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Finding A Site For Winter Homeless Shelter In S.D.

Audio

Aired 9/25/09

Mayor Jerry Sanders called on the eight San Diego City Council members to propose sites for a winter homeless shelter in their districts, but none of the council members complied. Why didn't the council members comply with the mayor's request?

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Above: City Council members were unable to agree on a location for a homeless shelter site for the winter.

Local editors discuss national and local news with host Gloria Penner.
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Above: Local editors discuss national and local news with host Gloria Penner.

GLORIA PENNER (Host): According to the latest reports, the City of San Diego has more than 4300 homeless people. It might be even more than that, because when you walk the downtown streets after dark—and I did that just last weekend—that seems an underestimation. There you have homeless men, women and children wrapped in rags and newspapers, lining the edge of the sidewalk as they try to sleep in safety. But when winter comes, the streets won’t be as hospitable yet the San Diego City Council seems paralyzed when it comes to fixing the problem. So, Ricky, last week the city council rejected a winter homeless shelter site downtown. What’s going on?

RICKY YOUNG (Government Editor, San Diego Union-Tribune): Well, Councilman Kevin Faulconer, who represents downtown, is taking a stand basically, and he’s saying that the site has – the winter homeless shelter has been in his district enough times and this year it’s time for someone else to take a turn. And so he convinced enough of his council colleagues to reject that site and – but they did it without offering an alternative site. So that sort of dropped it back in the office of Mayor Jerry Sanders who said to them each, well, if you don’t want it downtown, why don’t each of you give me a site in your district and, you know, so that was sort of an interesting little pushback. Today, we reported that since none of the council members took him up on his offer to offer up a site in their district, he would do it for them. So there’s interesting politics going on here. Some of the council members make the point that it’s silly. For instance, Carl DeMaio says to locate a homeless shelter in Rancho Bernardo doesn’t make a lot of sense, which it may not…

PENNER: Oh, by the way, Carl DeMaio represents…

YOUNG: Yes.

PENNER: …Rancho Bernardo.

YOUNG: Yes, that’s why I mentioned that.

PENNER: Okay.

YOUNG: And, you know, he thinks it would be a waste of city resources to identify the site or certainly to put it there. So – but, you know, while they have their little back and forth, meanwhile, it’s getting colder, or at least it will soon, and there’s people who aren’t going to have a place to sleep. And the people who provide shelter for them in the winter say it certainly makes more sense to have them in a shelter rather than out on the streets and that the back and forth gamesmanship is not helping anyone.

PENNER: Well, I guess it all comes down to politics again. You know, politicians representing certain districts where there may be resistance to putting a winter shelter for the homeless are basically unwilling to identify a site. However, Marti Emerald did identify three sites but she wouldn’t reveal where they are.

YOUNG: Yeah, Marti represents the Tierrasanta area and I think she came the closest to really taking the mayor up on his offer. She identified these three sites, although she won’t say where they are.

PENNER: Now that’s an interesting part of it. Let me turn to you on this, Leslie. I mean, what’s the point of saying, okay, I’ve got three sites in mind but I’m not going to tell you where they are?

LESLIE WOLF BRANSCOMB (Editor, San Diego Uptown News): Well, it’s a political hot potato, clearly. I was commenting to Ricky before we started that this homeless shelter issue has – it’s one of those intractable problems of San Diego County. It’s much like relocating Lindbergh Field. This same issue is going to come up over and over and over. And nobody, especially – all of these folks are elected officials. They’re looking toward their next reelection already. Nobody wants to be the one to raise their hand and say, yes, I’m going to put homeless people in your backyard. It’s absolutely something that I would think the suburban council members are eager to put off onto the urban council members who represent the downtown areas because that’s really where it makes more sense, is to have it maybe also one in the beach areas. South Bay/San Ysidro area could use one, but I don’t see much point in putting a shelter in Tierrasanta.

PENNER: Our number is 1-888-895-5727, 895-KPBS. Okay, if you live in the City of San Diego, your city council members have not come up with a solution yet. Maybe you have a solution. We’d like to hear from you. Where should the homeless be taken care of during the cold winter months? And it’s true, you know, some of the homeless are not sympathetic characters but more and more of them are military veterans who have been fighting our wars and have come back, and as we will let everybody know tonight when we do San Diego Week on KPBS Television, several of them, many of them, actually, are women veterans, female military veterans who are on the streets and homeless. So we’d like to hear from you. What’s your solution? Let me go back to you, John, on this. Now it’s a political hot potato. I mean, Leslie established that but doesn’t it become more of a political hot potato when you have a city council that seems paralyzed?

