Ocean Beach Divided Over Anti-Homeless Sticker Controversy
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
A local community newspaper, the OB Rag, has stirred up a hornet's nest in Ocean Beach. The OB Rag's blog posts encouraging a local store to stop selling stickers that say "Welcome to Ocean Beach/Please Don't Feed Our Bums," has divided the community over how to deal with its local homeless population. We speak to the blogger who originally wrote about the controversial stickers, and the executive director of the Regional Task Force on Homelessness.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. The sticker that sells for $2.50 at The Black, a shop in Ocean Beach, is based on a sign from Northern California telling tourists not to feed bears. It shows a silhouette of a hobo and his dog and it reads ‘Please Don’t Feed Our Bums.’
The fact that the sign originates in a tolerant, laid-back beach community is surprising to some. But, others point to large numbers of homeless in OB, and the fact that the homeless population in all of San Diego has jumped by 8% in the past year. Is San Diego losing its patience with this increase in the homeless population? Are there, as some say, new, younger, threatening members of the homeless population? And what's the correct way for our city to address the needs of the homeless? I’d like to welcome my guests. Frank Gormlie is editor, publisher and a blogger for the OB Rag. Frank is also a local activist and attorney in San Diego.
FRANK GORMLIE (Editor/Publisher/Blogger, OB Rag): Good morning.
CAVANAUGH: Good morning, Frank.
GORMLIE: How are you?
CAVANAUGH: I’m great. Thank you for being here.
CAVANAUGH: Peter Callstrom is executive director of the Regional Task Force on Homelessness. Peter, welcome back to These Days.
PETER CALLSTROM (Executive Director, Regional Task Force on Homelessness): Thank you, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: We’d like to invite our listeners to join the conversation. Do you feel threatened or intimidated by members of the homeless population? Do you think the OB slogan is a sign of frustration or even a joke? Give us a call with your questions and your comments. Our number is 1-888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. Frank, tell us a little bit about how this controversy started.
GORMLIE: Sure, we found – we discovered this sticker which, as you mentioned, depicts a hobo from the thirties with his dog. They’re in a downcast way. And it says ‘Welcome to Ocean Beach. Please Don’t Feed Our Bums.’ We found the sticker appearing on street signs, municipal signs and it was upsetting. And we found out that it was being actually sold by The Black. Our initial review of the businesses only had one business with two storefronts having the sticker up on their windows or their doors. And part of this, Maureen, is I think it’s an un – part of an undercover or underground movement against the homeless the last three or four months. There’s been leaflets out calling homeless ‘trolls’. And I think this sticker appeared because it expresses a certain frustration.
CAVANAUGH: What is that frustration, Frank? Why is there this growing anti-homeless sentiment in Ocean Beach? Do you – Can you put the finger on it?
GORMLIE: Well, as you just said, the homeless population is up 8%. Actually, I read the same report. It says the on-street population of the homeless is up 12%. There’s no mystery why young homeless people come to Ocean Beach: the surf, the sounds, the beach, the sand, all that, and kind of the laid-back reputation. But in the end, Maureen, this sticker is not Ocean Beach. This is – the sticker’s not about what Ocean Beach is about. And the owner of The Black, who’s been selling it, has made tee shirts now, and hats now with the same graphic. And it’s very demeaning, it’s very dehumanizing and we’re really opposed to it. We’re really upset about it.
CAVANAUGH: I’m wondering, Frank, what is it that the people who say they’re frustrated, what are they frustrated about?
GORMLIE: Well, merchants and others are reporting an uptick in a new brand of aggressive panhandler. And if that’s true then let’s deal with it. The sticker doesn’t say don’t feed our aggressive panhandlers with knives. It says ‘don’t feed our bums’ with this old thirties hobo. So it’s a broad brushstroke against all homeless. And this little sticker does not say, okay, we’re only against the knife-wielding rock punkers, it’s against all homeless.
CAVANAUGH: Right. Peter Callstrom, I’m sure you’ve been following this story.
CAVANAUGH: What are your thoughts on this controversy taking place in Ocean Beach?
