One of items on a wish list put together by a group of East Village homeowners association representatives who are tired of homeless people fouling their neighborhood is more media attention.
Well, I aim to please. You want attention? You got it.
The group appeared at a meeting, led by San Diego City Councilmember Kevin Faulconer, at the offices of the Downtown San Diego Partnership on Monday. They want action. From the police department and from City Hall.And they appear to be getting it—to a degree. At the meeting, Assistant Police Chief Boyd Long noted that within the last two weeks, his department has “flooded the area with officers” who determine whether tents erected by people living on the streets are blocking sidewalks. If they are, the people are asked to take down the tents.
But the homeowners association folks want more. Their Power Point presentation suggested a couple of ideas that are loony, unworkable and likely unconstitutional: a “quota” for homeless people in East Village and a “residency ordinance” that would “relocate” homeless people who can't prove that they were housed Downtown sometime in the six months that preceded their homelessness. Hilarious.
Claudette Cooper, homeowners association representative from the Icon condo building at 10th Avenue and J Street and also a real-estate agent, was adamant about not referring to the targets of her ire as “homeless,” which, presumably, doesn't quite capture their unsavory nature. She and others in the room preferred “bums,” “parolees” and “vagrants.” They rattled off a list of crimes that occur regularly with nary a response from the police: drug dealing, assault, public defecation and urination, public alcohol consumption, graffiti.
It was all too much for Scott Dreher to take. Dreher, an attorney who represented a handful of homeless people in a case that led to a settlement under which the police must allow people to sleep in public at night, reacted angrily to his clients being blamed for offenses committed by non-homeless people. Homeless people don't do graffiti, he noted; some of the people peeing in doorways are baseball fans leaving Petco Park, and it's drunken bar-goers who puke on the sidewalk.
Dreher's response prompted Benjamin Mason, another real-estate agent who lives and works at 15th Avenue and Market Street, to ask Dreher where he lives and deride him as a “carpetbagger.” Mason, incidentally, wrote in a July e-mail to CityBeat's Kelly Davis that “the vagrants that plague our community are thieves, vandals, junkies, ex-cons, alcoholics, prostitutes, rabble-rousers and drug dealers who reside on the streets due to a lifestyle choice.”
I've said before that people who moved into high-rise East Village condos during the Downtown housing boom of the early 2000s should have known what they were getting into. The homelessness issues in the area long predated their arrival. Does that mean they have to sit back and accept crime? No. But the reality is that any densely populated urban core is going to have certain problems (homelessness, graffiti, public urination). They have the right to continue to urge the police to do something about crime, but before they go lumping all homeless people into one convenient description and proposing harebrained ideas about quotas and mass shipments of human beings out of the area, they ought to do their homework about the causes of homelessness and learn some lessons in diplomacy—they should think twice before attacking lawyers who protect the rights of innocent poor people.
These residents / real-estate agents (concerned about their own business opportunities as much as about quality of life) should get on board with the city's long-overdue campaign to create sufficient supportive housing (shelter plus social services), because the city cannot get tough on homelessness without first creating options for people who want help.
It's not as if the residents and business owners don't have legitimate gripes. When we were doing our yearlong Homeless Person of the Week series, I was most hesitant about going into East Village looking for interviewees, and I asked my staffers not to go there alone. So, I get it. But there are also lots of people in that neighborhood who do their best to keep to themselves and steer clear of trouble. We know. We've talked to them. Until the city helps those people, it won't have the moral—and, in some cases, legal—authority to initiate sweeping enforcement.
And that's what the condo people don't seem to understand.What do you think? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.