JOHN WARREN (Editor and Publisher, San Diego Voice & Viewpoint): Yes, it does. It shows a lack of a willingness to make a decision and it’s unfortunate because, logistically, downtown is an ideal location because of the number of supportive services that are made available, transportation and all those things, work. What I find appalling when I look at this is that here is a city that can sit around and listen to the mayor talk about a library and expanding the convention center and building a new city hall and doing all these things and talking about we don’t need the money, but yet you have this real people problem here. And other cities like Oakland, where they have designated areas and they are taking, in some instances, abandoned housing in other places or military bases have been suggested, looking at creating a permanent situation for the homeless. The homeless are going to be here. According to the Regional Task Force that did the 2008 profile, 7500 people are homeless on the streets of San Diego, 21% of those are the veterans that you talked about. And no longer is the situation everybody who’s homeless is a drug addict or disgruntled or what have you. I mean, people are there with real issues. And so I think that we have to start dealing with it, not from the standpoint that they don’t vote and they don’t contribute, therefore they don’t count, but making some real decisions.

PENNER: Ricky.

YOUNG: Yeah, John mentioned Oakland has – is establishing a permanent facility. San Diego is looking at the same thing but like Marti Emerald, they’re hiding the ball. There were proposals submitted by social service organizations several months ago to the Housing Commission. The most controversial thing about that will be where does it go? And they’re sitting on those submissions. We’ve asked for them repeatedly. And…

PENNER: You’re talking about the Housing Commission?

YOUNG: Yes.

PENNER: They’re not revealing it?

YOUNG: They are not revealing what the proposals were from the social service providers. I imagine that’s largely because if you think the dispute over the temporary winter shelter is a – is contentious, wait until you see the dispute over the permanent shelter.

PENNER: Okay, so we are challenging – Editors Roundtable is challenging the Housing Commission right now, where are you going to put a permanent shelter for the homeless? After all, they live on federal funds, don’t they? I’m talking about the Housing Commission.

YOUNG: Yes, they – they absolutely do.

PENNER: They’re financed by the feds…

YOUNG: Yep.

PENNER: …so I – we deserve to know, where is that shelter going to be. And if you’d like to call us, our number is 1-888-895-5727, 895-KPBS. We have time for one short call before we go into the break so let’s hear from Dionay (sp) in North Park. I hope that’s your pronunciation, Dionay.

DIONAY (Caller, North Park): Hi, Gloria. Yes, it is.

PENNER: Okay.

DIONAY: Thank you. And I would like to suggest that each city council member pick an area and that we spread the load of this burden. And they should probably be located along major transportation corridors. But it does seem unfair to locate them all in one district…

PENNER: Okay.

DIONAY: …so I don’t – and perhaps they could look at that for permanent shelters as well…

PENNER: Okay.

DIONAY: …so they’re not just burdening one place.

PENNER: Thank you very much for your suggestion. We’ll probably have a comment on that when we come back from our break. This is the Editors Roundtable. I’m Gloria Penner. We’ll be back in a moment.

# # #

PENNER: This is the Editors Roundtable. I’m Gloria Penner. And we are now talking about the homeless in San Diego. Where should they go? Winter is coming, believe it or not, even though it’s a sweltering day today. We need both a winter shelter, we need a permanent shelter, and our members of the city council have not come up publicly and told us where they might put a shelter in their district. So, so far, no shelters are identified. At the table with me today are Ricky Young from the San Diego Union-Tribune and Leslie Wolf Branscomb from San Diego Uptown News, John Warren from San Diego Voice & Viewpoint. Our number is 1-888-895-5727. Let us hear from Thomas in Solana Beach. Ricky, did you want to say something?

YOUNG: Well, I just wanted to respond to that last caller who suggested putting a – actually putting a winter shelter in each council district. I asked the mayor yesterday, when he offers up shelter sites in each of the eight council districts, whether it’s his intention to actually have them in each site, or just offer them up for the council to decide? And he said, ultimately, the council could decide that. They could either put it in all eight or they could pick one or two or whatever, so…

PENNER: But it is up to the council?

YOUNG: Oh, yeah.

PENNER: So was the mayor grandstanding when he said I’m going to – I’m going to pick the sites?

YOUNG: I think he may be expressing some frustration with their lack of acquiescence to his idea of where to put the shelter.

PENNER: Oh, you said that so politically and diplomatically. Thank you very much for that. All right, let’s hear from Thomas in Solana Beach now. Thomas, you’re on with the editors.