CALLSTROM: Well, I agree with Frank. I find the sticker to be offensive. It’s unnecessary. It paints with a broad brush in a very negative way, the homeless as bums. And it’s old terminology, it’s unfortunate, it’s completely pejorative. I mean, there’s no upside to this. And the sticker itself also has this takeoff on ‘don’t feed the bears.’ You know, it’s painting those who are homeless as, in a way, an animal. And it’s very sad. It’s not the way to go about dealing with this social issue that we all share. There’s other positive ways to address this and make changes, and that’s what we should be focusing on, is not to profit from a sticker that is just offensive.
CAVANAUGH: How is this, the news story, the controversy, how is this resonating through the homeless advocacy community? Is this something that they’re taking notice of and saying this is a very scary event?
CALLSTROM: I can’t speak for all, of course, but I would say the sentiment is that people are offended because the many providers that we have in our county who are so dedicated and so wonderful to serve, you know, eight, nine, ten thousand people who are homeless in our county deserve praise for all the work that they’re doing. And then, again, this silly sticker to dehumanize the population of people who are homeless in this negative way doesn’t do anybody any good and it kind of sets us all back and we can do better as a people than to name-call and – and also it puts OB in a bad light. OB’s a wonderful community. I love it. I used to live there years ago and I love to go back and visit and was just there over the weekend and they’ve got this great street fair coming up this weekend and it’s a wonderful community but then to associate ‘don’t feed the bums’ with OB as a way to deal with it is only, again, negative and profiting from this negative way of portraying people who are in need. Now I understand if people are accosted by a knife-wielding, pit bull carrying person who’s aggressive but that’s a different issue from people who are homeless. This is – That’s a crime, and those crimes need…
GORMLIE: That’s right.
CALLSTROM: …to be dealt with by reaching out to the police, and the police are there to respond. And we need to rally as a community to find ways to enable customers and residents to know how to access that and to report that so that we can deal with it and get those people who are committing a crime off the street.
GORMLIE: That’s right. You know, we’re not defending knife-wielding, aggressive panhandlers who shake people down. There’s a remedy for that. It’s called the California Penal Code.
GORMLIE: But what we’re opposed to is this broad-brush attempt to debase all homeless people and it’s not – it goes against the strong grain, the strong reputation and tradition that Ocean Beach has of being a tolerant community.
GORMLIE: We have had—and I’ve been a community activist for decades—for the last 40 years, Ocean Beach has had this tolerance for surfers, for hippies, for bums, for judges, for, you know, suits and sandals and gays and lesbians and bikers and rednecks and radicals…
GORMLIE: …and middle class families and retired people and sailors. But this goes against the grain. And the fact that The Black is making money off this, it really goes against the grain. Now they obviously have a right to sell the sticker. And we have a right to boycott it and ask people not to shop at The Black until they stop selling these graphics and stickers. In fact, we’re going to be out there, Maureen, at four o’clock this afternoon at The Black asking people not to shop inside.
CAVANAUGH: Frank, I want to ask you more about that. I just want to reintroduce you.
CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Frank Gormlie. He’s editor, publisher and a blogger for the OB Rag. And I’m also speaking with Peter Callstrom with the Regional Task Force on Homelessness. And we’re talking about the controversy over a sticker selling at – in The Black, a shop in Ocean Beach that says ‘Please Don’t Feed Our Bums.’ We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Let’s take a call right now. Mary is on the line from Ocean Beach. Good morning, Mary, and welcome to These Days.
MARY (Caller, Ocean Beach): Good morning. I’ve been OB since about ’91 and just so you know, I am a social worker. I do hand out money to people on corners. I do give food to people. And I just want people to understand that this isn’t – I don’t condone – I don’t promote that sticker but this isn’t about the people that have been homeless for years that we’ve all embraced and actually look after. These are a new kind of younger people. Last week my friend was being walked home with a male friend and these younger kids were saying, hey, you know, give us some change. No. Give some change. No. And then they said, well, we’re going to be looking after your girlfriend, and in a threatening way. So they did call the police. But those are the people that I think that the OB people are reacting to because when I drive by every morning past the church where they serve breakfast, I see the same homeless people there that have been around for years. So I just want people to know this isn’t about homeless people in general, it’s about this new brand that you guys have been referring to.
