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Permanent Homeless Center Decision Delayed

Audio

Aired 4/23/10

Should the City of San Diego build a permanent homeless center downtown? If so, what should that center include and where should it be located? We discuss the latest concerns over the idea, and when it might be voted on by the San Diego City Council.

GLORIA PENNER (Host): Well, many of San Diego’s unemployed workers and their families are finding they have no money for housing and they’re ending up on the streets in downtown San Diego. That probably won’t happen to our caller who’s earning $200,000, along with his wife, but then there are the others who have no cushion. The growth of the homeless population has prompted a push for a downtown homeless center. So, JW, first of all, what was the proposal for this homeless center?

JW AUGUST (Managing Editor, KGTV 10News): Take over the World Trade building the City owns, the World Trade Center, and convert it into, what is it, 225 – be able to handle 225 homeless, 75 permanent studios where people would live year round, and 150 part time where people could have an address. That was the proposal. And it was an existing structure so the cost would be relatively low, I suppose, to begin to renovate the building.

PENNER: All right, so a couple of questions just to get us going on this. How is it going to be paid for? And what happened to the proposal?

AUGUST: Well, first off, the proposal would be – has been tabled again by our city council as they go again and decide – they’re going to wait 90 days and – Well, that was the Land Use and Housing Committee that said let’s wait 90 days and we’ll bring it back to the city council so they can all meet behind closed doors and cut deals we’ll never know about until it’s too late.

PENNER: Okay.

SCOTT LEWIS (CEO, voiceofsandiego.org): No citizens.

PENNER: All right. Did you want to say something, Scott?

LEWIS: Well, it would be paid for by a combination, the golden pot that always gives, the Downtown Redevelopment Fund…

AUGUST: CCDC, CCDC…

LEWIS: …it’s going to pay for the convention center, the stadium, new playgrounds, who knows, it’s…

BARBARA BRY (Assistant Publisher/Opinions Editor, SDNN.com): The library.

LEWIS: A library. Library, there’s just a lot of – and then it’s also – there’s supposedly tax credits that would be converted into revenue for it that we would have to compete for. There’s also a chunk of money that would come from the Housing Commission and, you know, all – they would somehow cobble together $30 million for this that would take care of, what, 250 homeless people downtown when there’s actually 800 downtown. Would it be enough to make it so that you could still punish people for sleeping on the streets? I don’t know. And would that alleviate then the tent cities that have grown up, that pop up every night at 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. or would it not? And that’s the big question and that’s what’s being hashed out.

PENNER: All right, well, let me turn to our callers. You still have a few minutes left in which you can chime in on this subject. So there’s been another postponement of a homeless center. They don’t want to call it a permanent homeless shelter, but it’s a homeless center. Another postponement and, you know, who knows what’s going to happen once it comes back before the committee and then goes on to the council. How do you feel that the City is dealing with the homeless question? We have at least 800 people on the streets of downtown San Diego.

AUGUST: More.

PENNER: And thousands out in the county.

BRY: Umm-hmm.

PENNER: So how do you feel government is dealing with this? I’d like to know. 1-888-895-5727, 895-KPBS. Barbara, this is the World Trade Center. It’s located – I know exactly where it’s located.

BRY: Umm-hmm.

PENNER: It’s between Symphony Hall and the Civic Center. It’s surrounded by bank buildings and office buildings. Why this location?

BRY: Well, it’s – Gloria, I think it’s this location because the building is available at a fairly reasonable price and, Gloria, I think we have to start somewhere. And Kevin Faulconer, I think, has been very articulate in saying this is a – you know, a city-wide, a county-wide problem and – but you have to start somewhere. And I think this is as good a place to start as anywhere else and it seems that, you know, the City can cobble the money together and, yes, it won’t solve everything but it is a beginning and there are, you know, we’ll, you know, get more people off the streets.

LEWIS: I think…

PENNER: Scott.