THOMAS (Caller, Solana Beach): Hi. Thank you for taking my call. I have an idea to put, as every single district that you’re speaking of has commercial property and commercial situations, industrial situations, empty, drying up and dying on the vine for a lack of tenants, put the places that these people need to go and get facilities and have care in these abandoned or unused commercial properties. Every single district has one, a commercial venue that has lease signs up. I mean, they’re everywhere you look. I think that could be a temporary if not ultimately long term solution.

YOUNG: There’s Pernicano’s in Hillcrest, which I think we’re going to get to in Leslie’s segment.

PENNER: We are going to talk about that. But, of course, we also have the idea of a voucher for empty hotel and motel rooms. I believe that was – let me – whose…

YOUNG: That was Tony Young’s idea.

WARREN: Tony Young. Tony Young’s idea.

PENNER: Tony Young’s idea…

WARREN: Yeah.

PENNER: …was to give them hotel vouchers. Do you think the visitors to San Diego would be interested in, you know, sharing a – not a room but a floor with members of our homeless community?

WARREN: I don’t think our four-star hotels would accept the vouchers in the first place. I don’t think it’s a good idea. We’ve seen the failure of that program with the Katrina refugees that came here and that – his idea of saying it was because there are certain days when the weather is good and we wouldn’t want to be paying for shelter maintenance on days that we didn’t need to use the shelters. But the cost of moving people back and forth, I think, would outweigh any savings in terms of a daily benefit.

PENNER: Okay, let’s hear from Alex in Rancho Bernardo. Do you have a quick comment for us, Alex?

ALEX (Caller, Rancho Bernardo): Yeah, blame some of the problem on the homeless. If they really want a solution for their own problem, they need to just like move couple of blocks either to Fifth Avenue or move someone to La Jolla and the situation will be cured next day. You know, just they’re hanging out on their own side of downtown.

PENNER: Okay, thank you. John, you’re – John, you’re reacting to Alex’s suggestion.

WARREN: Yeah, because it has been suggested, for instance, that the reason you don’t find any homeless on Coronado is that at sundown, they bring them over here, across the river. And, obviously, there’s truth in what he’s saying. People would – You wouldn’t have people hanging around on the street in La Jolla, not for a moment. You know, they’d be either cited, ticketed, that’s been one of the problems downtown. The police were ticketing the people and folks rose up in arms that it’s not fair to ticket the folks for loitering on the street when there’s no other place. So it just heightens the problem that we have.

PENNER: Alright, last point on this, Leslie. The council president, Ben Hueso, he’s not responding and he’s not going to respond and his spokesperson said, you know, we should leave it up to the mayor. He’s got the staff. He’s got the resources. I’m just wondering, since he is running for Assembly, you know, whether it’s more political for him to keep his mouth shut.

BRANSCOMB: I think you absolutely hit it on the head there. He does represent an area, Barrio Logan and then down into the South Bay where I live, where there are homeless people. It would make sense to put a shelter in his district somewhere but that also runs the risk of him becoming unpopular with his own constituents and then when he does turn around and run for the Assembly, there will be people who remember that, specifically those in the neighborhood where the homeless shelter ended up. And it does pose a great risk for him, I believe, politically. I’m not surprised at all that he’s staying quiet on this.

PENNER: Staying quiet but, you know, people are probably going to take him for – take him to task for staying quiet, so I guess either way you run into a problem.

BRANSCOMB: It’s harder in a campaign to criticize someone for what they didn’t say or do than for what they did. I think he runs more of a risk with any action he takes. Inaction is a little harder to pin somebody down on and I’m sure he knows that.

PENNER: Spoken like a person who’s been observing politics for a long time. Thank you, Leslie. All right, well, with that subject – I mean, there’s no way we can resolve it. We can just open it up. So if you have any comments, do reach us at KPBS.org/EditorsRoundtable.

Comments

Avatar for user 'ostinato'

ostinato | September 25, 2009 at 1:16 p.m. ― 4 years, 6 months ago

Interesting how this conversation is all about "where we will put them" for winter, as though we are trying to figure out where to store our beach towels and umbrellas for the off-season. These are people, you will not "put them" anywhere. Council members in the most affected districts can complain about whether or not it is "their turn" all they want, but the reality on the ground is far less political and far more pragmatic.

The homeless will PUT THEMSELVES wherever they want, as they are free people and probably constituents of the affected districts. The choice for the council member is whether the districts they represent want to see the homeless suffering and dying on the streets in that district or if they would optionally prefer the homeless to seek shelter in a building in that district.

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