CAVANAUGH: Mary, thank…
GORMLIE: Mary, if I can, Maureen…
GORMLIE: …why don’t the stickers say ‘please don’t feed young, aggressive panhandlers? It doesn’t say that.
MARY: I agree with you. It should say it. Like I said, I’m not promoting the sticker.
MARY: I’m not promoting the stickers. I just want people to know that we’re not, you know, for us OBcians, we’re not saying it’s everyone, it’s just – it’s this new brand that’s really stirring it up and, unfortunately, it’s resulted in this, like you said, this overarching sticker.
GORMLIE: Also, you know, if – Obviously, the community of Ocean Beach and San Diego and the nation has a homelessness problem. And let’s deal with that. Merchants have a valid complaint. Let’s deal with it. This sticker and the graphics and the money being made off this anti-homeless bias is not the way to go.
CAVANAUGH: Peter, I want to ask you to follow up Mary’s comment. What have you been hearing about perhaps a new type of younger population of the homeless who are, you know, more threatening or perhaps intimidating than the homeless that other communities like Ocean Beach have come to know?
CALLSTROM: I don’t know if there’s this new population that’s sprung up in other areas and I think in Ocean Beach, this is just a reaction to these hoodlums that have arrived there and whether they’re even going to be around for long, we don’t know. They could just be a traveling group that’s going around and up to no good. So, hopefully, they’ll leave and not intimidate other folks in other areas, but we’re not hearing across the board that this is like a new brand of homeless but this is a criminal element that needs to be treated in that respect. And I’ve – I also spoke with the San Diego Police Department and the Homeless Outreach team, Officer Schnell, as well as the Western Division folks who respond to calls in the Ocean Beach area, and that was Officer Cirillo. And they concurred that this is a new – this is not a new brand but this is – these are people who are committing crimes and they are not the folks like Mary’s referred to who have been homeless in the area for some time who still haven’t found a way off the street. But having served…
GORMLIE: But Peter, let me ask you, Peter, again, who’s going to be the arbitrator? Who’s going to be the arbiter to decide who are the good homeless that we love and feed and who are the bad homeless that we want to kick out and jail? Just the fact is that there’s no government services in Ocean Beach for the homeless except for the police department. Is that how we want to spend our police dollars is sending them out on calls for the homeless? I don’t think so.
CALLSTROM: I don’t think anybody needs to be the arbiter of who’s good and bad. It’s all about…
GORMLIE: Well, that’s what we’re hearing. We’re hearing about this new brand of homeless, aggressive people, panhandlers. There was one report of a guy with a machete. Total hearsay, no proof offered, but the media is lapping it up. And…
CAVANAUGH: So, Frank, your idea is that we should target actions and not people, no matter what kind of generation…
CAVANAUGH: …of the homeless they…
GORMLIE: Target behavior and why punish the whole class of people, homeless…
GORMLIE: …for the transgressions of a few. Now, there are people stepping up. There’s a church group that’s called the Ecumenical Council. They just met yesterday. They’re going to be issuing a statement today. And they’re going to be working with us in conjunction of filling out a community forum down the line at one of the local churches.
CALLSTROM: Great, that’s…
GORMLIE: But, you know, this has been a very divisive issue but, you know, Channel 10 just did this poll and most San Diegans do not support the sticker.
GORMLIE: And that’s what the issue is here.
CAVANAUGH: Frank, let…
GORMLIE: 56% of this Channel 10 poll said they think the sticker’s inappropriate, 37 says it was appropriate.
CAVANAUGH: Frank, I know that you have to leave us…
CAVANAUGH: …so let me ask you what kind of communication have you had with The Black, the store that sells these stickers?
