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For Homeless In San Diego, Holidays Can Be Loneliest Time of Year

December 24, 2013 1:57 p.m.


Herb Johnson, president/CEO San Diego Rescue Mission

Eric Lovett, executive director, Urban Street Angels

Related Story: For Homeless In San Diego, Holidays Can Be Loneliest Time of Year


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Our top story on Midday Edition, the last-minute rush is on to get everything wrapped and ready for Christmas. There's another rush on as well for people who work with the homeless in San Diego, they are working to create the best holiday path all for people struggling with a variety of issues and with no permanent facelift. Around 2700 homeless and needy people are expected at Christmas dinners today. That is only one of the quality charity meals around town and they are giving us an idea the level of need in our community. I would like to welcome my guess Guests. The rescue mission held its holiday meal last weekend, about how many people attended?

HERB JOHNSON: We served about 1800 meals in about three hours. It was actually bigger for Thanksgiving, at 2200 meals on that day and I think Christmas is a much more typical holiday for the homeless and Thanksgiving is great food and uniting the family, but Christmas has the identity that you have to bring something. As a tougher holiday but compared from these giving to Christmas, we need more family showing up? This is a message that these families do not have the ability to put these meals on. Am not sure they are all hungry, but they don't look like street people but when you see a mother and father telling five kids or a dozen families that look like that. They had a happy meal. It's a nice environment and they all seem to stay and they ate and stayed for a while.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Do your dinners represent it cross-section of San Diego's homeless and needy?

HERB JOHNSON: At the street population we have these meals three times a year. This several grocery service but on those days I talk about 1800, that is a street population that comes to us and congregate outside the building and they come in and spend anywhere from an hour to three hours having a meal and get treated like a king.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Think the most surprising statistic about this is that is three quarters of the city's homeless and needy are working and have jobs, but not enough to find housing or to get them where they need to go.

HERB JOHNSON: San Diego is a magnet for homeless to come, and I tell the story is because the difference between the temperature in the winter in the summer, where the third-largest homeless population in the United States, but we're the eighth largest city. It is one of the draws and there are many people that use off, so shelter for women at the night, and the husband shows up and there are probably for jobs between the mother and father, but not enough to get into housing or get a first and last into place so they get settled in.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Urban St., Angels works with homeless and young people who are especially vulnerable in the streets.

ERIC LOVETT: There are a lot of people under the age of thirty especially if you're healthy there are about more transient. Lets them do you running from something, a majority of ours are running from sexual or physical abuse and we're running from simply that not necessarily want to be found. We make it our mission to deal with relationships with those individuals and ultimately help him get off the street.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It occurs to me that a lot of the programs focus on adults and not young people or teenagers, what kinds of special help does that population need?

ERIC LOVETT: It probably goes into, and all of us at some time in our lives that we need psychological help. If it regards losing trust of a parent or a caregiver, there's going to be guilt back, the society in general for them is something that they have hard to trust in people. That would be the first thing, and that the social things like this image of their hungry or a pair of socks or hygiene, little toothbrush or different. Those are things that we provide for them it's something small, it helps even dog food for the dog.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Recently you have held a sleeping bag drive.

ERIC LOVETT: We handed out last year about 350. Last night with renovations and Urban St. Angels we hit the streets with about 350 sleeping bags, and we tonight will be going to four different locations passing out another 400 because some people are in need of those bags and even though the weather here is very nice compared to other areas of the country, San Diego still gets chilly at night and a bag provides padding and warmth for those who may not have it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Every year San Diego Rescue Mission and other agencies provide holiday meals, you have a lot of great people volunteering time to help you make the meals or serve them, but people do that the rest of the year?

HERB JOHNSON: We serve 1800 meals a day out of our facility. Our kitchen serves about 560 meals. We help volunteers every day of the year. That is a lot of a motion for people wanting to give it be able to help during Thanksgiving Christmas, I would like to remind folks that that population is still there January 1. So they can go to our website and find the numbers for volunteers and send an email and would love to have you come in next week or the week after not just on things giving on Christmas.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That is always something that your agencies need is people to help, but are weighted basis, as are any kind of policy change you would like to see San Diego make? Any kind of move you would like to see people long before for our leaders to make it sort of do some to increase wages or increase the number of resources for homeless?