LEWIS: I think that the idea that the government could house all these people is just not true, it’s just – it’s false. And so, you know, what – Do we just do a fourth of them? Or do we think of some kind of more comprehensive solution? I think one of the – I think – What if we took $30 million and actually addressed the services that are needed? What about – You know, one of the big problems is just places for the people to go to the bathroom. I mean, if – and that is a benefit that if we were to provide facilities for people to go to the bathroom that would benefit not only them but also the thousands of people that want to walk around downtown. And I think that we have to think of solutions like that that are infrastructure related, that don’t depend on us being able to house people because we’re just not in a position right now to be able to do that very well and – and provide services that help them in different ways. But the idea that we can house any substantial portion of them, I think, is a folly.

PENNER: So you’re…

AUGUST: It’s a pipe dream.

PENNER: …you’re just saying we need to acknowledge the fact that there will always be people on the streets?

LEWIS: No, I’m just saying that we, as a city right now, the city’s dissolving. We’re not in a position right now to invest what would be needed to house all those people, let along the idea of whether the government can efficiently do that or not, but instead there – if there is money that can be cobbled together for infrastructure, we can do things that would help everybody out.

PENNER: So, JW, what is the responsibility of the Housing Commission in all this? I mean, the Housing Commission is charged with providing affordable housing to the community and it’s mostly funded with federal funds. What are they using their money for?

AUGUST: Well, a varied bunch of programs, affordable housing programs, lead abatement programs, that sort of stuff. But their responsibility on this thing was to bring forward a idea, cull through all the information and come up with what they would suggest is the best plan. And I’m not quite sure this is the best plan. I don’t think – Included in this plan is we no longer do the tents in the wintertime so those costs wouldn’t be added to it, and not using the Neil Good Center for homeless people, so what happens to those people? It’s like Scott says, this is just a bandaid. I think it’s more to satisfy a court order so the cops can roust the homeless people sleeping in the – sleeping on the streets.

PENNER: Okay, well, thank you for that discussion. I guess we’re going to see what happens. Before we end the program, I’d like to do a once around the table on an issue that developed this week. Yesterday, San Diego Superior Court Judge David Danielsen lifted a gag order on details of Chelsea King’s murder despite a protest from her parents to respect her privacy. What is your opinion of the judge’s action? Let me start with you, JW.

AUGUST: I say God bless Judge Danielsen. Anybody that knows Judge Danielsen knows he’s a tough guy and he doesn’t play around. And I think he showed a lot of courage to go up against the many in the legal establishment that glom onto victims to push their agendas.

PENNER: Okay.

AUGUST: You can’t stop closing down information about a court system. If it was up to many people in law enforcement, we would never know what was going on behind – going on in courts. So he was very courageous to say, whoa, Macy’s law (sic), which they tried to use, said it applied in this case, does not apply in this case. And it doesn’t, clearly. You read the law, it doesn’t apply. So it took some courage on the judge.

PENNER: Okay, your opinion, Scott.

LEWIS: Yeah, I think it’s the right decision. The – Just because you get the information doesn’t mean you have to go blast or broadcast it. I think that the news organizations now will have to make tough decisions about what they actually do with the information but we do have to be in a position where we can review the facts and decide whether our – the people who are acting in our name are acting appropriately or not. And that is just the tradeoff that comes with wanting to have a transparent society. And we can make mature decisions about it, though, and I think that there are a lot of very mature news directors out there like Mr. W. here and we can see – we can see what we can do.

PENNER: Final comment, Barbara.

BRY: I agree with what’s been said. We live in a free society and this information needs to be available to the media.

PENNER: Available to the media and it’s up to the media to decide how they’ll use it, according to Scott.

BRY: Umm-hmm.

PENNER: Okay, so we have to trust the media. I want to thank Barbara Bry, SDNN.com and Scott Lewis, we want to thank him as well, voiceofsandiego.org. And from 10News, many thanks to JW August. Thanks to our listeners and our callers. This is the Editors Roundtable. I’m Gloria Penner.

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