GORMLIE: I, at the very beginning of this controversy, called and talked to a co-manager by the name of Ken Anderson and I asked him if he would take the stickers off the shelves. He said he would consider it if we gave him a petition for 100 names. So we started working on that. Two days later, he turns around and starts selling tee shirts and hats with the same graphic. In other words he escalated in an in-your-face kind of thing, and so we’ve called for a temporary boycott of The Black until they take this hate, bigotry – these messages of hate and bigotry and dehumanization off the shelves. And we’re asking people not to go there, and we also have an online petition and we also have other levels of petitions asking The Black to take the stuff off the shelves.
CAVANAUGH: And you’re having a rally today at four?
GORMLIE: Not a rally, Maureen, we’re just going to be, a few of us, standing outside The Black asking people not to shop.
CAVANAUGH: Well, I want to thank you so much for being with us. I know you have to leave us early, Frank. Thank you.
GORMLIE: Thank you very much, Maureen. Enjoyed being here.
CALLSTROM: If I could add one thing, Frank, before you leave, too.
CALLSTROM: One thing that we’re going to propose to The Black if they’re even not going to take down the offensive sticker is to offer an alternative and we’ve come with our own little idea of a…
GORMLIE: All right.
CALLSTROM: …sticker that would be a positive message that we’re here to feed homeless people, people who are in need. And we haven’t finalized the sticker but if they’re going to stick with that one, why not offer a different alternative…
CALLSTROM: …and so we’re looking at doing that because even if they don’t pull it down, it’s freedom of speech. We understand that. But let’s put up another message that people do care.
GORMLIE: And, Maureen, one – Can I make one final thought?
GORMLIE: You know, the people who support the sticker, the people who are against it, the people who think homeless have rights, we’re all sort of aiming our proverbial guns at each other. We should be aiming them at city hall. There’s a level of social responsibility that city hall is not coming forth with and that’s where the responsibility is. You know, city hall is the collective expression of our political will, and city hall has fallen down on the job. We have a rise in homeless, they’re coming to Ocean Beach, and we should be looking to our elected leaders for help.
CALLSTROM: And, Frank, on that note, too, you know, there’s movement at city hall. In order to address part of the homeless issue with the World Trade Center proposal that they’re…
CALLSTROM: …going to be meeting with in July at the Land Use and Housing Committee but, you know, beyond city hall, it’s also a regional issue.
CALLSTROM: It’s the county board of supervisors as well.
CALLSTROM: We need political will and leadership across the board because downtown is just one element and Ocean Beach is another arena but it’s a county wide, region wide issue that has to be addressed at all levels.
GORMLIE: (unintelligible) to do…
CAVANAUGH: We have to take a break. Frank, thanks again.
GORMLIE: Thank you, Maureen. Thank you, Peter.
CALLSTROM: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: Frank Gormlie is editor, publisher and a blogger for the OB Rag. I want to let everyone know, we invited the owner of The Black shop to take part in our conversation here but he was unable to do that at this time. We will continue our conversation and take lots of your calls when we return after this short break. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.
CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. My guest is Peter Callstrom. He’s executive director of the Regional Task Force on Homelessness. And we’re talking about the controversy surrounding some stickers on sale in Ocean Beach that say ‘Welcome to Ocean Beach, Please Don’t Feed Our Bums.’ We’re asking for you to weigh in on the controversy. 1-888-895-5727 is our number or you can go online, KPBS.org/thesedays. Let’s hear now from Steve calling from Ocean Beach. Good morning, Steve, and welcome to These Days.
