the country.
The West Coast Alliance is billed as a bipartisan group, though the five founding member mayors are Democrats—L.A.’s Eric Garcetti, San Francisco’s Ed Lee, Seattle’s Ed Murray, Portland’s Charlie Hales and Eugene’s Kitty Piercy.
San Diego’s mayor is a Republican. Faulconer’s office did not respond to questions from CityBeat about why the mayor is not a member of the new alliance, or if he plans to join or participate in the sharing of best practices on homelessness.
Faulconer was invited to the West Coast Mayors Summit in Portland on Dec. 10 to 11 but was unable to attend, according to Sara Hottman, communications director for Portland’s mayor.
“By creating the alliance, mayors who weren’t at the summit—including Mayor Faulconer—will be able to join in sharing of new strategies to tackle homelessness and other critical issues,” Hottman said.
That a geography-based collection of mayors would take the step to create an alliance shows that the problem is one that can no longer be swept under the carpet. The homeless situation is at its heart about human suffering—but it also affects business owners and a public citizenry whose standard of living is affected, whether they are homeless or not.
“As mayors of West Coast cities we share a commitment to do everything within our power to address the growing crisis of homelessness and housing affordability in our communities,” said San Francisco Mayor Lee. “All of us are called upon to do more, and we look forward to overcoming the growing challenge of homelessness together with compassion and care.”
Does Mayor Faulconer share that commitment? He has not shown strong political will on the issue, unlike the effort he puts into the Chargers stadium crusade. However, multiple sources say the mayor is now interested in creating a position in his office equivalent to that of a Homeless Czar.
Faulconer’s communications team did not respond to a recent question about bringing a Homeless Czar onboard. I asked mayoral chief of communications Matt Awbrey about a czar back in September and at the time his reply was an indefinite no. “Solving homelessness is a regional issue that requires significant coordination that spans between many regional leaders, across many agencies, and includes federal, state, county and city funds,” he said.
Some in the local service provider sphere are cautiously optimistic about the possibility of a person in the mayor’s office being directly tasked to tackle homelessness. But they’d like to know what sort of power that person would wield.
“If we got a Homeless Czar it would have to come with meaningful leadership,” said Michael McConnell, a team leader for 25 Cities San Diego, a local arm of a national, postmodern initiative making strides at ending veteran and chronic homelessness by integrating support services.
“We need somebody who can coalesce the stakeholders and point everybody in the right direction,” he said. “What we don’t need is somebody who’s just going to hold a title. This person will need to have influence, and I’m open to see what that might be.”
McConnell adds that there’s a lot that can be learned by participating with others in groups like the West Coast Alliance of Mayors.
“Just in L.A., it’s great to see how the city and the county work together up there,” he said. “For them it’s not like pulling teeth. And the alliance of mayors was pretty big. That meeting had high-level participation from the national level, with HUD and the U.S. Interagency Council of Homelessness attending. It’s never bad to have mayors sharing best practices.”
If San Diego’s mayor isn’t going to personally champion a movement to eradicate homelessness then a czar with muscle is the next best shot at jumpstarting the effort.