In accordance with Thanksgiving tradition, this week CityBeat would like to express thanks to the San Diego Rescue Mission for providing food, shelter and assistance to people who would otherwise be rummaging through trash cans for their daily meals and sleeping in doorways.
Of course, that sort of activity goes on despite the efforts of the Rescue Mission and the other outstanding nonprofit organizations that do the difficult work of providing social services on shoestring budgets for people who are down on their luck. Go downtown any night of the week and witness for yourself the countless people asleep beneath blankets on sidewalks, in planters and in doorways. East Village during the day looks like a homelessness village, with some people sitting around in groups and others pushing shopping carts through the streets.
In our view, the problem is epidemic. There are too many people in need for the nonprofits to take care of them all, but they do put a dent in the problem, and we're thankful for that.
We're grateful that the San Diego City Council approved the Rescue Mission's move from East Village to the corner of 2nd Avenue and Elm Street uptown. The building, an abandoned medical facility, will allow the Rescue Mission to serve many more people. However, our pessimistic side says the vote might have been very different had the city been asked to help fund the venture. Even in flush economic times, taxpayer money has a hard time finding its way to social-service organizations. In rough times, like we're now experiencing, social-service funding is always the first to feel the sharp blade of the government budget knife. But thanks to the Rescue Mission, no taxpayer help was needed.
And it was actually an easy decision for the City Council. The opposition, largely from the Little Italy Association and some of the nearby neighbors, was outgunned, both in numbers and in political clout. A large contingent of impassioned social-service supporters is typical in a case such as this. Less typical is backing from the money-and-clout establishment. No one will come right out and say so, but it's a safe bet that the downtown-development machine wanted the Rescue Mission out of the way of the East Village ballpark-redevelopment juggernaut.
So, while we're worried about gentrification's impact on the ability of nonprofit service providers to help their clients, we're thankful that in this case, the Rescue Mission had a place to go before it fell victim to the “progress” in East Village.
To the opponents of the uptown site, whose concerns are anything but irrational, we say this: have some compassion and some faith. The Rescue Mission operators have said their top priority is making sure that the surrounding area is safe, clean and free of loiterers. Give it a chance to work, and don't let demonizing homeless people be your first response.
That said, we urge the Rescue Mission to walk the talk. At times, the stench of stale urine in the area surrounding the current Mission site on J Street-as well as in other locations in East Village-is overwhelming. Monitoring the new site diligently will do much to defuse criticism.
Look, it's easy to see a homeless person and think he's lazy and/or dangerous. It takes more work to think of that person as incapable of rejoining mainstream society-through alcoholism, drug addiction, mental illness or abuse-and to help by getting out of the way of the people who provide assistance.
Didn't someone once say that a true measure of a society is how it takes care of its least fortunate citizens? At this stage of the game-the efforts of nonprofits like the Rescue Mission notwithstanding-San Diego's not quite measuring up. Let's see if we can't fix that.