STEVE (Caller, Ocean Beach): Morning, Maureen. I’ve called in there before. I’m a former homeless person in Ocean Beach who made it off the streets. I got clean. I got a lot of help from a lot of community resources like the Alpha Project, Father Joe, NA, Narcotics Anonymous, AA, and when I was homeless, I panhandled sometimes and I’m not proud to say I used the money to get loaded most of the time. So I don’t give the homeless money but I do give them food, and I tell them my story and how they can get off the street if they really want it bad enough. I agree aggressive panhandling is wrong. The police can deal with that. It hasn’t happened to me but I know people it has but the sticker is wrong. Two wrongs don’t make a right. It’s inhumane and dehumanizing and I find it very ironic that The Black, where I was able to purchase drug paraphernalia to help me escape my problems and books on how to cultivate and manufacture drugs and further my problems, these same kids can buy these items…
STEVE: …but The Black, rather than offer a solution, they’ve put out just this message of hate. I’ve spoken to them about it. They don’t care at this point. We’re going to try to turn that around. My God teaches me to love people and help people, those that are less fortunate. And a lot of people helped me and I just think that there’s a better way. I’m going to be out there feeding the homeless today. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to make it to the boycott but I’m in agreement with Frank and the gentleman that’s on the air now.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Steve. Thank you for your phone call. I appreciate it. Peter, I know that the Regional Taskforce on Homelessness has basically just completed their new survey, trying to count how many homeless there are in San Diego. What kind of results did you come up with?
CALLSTROM: The results that we’ve seen, the preliminary raw count, which is our one time in the year annual point in time count, happens on one day between a block of time between 4:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. where we have 400 volunteers who fan out around the county and count as best we can where we generally know folks who have been homeless, where they reside, so that we can get a good sense. And the results have shown an across the board increase of about 8%. Last year, it showed about 7900 people both on the street and in shelters, this year more like 8500. The biggest increase was in people who are on the street, and that number jumped from about 4000 to 4500, an increase of about 12 or 13%, and a little increase in those in shelters from about 3900 to about 4000, and that’s an increase of about 2 to 3%. It is certainly a reflection of our economic times, that with high unemployment and the challenges that we all face, more and more people who are at risk and are paycheck to paycheck, if they lose their job they have nowhere to go. And so more and more people have become homeless and more likely will until our economy comes around.
CAVANAUGH: Does the population who make up the homeless changing (sic)? The number of families, perhaps, or women and children?
CALLSTROM: We are seeing an increase in more youth and more families and seniors as well. The old stereotype of somebody just in their fifties, sixties and male on the street is no longer representative of who’s out there. It’s really across the board. We have an increase in families. And the great people at Father Joe’s Villages, for example, they have waiting lists. They can’t serve all the people that are in need. And there’s only so many families that they can serve so there’s wonderful people doing great services but there’s a need for more to be done because with more people in need, they have to have somewhere to go. And if the services like Alpha Project and Rescue Mission and others are tapped out, then they can only do so much and then people, in some cases, are going to end up on the street.
CAVANAUGH: Let’s take your call – some calls. A lot of people want to join the conversation at 1-888-895-5727 or you can go online, KPBS.org/thesedays. Susan is calling us from Ocean Beach. Good morning, Susan, and welcome to These Days.
SUSAN (Caller, Ocean Beach): Thank you. I’d like to just say from a business perspective that I feel like there’s been a loss of city resources to deal with the impact that the homeless population has on the businesses. And we’re faced every day on a daily basis with dealing with some of the consequences of having a large homeless population. For example, removing defecation off of buildings so that you can open your business, having homeless people that are passed out in the lawn area and trying to get them removed by the police so that you could have people come into your business. And I don’t feel like there’s been really any effort to try and mobilize any people to help us deal with some of the consequences of having this chronic homeless population living in Ocean Beach and which is perpetuated by having daily feeding programs. And so I don’t know that the sticker came so much out of, you know, hate for the people but I do think it reflects a general attitude with many of the business owners that feel like we don’t have the resources to cope with the effects of having this large homeless population in our community…
CAVANAUGH: Thank you.
SUSAN: …and the effects that it has on our day-to-day business operations.
CAVANAUGH: Gotcha, Susan. Thank you for the call. Let me ask you, Peter, you make the claim and Frank made the claim and obviously it’s true, that the City of San Diego, the County of San Diego, has not done everything that it could to support this increasing homeless population. But, indeed, what is the support for business owners, residents, who have to basically take up the slack, as it were, and deal with the effects of a chronic homeless population without any support from government?
