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Roundtable: Housing Commission, El Cajon Gets Tough, Child Sex Trafficking, Sex Workers’ Lawsuit

Housing Commission, El Cajon Homeless, Child Sex Trafficking, Sex Worker Lawsuit

PANEL

James DeHaven, Watchdog & data reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune

Susan Murphy, reporter, KPBS News

Kristina Davis, crime & public safety reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune

Dana Littlefield, editor, crime and courts, The San Diego Union-Tribune

Transcript

THE HOUSING COMMISSION'S BIG STASH

The Story

Steep rents, increasing homelessness, and a hepatitis A outbreak have combined to light a fire under San Diego's mayor and city council and produce some movement to address these problems.

But the San Diego Housing Commission is sitting on $278 million in cash and assets - $61 million of which is already committed - and facing calls to spend the remainder.

The agency has responded to critics, saying one-third of those funds, collected from developers, although reported as unrestricted, have been promised to unfinished development projects.

The agency has failed to reach its rental housing target for the last five years, in spite of increasing revenue.

The Housing Commission says it takes years for developers to round-up financing, and, until they do, the money pledged by the agency stays on the books.

The agency could make grants instead of loans but is concerned that it would lose any claim to the property if a developer defaults.

The Discussion.

-Is the slow pace of disbursement of housing funds due to city policies and rules? Lack of housing stock to spend funds on?

-Is there a lack of consensus on permanent versus temporary housing? Could that lead to indecision on what to do with the funds?

EL CAJON CRACKS DOWN ON HOMELESS

The Story

It's now pretty much illegal to be homeless in El Cajon.

In a city with a 24 percent poverty rate and with more than 300 people living on the streets, serving meals to groups of homeless people in parks and other public spaces is now against the law, as are panhandling, sleeping on the sidewalk and setting up encampments.

The tough restrictions are part of the city’s strategy to combat homelessness and hepatitis A. Homeless people argue the measures are uncompassionate and cruel.

El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells argues that giving money or serving free meals to the homeless will foster more drug use and lead to the spread of disease.

Wells notes the city is spending more money on housing and shelters. It wants the homeless to take advantage of these services. To do so, they must refrain from drugs and alcohol.

The Discussion

-Isn't El Cajon's approach the antithesis of the more current "housing first," which gets people into housing and then addresses their problems?

-What happens to the homeless who get caught up in the city's tough new crackdown? Are they jailed?

FBI PRIORITIZING TIJUANA CHILD SEX TRAFFIC

The Story

The FBI is renewing its efforts to stop sex trafficking of children in Mexico - with the help of Mexican authorities.

In the past six months, San Diego agents have investigated three to four cases of adults traveling to Tijuana to have sex with minors.

Agents recently arrested men from Studio City under the 2003 PROTECT Act. The law makes it illegal in the U.S. to travel across state or foreign boundaries intending to have sex with a person under 18.

Recently a new court was created here to intervene in the lives of traumatized victims of child sex trafficking. The court, called RISE (Resiliency is Strength and Empowerment), provides skills, mentoring, treatment, and education. The first group of children chosen for the program will appear in court November 6. The goal is to eventually have 40 enrollees.

The Discussion

-How big a problem is child sex trafficking in Tijuana?

-Does the U.S. court bring the children to San Diego for rehabilitation?

Related: 'Brand new, recently stolen': Inside Tijuana's sex tourism trade of young children

Related: Special court seeks to aid teen sex-trafficking victims with support and rehabilitation

SEX-WORKER LAWSUIT

The Story

A case pending in federal court is challenging a much-amended 1872 California anti-prostitution law.

H. Louis Serkin, the attorney for a sex workers' advocacy group, says the law violates protections of freedom of speech, freedom of association and due process.

The 2015 lawsuit was tossed out of court, and a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard the appeal last month.

Serkin says the case is not about sex trafficking or the exploitation of minors. It is, he says, about consenting adults who want to be in the business of sex for hire. He cited the U.S. Supreme Court 2003 ruling which struck down Texas’s sodomy law as a precedent.

California says it has the right to regulate commercial transactions, like prostitution.

The Discussion

  • Does this appeal really have a chance?
  • What is the free speech claim all about?

Related: Will a federal court strike down California's anti-prostitution law?

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