HERB JOHNSON: I have a big wish list on that. One of the things that people don't realize is that San Diego is a fairly expensive town to live in, and number two because of our proximity to Mexico, there is no medium or lower way lower wage factory jobs. It's not everything is half hospitality industry and those just don't pay their many companies just a wage which is appalling as you can't live on that. Even if you work for ñ many these people work sixty hours a week. They still do not have health care and it's not fair. It's not a living wage. All people recognize it, there's no accommodation for people to end up with a big wage so they are working 40 to 60 hours a week and twenty hours over the average person would put in, it still can't get into house housing because housing is so expensive.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Eric, is there anything you would like policymakers to do this region to help the population that you serve the homeless?

ERIC LOVETT: I think with the young demographic there are certain outlying districts in San Diego that I would vote them to be more open to and how we can ask you help them get off the streets. I know the government demographic is so transient transient they need stopping places, that their traveling and that going back into the workforce, there's also a huge need for trade and I think facilities that actually teach trade and that these young people get involved in something that they are passionate about, there's a difference between a job in a calling as a very young person if we can help them find their calling the job more than just a paycheck. Understanding and awareness I think that is what we're both here today to really create, awareness that the issue is not going away and it is actually growing and we have to act differently than what we've been doing.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm thinking that a lot of people see especially run this time of year, see people asking for donations and money, they are hungry and they have cardboard things that they're holding at intersections, and other people other people sometimes attracted asked specifically for something, how would you like to see people act when they are asked by homeless people for some money?

HERB JOHNSON: If you go to our website there's exited piece of that five things that you can say to a homeless person, the first is if you feel safe and comfortable comfortable it is okay to accommodate them and if they don't want to talk, there's a lot of mental illness, the need to be prepared for that conversation your in my car I carry McDonald's certificates and I also carry energy bars and water, those are always fair trade, the rule of thumb is to ever give people the sheep money, it's likely not to go where you think it's going to go, of all of the things that the city does not have, they will be serving on the street. If someone is really hungry, and I violated this myself, I saw mother on the street and I want them to McDonald's and automobile. I think if you go on our website five things to say to homeless person, the repair for the dialogue, energy bars, candy and water is always welcome. They dehydrate pretty easily, socks and underwear or blanket are always welcome.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Foster kids accepting help to get them off the street?

ERIC LOVETT: They have to be this based to really want to help. A lot of time to most people are not treated as human beings. Tell them your name and ask them their name. People often see homeless people on the street and they don't want to look at them or talk to them and they are human beings and they need help. As far as the young demographic, sometimes they don't want help but in a lot of times we even have the video for your girl that we held recently who mentions who wants help from someone who's paid to care? What happens if someone who really comes volunteering once to care, that is when she was safe can be helped her. We know that the young demographic that we see, but I think that the older demographic isn't in needy either, but we're in a place where we need to build trust and commitment that for six times a month. To be there to help people that will give you essential that you need, and just like Herb said we have this survived solely off of what volunteers want to give to.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Recently would've heard San Diego's former mayor say there's so much free food and help available that we are actually enabling the homeless in San Diego. I would like your reaction to that.

HERB JOHNSON: A certain amount of that is true. I don't think anyone's going to starve to death on the street unless mental health keeps them away from services, enabling is an interesting word. Most people if they had a choice but not want to live on the street. Many of them that are on the street probably 43 to 46% of the population are struggling with mental health issues. The want to go to a structured place. They want to live without rules. If they want to live in a dumpster or under a blue tarp, finding food is a basic accommodation, I do believe that we're enabling people to be hopeless, I think the services that we provide in terms of counseling and our walk in operation, you can help people organize themselves so they can make that are decisions. Food is in enabler for a population that lives on our street's is a very small accommodation. I would worry about the lack of other services.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I have to end it there. Thank you both very much. Happy holidays.