CALLSTROM: That’s a great question because city resources are strapped. We know with the deficit that they face that they’re cutting in a lot of different areas and more services like this are leaner and leaner. So I would encourage Susan and others to, you know, reach out to their city council person and make it loud and clear what those needs are. Sometimes in our day-to-day frustration of dealing with it, we deal with it but then we’re not able to get the word out to those who really are responsible for doing something, so I really encourage them reaching out because it’s, I think, top of mind for many city council members. They really want to do something about this, and the more they hear of what the issues are and what the needs are going – what it’s going to take in order to correct some of these problems like Susan addressed, put it to where it can be dealt with, and that’s one important resource. Also as a whole community, I think Frank was talking about a community gathering that was going to take place to address this. So, you know, together we can brainstorm and find out what else can be done, what other social service providers may be able to do something to help out in the area to get folks off the street. There’s a variety of things that have to be done in order to solve this problem because as a business owner, I wouldn’t want to have to show up at my shop and have to deal with what she or others are dealing with just to open up business. So I would share that frustration but there’s ways to deal with it. And, of course, going back to the sticker, the sticker is not the way to deal with it.
CAVANAUGH: Robert’s calling us from Little Italy. Good morning, Robert. Welcome to These Days.
ROBERT (Caller, Little Italy): Good morning. What’s interesting here is that the only proponent I saw for the sticker was an employee of The Black, and he’s a lead singer in a band called Defamation League and they’re a very publicity intensive group, which is fine but it seems like they’re playing the media like a fiddle and it just seems like a big publicity stunt and they’re getting all the publicity they want. And I don’t see any groundswell of support for this. It just seems like this is a cute little scam by this headshop and you guys are eating it with a fork and spoon.
CAVANAUGH: Well, I hope that’s not – I hope, frankly, that is all it is, Robert. And – But apparently these stickers were seen on several street signs around Ocean Beach and, of course, the proprietor is now selling it on clothing as well. So do you think that, Peter, the media has been taken for a ride or, indeed, that there is a certain level of frustration in some areas about the number of homeless and the lack of city services?
CALLSTROM: Well, it’s an inflammatory sticker that gets attention, and things that are inflammatory get attention and they lead to media coverage. And I see it as an opportunity to turn this conversation into finding ways to make things better in this fight against homelessness because we’re all here trying to help folks get off the street because we all benefit. It’s not even just the moral imperative of serving people who are living in inhumane conditions but there’s an economic benefit to our whole community. The cost savings to our whole community when folks are off the street and not accessing emergency room services and a whole host of other public related services, we all then benefit. So there’s a lot of reasons for the fight against people on the street. And that’s – when I say fight against people, it’s not a fight against people or to demonize or to support any of that but to turn around homelessness because our longterm goal is an end to homelessness. That may seem far reaching but why not? Because across the country, it’s an enormous problem but there’s communities throughout the country who have very focused plans on how we can bring an end to homelessness. None of us like to see anyone on the street and we’d all love to put this in the past. And we may never get there completely but we can make a lot of headway if we all work together. So the media’s picked up on this but, so be it, but let’s turn it around and find better solutions so that we can make headway on this issue.
CAVANAUGH: Let me broaden the conversation for a moment because, as you say, there’s an increase in the homeless population. I know personally I’ve spoken with a lot of people, a lot of – we’ve seen homeless people, lots more homeless people carrying signs in medians around traffic stops…
CAVANAUGH: …and so forth, and people being solicited on the street for donations. Is – What do homeless advocates say? Should people give to homeless who are carrying signs and asking for money?
CALLSTROM: I can’t speak for all, again, but I would echo what even Steve said, the caller earlier who was homeless, and he says he doesn’t give money to those who are homeless but rather food. And I support that approach because who knows where that money is going and if we don’t give money to people who are panhandling then they don’t have that spot to go back to and they’re going to have to go and get services because there are great services, great feeding programs from Father Joe’s to Rescue Mission to many, many others who are doing great work, and that’s where folks need to go in order to make their path off the street as Steve did. He was homeless for some time but finally turned his life around and he credited Alpha and Father Joe’s and others for helping him do it. And so he got away from the drugs and the other things that led him to – or a part of his reason for being on the street but if he kept getting the money, he was getting loaded. And he’s just one. Not everybody out there’s getting loaded but if we feed people and support and enable them to get into permanent and supportive housing, that’s the solution. But more money, I think people, their hearts are in the right place but I don’t know if that money’s going to the right place.
CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Daniel is calling from San Diego. Good morning, Daniel. Welcome to These Days.
DANIEL (Caller, San Diego): Hi. Good morning. Thank you for taking my call. I guess I’m just tacking onto other comments about not enabling the homeless that are using either alcohol or cigarettes. I don’t personally any more, I don’t give money to homeless. I will give food. I bought groceries for a woman that was homeless with a child. And I guess rather than going against The Black, I want to have maybe the folks that are going there today, offer them an alternative slogan, perhaps another sticker that they could make instead of and it’s a slogan I thought of maybe 10 minutes ago, and ‘don’t give change, make change.’
DANIEL: I just wanted to maybe throw that out. And another idea I had was rather than giving change to the homeless, have the supermarkets, other stores that sell food, maybe produce a gift card that cannot be used for cigarettes or alcohol. You can purchase this card and, you know, when you see someone waiting and panhandling that’s hungry, well, give them this card rather than change that could be used for something else.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Daniel.
CALLSTROM: Great idea.
CAVANAUGH: I think we have time for one more call. And we’ll be going to Augusta calling from Rancho Santa Fe. Good morning, Augusta. Welcome to These Days.
AUGUSTA (Caller, Rancho Santa Fe): Thank you for the discussion. We need public bathrooms. Whether you’re poor, homeless, a tourist, a resident that’s shopping, you have to depend on the poor little shop owners for…
AUGUSTA: …a usable bathroom. It’s not fair. We need public bathrooms so people can have the dignity of going to the bathroom in decency. Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you.
CALLSTROM: That’s a great point. If I could just add, one group that’s been a big proponent of a public bathroom is the Girls Think Tank, a new organization in town. And they spoke at city council just earlier this week because there’s this public toilet called the Portland Loo and if you go in search of that one online, they’ve got this great loo that is able to be put in various locations so that people are not defecating where we don’t want them to or having to use store owners’ restrooms but rather a public restroom that is clean and accessible. And so Girls Think Tank, check them out. They’re doing a lot of great work as well trying to address public cleanliness and that particular issue, and I wholeheartedly support that.
CAVANAUGH: And, Peter, just quickly in closing, you mentioned something earlier about where we are in the City of San Diego in moving forward towards a permanent homeless shelter.
CAVANAUGH: You mentioned something coming up in July.
CALLSTROM: The Land Use and Housing Committee of the city council will be meeting again to review the work that has been done to potentially renovate the World Trade Center site on Sixth Avenue and make that into a one-stop shop that would have healthcare and employment services and a mixture of temporary and permanent housing for people who are homeless. And it would house about 225 in different ways. It’s not enough but it’s a step in the right direction because the folks like Father Joe’s who have many beds as well, they are striving to do more because, again, there’s a great need downtown. But as the city council members have stated, and Todd Gloria in particular, the chair of that Land Use and Housing Committee, this is one step, this is one part of the solution, and Kevin Faulconer as well, they want to see a regional solution. So if it goes forward with the World Trade Center site, okay, that’s a step in the right direction but that’s 225. We have, as we know, 4000 people at least…
CALLSTROM: …on the streets in our county and so we need to do more, so this has to be a regional solution and a lot more work has to be done. But stay tuned because in July it’s going to be an interesting city council committee because then if they vote on that and approve it, it goes to full city council for action.
CAVANAUGH: Right. Peter, thank you so much.
CALLSTROM: Thank you, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: I’ve been speaking with Peter Callstrom, executive director of the Regional Task Force on Homelessness. Earlier, we spoke with Frank Gromlie – I’m sorry, yeah, Gormlie, sorry, editor, publisher and blogger for the OB Rag. If you would like to comment on what you’ve heard today, KPBS.org/thesedays. Coming up, the San Diego races that are still too close to call. That’s as These Days continues here on KPBS.