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Homeless Services In San Diego

Audio

Aired 7/9/10

The city is poised to make an important decision about how to tackle the problem of homelessness in San Diego. We discuss what's at stake.

ALISON ST JOHN (Host): You’re listening to the Editors Roundtable. I’m Alison St John, sitting in for Gloria Penner. And our panelists around the roundtable this morning are Alisa Joyce Barba, western bureau chief for National Public Radio, David Rolland, editor of San Diego CityBeat, and JW August, managing director (sic) for Channel 10 News. So the homeless population in San Diego is on the increase according to the latest figures from the Regional Task Force for the Homeless, and that’s hardly surprising in view of the economy. But are services for the homeless increasing or improving in any way? The City of San Diego is poised to vote on a new direction for providing services for the homeless downtown. But before we actually get into that, let’s just talk briefly about this brouhaha in Ocean Beach this past week over stickers. So, David, do you think that the sticker that read ‘Please Don’t Feed Our Bums,’ do you think that kind of thing is really a sign of prejudice? What does that indicate?

DAVID ROLLAND (Editor, San Diego CityBeat): Well, I think OB is kind of a special case where it is a very tolerant, very Bohemian community. I think younger folks who are sort of off the grid, that maybe don’t have any interest in kind of participating in society the way that a lot of other people do are kind of attracted to Ocean Beach and they hang out on Newport and apparently they can be fairly surly when dealing with passersby and merchants and that sort of thing. And one merchant took matters into his own hands and created these stickers that say ‘Please Don’t Feed Our Bums,’ kind of modeled in, I think, a humorous attempt modeled after the ‘Don’t Feed the Bears’ up in the mountains. And I think a lot of people in Ocean Beach were – whereas there are some that understand the motivation behind those stickers, they kind of want to fight back against, you know, rather surly younger homeless people that perhaps are not – are able-bodied and that sort of thing. But I think a lot of people that I’ve talked to in Ocean Beach, people that live there, feel like it was insensitive because it’s hard to differentiate between people that are younger and, you know, people that this was aimed at and older – older guys who might be mentally ill or alcoholic or down on their luck and that sort of thing.

ST JOHN: 888-895-5727 is the number. We’d love to have you join the conversation. And so Alisa, you live in that region.

ALISA JOYCE BARBA (Western Bureau Chief, National Public Radio): Right.

ST JOHN: I mean, is it true to say that perhaps the homeless population there is slightly different from what it is in other parts of town? Might that be partly what’s going on?

BARBA: Well, there’s a lot of older men and women in Ocean Beach that have been homeless there for a long time and, you know, you kind of know them. There’s…

ST JOHN: Umm.

BARBA: …virtually every church down there on Sunset Cliffs has a, you know, monthly dinner that they have for the homeless and I’ve gone down there with my family and you see the same people and you – They’ve been there for years, you know, and they’re recognizable and this is kind of who they are and where they live and what they do. But there is also a lot of, as David was saying, there’s a lot of younger people, who are not necessarily – have the same kind of disabilities that have put a lot of these people in a homeless situation, who are hanging out and kind of – I, you know, seem to see Newport Avenue and there’s a lot of tourists and a lot of people come around and I see it as kind of a part of – It’s like Venice Beach, you know, a little bit in LA, where it’s just – where maybe there’s some free handouts that will allow them to stay there. And I think – I don’t know. I think there’s – You know, Ocean Beach also has a reputation for being – there’s a lot of drugs down by the pier and stuff like that. And I – I don’t blame the – I don’t blame the business owners for trying to figure out a way to kind of – to clean it up. There’s – I guess there’s kind of a difference between an aggressive young panhandler and an older guy who’s going to take his free dinner at the kitchen at the church, you know.

ST JOHN: So we know that the business owners in OB are upset and some of the residents also, and downtown where it’s more a matter of business, and that’s where a lot of the homeless congregate—that’s sort of traditionally where all the services are provided—we know for sure that the business owners there really want to see a change, don’t they? David, can you fill us in a little bit about what’s on the horizon here at the city?

ROLLAND: Yes, the City of San Diego has been working for quite some time on a, hopefully, a partial solution, a model for how to help people get back on their feet and back into society and that is sort of the Housing First model where you set up – you have a – you create a center that not only houses a certain number of people in supportive environments where they get case management and medical care and counseling and help with legal problems and that sort of thing, but they also get a roof over their head. They get a little studio apartment in addition to all these services that I just mentioned, plus some more temporary emergency shelter. So the City of San Diego’s been working on that for quite some time and it went to a city council committee three months ago and they delayed action on it in order for the folks who won the right to develop this project, give them a chance to educate the surrounding community, the business owners, the residents, and that sort of thing about the more detail about their proposal. So it is going back. That three months has elapsed and it is going back to committee next week.

ST JOHN: So there’s going to be an important vote. Now what you just described sounded like a pretty good idea. Why would that – why wouldn’t everybody just go ahead and support that?

ROLLAND: Well, the people – I think there are probably still some people in the immediate neighborhood—and we’re talking about the old World Trade Center on Sixth and B, I think is the nearest cross street—that are worried about an – more of an influx in homeless people congregating and, you know, impeding pedestrian traffic into their business and that sort of thing. But you already have a lot of homeless people in that area and what this project will do, what the people behind it say is that it will help get those people, especially in that immediate area, off the streets and into this building where they can get the help that they need.

