San Diego City Councilmember Kevin Faulconer put the wrong foot forward last year when, as chair of the Permanent Homeless Facility Task Force, he immediately set out to end a court-ordered moratorium on ticketing people for sleeping in public. It was clear from the get-go that his mission wasn't to help homeless people find shelter and services; it was to help condo residents, Realtors and business owners get rid of homeless people.
No matter how much Faulconer has tried to demonstrate his interest in reducing homelessness since then, it's been hard for us to shake our determination that his objective is not to help down-and-out people clean up their lives but, rather, to help Downtown people clean up their streets (not that there's anything wrong with that).
Last week, he summoned CityBeat to his office so that he could talk about why the winter homeless shelter shouldn't go Downtown. Faulconer has made it clear that Downtown and Barrio Logan have more than done their part to shelter the homeless when it's cold outside and that it's time for other neighborhoods to step up and bear the burden.
Faulconer reminded us that the City Council signed on to the Plan to End Chronic Homelessness-in 2006-and that the plan envisions a "regional" solution. How can we ever apply a regional fix, he wondered aloud, if Downtown is the only neighborhood willing to site shelter and services?
Since he seemed to be saying that the winter shelter has to be somewhere-anywhere-other than Downtown and surrounding 'hoods, we said, "How about Ocean Beach?" We were obviously trying to back Faulconer into a corner where the only paths out would be to support a shelter elsewhere in his district (in addition to Downtown, he represents the beach communities and Mission Hills) or to acknowledge that his issue is not Downtown but, rather, his district.
Each time we asked him about Ocean Beach, Faulconer reframed the debate without answering, finally acknowledging that no one wants a homeless shelter in his or her community and that another City Council member should step up and contribute to a regional solution to the problem. Taken another way: Another City Council member should step up and take a bunch of angry guff from her or his constituents-and possibly lose a bunch of votes in the next election.
He didn't say as much, but we're guessing Faulconer has a particular council member in mind. Todd Gloria has been the only council member to explicitly support the Mayor's office's preferred site-at 13th and F streets in East Village, in Faulconer's district. Likewise, Faulconer has no problem with another possible site, a parking lot at the southern end of Balboa Park, which is in Gloria's district and only a short walk from Faulconer's district. Again the problem seems to be within district boundaries, not the Downtown area.
Faulconer also mentioned City Heights as a possible site-again, in Gloria's district. He reasoned that the winter shelter can serve only 200-some-odd people at a time; did we not think the shelter would be full every night in a place like City Heights? Sure, but many people would have to travel to get there. Maybe that's the idea: Perhaps some of the folks causing so much grief in East Village would find City Heights to their liking and stay for awhile.
Faulconer also played with statistics. Less than half of San Diego's homeless hang out Downtown, he said. Why should we serve the same minority year after year? But the remainder is spread out across a large geographic region. Putting the shelter in, say, Linda Vista, just doesn't make a lot of sense when by far the largest concentration of homeless people is Downtown. A regional solution is great-as long as it starts in the city center.
Faulconer noted that he believes a permanent homelessness intake center should be sited somewhere Downtown. That, he said, counts for something, doesn't it? Sure. But could that be because Father Joe Carroll is probably one of the two finalists for the contract, adding to his homeless-services empire? We don't know; we're just speculating.
We know Faulconer has met personally with lots of people who aren't terribly fond of homeless people-people who prefer terms like "vagrants" and "bums." We noted that the folks who are in the business of serving the homeless uniformly believe Downtown is where a shelter should be. Has he met with them to get their thoughts? No, he said.
That speaks volumes.
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