ST JOHN: Okay, if you have any thoughts about what needs to be done for the homeless, give us a call, 888-895-5727. And we have a call on the line from Dave in Julian. Thanks for calling, Dave. Go right ahead.

DAVE (Caller, Julian): All right. I’m going to say something I’ve been screaming for about 30 years. I’ve lived here 30 years. I’m totally blind. I live up in the mountains now but this whole city, I mean, this recession we have, everything is caused by overpriced housing. And if you want to solve the homeless problem, what I really think I’m hearing is not let’s solve the homeless problem, it’s like let’s get those people somewhere else and let the rich people come to San Diego, and I think that stinks.

ST JOHN: Dave, thank you so much for your perspective. JW, I mean, do you think that it’s true to say that people are basically almost just trying to make it hard for the folks who can’t afford a house just – They just want them to go away and that there’s nothing really being done? I mean, there does seem to be…

JW AUGUST (Managing Editor, KGTV 10News): Well, there’s not a lot of – We don’t have a lot of affordable housing and even though with the recession and the prices of homes dropping, still a lot of San Diegans can’t find a home that would fit in their budget as, you know, what should be the percentage of their budget they spend for a roof over their head. So Dave’s got something right. I’d like to move to the mountains with him.

ST JOHN: I mean, Dave is making the point that this problem about affordable housing is just so huge that no government really…

AUGUST: Right.

ST JOHN: It’s up to the market that’s going to be able to – What the government can do is kind of nip around the edges and try to pick up the…

AUGUST: Right, this is certainly what Dave was talking about. It’s certainly not an answer to everything. There’s just not enough beds that they’re going to build but, hopefully, this could be like a prototype that they could duplicate in other sections of the city.

ST JOHN: But it’s interesting that the City has just passed on the whole responsibility, I believe, to the Housing Commission, is that right? Dave, do you want to take that?

ROLLAND: Yeah, I think they just generally felt like the Housing Commission is probably – it’s just more of an efficient way to handle it. It’s just essentially another arm of the city that’s going to take the lead on this stuff since they already take the lead on affordable housing.

ST JOHN: But are they still going to take responsibility? I mean, are they just passing a hot potato off to another agency?

ROLLAND: Well, I think it’s essentially the same – It’s the same – It’s city government. I mean, the Housing Commission and city government kind of work hand in hand. You know, they’re not right underneath the mayor like, you know, standard city departments but they’re sort of a pseudo-arm of city government.

ST JOHN: Umm-hmm.

ROLLAND: You know, what’s interesting about what’s going to happen next week is how the injunction against citing homeless people for sleeping in public is going to affect this vote. There are four members of the Land Use and Housing Committee, that’s Kevin Faulconer, Tony Young, Sherri Lightner and Todd Gloria, Todd Gloria’s already a strong supporter of this project but the other three are open questions. Kevin Faulconer feels very strongly since he represents business owners and condo owners downtown, he feels very strongly about reinstating the ability of the police to ticket people for sleeping in public even though I believe that the city really – the police don’t really – aren’t really all that excited about doing that. I think they’d probably rather enforce other crimes. But what Kevin Faulconer and some of his people want is this ticket ban tied to this project. They want to see an end to the ticket ban and they’re hoping that they can convince the judge who instituted…

AUGUST: Hmm…

ROLLAND: …the injunction to lift that injunction as this Housing First, you know, model plays out.

ST JOHN: And in the minute that we have left, JW, I mean, why should the public care about this decision.

AUGUST: Well, what does the downtown look like? During the day, I’m proud of my city. I want people to be able to go there and look at it. These are human beings. We should care about them. I mean…

ST JOHN: But this decision that’s coming up next week, I mean, it’s…

AUGUST: It’s a…

ST JOHN: It’s – How important is it?

AUGUST: It is an important one. Finally, we may have some direction. We’ve kind of muddled through this for years.

ST JOHN: Umm…

AUGUST: Finally, it’s a direction – I would like to say, I read the CityBeat story on this and it was really interesting. Towards the end of it, they talked about, well, if you build this place, this place at the World Trade Center, why not have a grid around there where they enforce the – you can’t sleep there to the homeless and that would get the support of the business people. It seemed like a common sense – you know, one-mile radius around there.

ROLLAND: That’s actually something that City Attorney Jan Goldsmith is kind of supportive of and that…

AUGUST: Well, that makes such sense.

ROLLAND: Yeah. Yeah.

AUGUST: Hope it happens then.

ST JOHN: Well, wow, maybe we’ll actually see some sense being made next week on this issue. Thank you so much. I’d like to thank my guests here on the Editors Roundtable today. Alisa Joyce Barba, western bureau chief for the National Public Radio, thanks for being here, Alisa.

BARBA: Thanks.

ST JOHN: And JW August, managing director for Channel 10 News. Great to have you hear.

AUGUST: Thank you.

ST JOHN: And David Rolland, editor of San Diego CityBeat. Always great to have you here, David.

ROLLAND: Thanks.

ST JOHN: And thank you for listening. And stay with us. We’ll be back next week with Gloria Penner. I’m Alison St John.

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