City Council Rejects Plan for Homeless Shelter
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September 25, 2009 – City Council members were unable to agree on a location for a homeless shelter site for the winter.
Related story: Finding A Site For Winter Homeless Shelter In S.D.
PENNER: ACORN's clients are the poor and the under-served, but on the very bottom rung are the homeless people who populate San Diego's streets. More than four thousand of them in the city alone, they are a problem still waiting for a solution. So let's talk about that solution. Ricky, last week the city council rejected a winter homeless shelter site downtown. Why? YOUNG (San Diego Union Tribune): Well, councilman Kevin Faulconer, who represents the area, took a stand against having the shelter in his district again, he said it was unfair to his constituence basically to have that. He did point out thats he's in favor of eventual location of a permanent homeless facility in his district, but for this year he thinks that the shelter should go somewhere else. This caused the mayor to say the council went ahead and agreed with Faulconer, ok not downtown, but they didn't offer another location. This caused the mayor to ask each of them to offer up a site in their districts. Which none of them did. So, this morning as you know, Gloria, we reported that the mayor is going to pick sites for them in each of their districts to move the conversation along. PENNER: But isn't that more of a gesture than anything else? I mean, he can pick a site in the districts but it's still the council-members who have to say yea or nay. WARREN: He brings it to them for a vote, and in effect he forces them to take a vote on that which they wouldn't take an action on voluntarily. So we will get them on the record in terms of what his sights are, and they will have to defend their votes whether it's for inclusion or exclusion from their respective districts. PENNER: Alright. So I want to stick with this just for a second. John, nobody came up with any sites. In fact, council president Ben Hueso didn't even respond. I mean, was that good politics or bad politics? Warren: Well it depends on where you sit from the council president's standpoint. If he's running for office and he thinks that he might alienate some future votes in terms of his assembly race, then it's probably good for him to wait till he actually has to take a vote. On the other hand we had Marti Emerald who said she had identified three sites but wouldn't name them. So everyone else could have said they've identified sites and did not name them, and then we had Tony Young suggest that we just give a voucher to people. But where would they take the voucher? Not every hotel or motel would be forced to accept them. PENNER: I want to talk about that voucher program in a little bit. That certainly takes the ohness away from city council members. You say give out the vouchers, if there are empty hotel rooms then the homeless can go spend the night in a hotel or the whole winter in a hotel. YOUNG: Well, part of his thinking there is that every night is not so cold that they need a shelter, and the vouchers could just be given out on nights when they do need a shelter. Some of his forecasts for how cold it gets I think were a little off. But that was one solution put forward by the council. A lot of them also suggested sites outside their district. But I think we're looking at a lot of this politically, but the fact is there's going to be hundreds of people who have nowhere to sleep during some pretty cold nights here in the coming months. PENNER: Only hundreds? YOUNG: Well, you're right - thousands. And as some of the advocates told us, you can look at it as an imbiant issue, but who - that is not in my backyard - would prefer homeless people in their backyard not in a shelter versus in a shelter? PENNER: You know, what amazes me is that council member Faulconer, who represents the downtown area, I mean when you walk downtown at night you see homeless people lined up on the sidewalks, wrapped in blankets, rags, papers, what have you. People have to be concerned about walking along the sidewalks and seeing this sight. Isn't it better to put them in a shelter rather than having them lining the sidewalks? WARREN: Well it is better to put them in a shelter, but we've got to look at the numbers here. According to the regional task force on the homeless, a 2008 profile, there's 7,500 homeless people in San Diego. PENNER: Thats the whole region? WARREN: The whole region. And we're talking about perhaps 4,000 downtown. But if you go downtown and you walk you see a sight that is very disturbing, as you said, for instance in front of the library. People are lined up because there are lights there. They're sleeping in groups in terms of safety. There are all kinds of issues that take place. We need a permanent homeless shelter just as they have in Oakland and other cities, but we're not moving yet in that direction. PENNER: In all these years though, John, I mean you've been around for years, I've been around for years, why is it still a problem? WARREN: Because it's a seasonal, cyclical issue and we don't deal with it until we actually face what the coldness - if you look back at it. We act like it's going to go away and it's not. PENNER: I found another interesting suggestion from our first district's council-person, Sherri Lightner, La Jolla area. She says sue the county. YOUNG: She had a very thoughtful memo in response to the mayor. Seven of the council members responded, as you said, Ben Hueso the president of the council did not. But among her many suggestions of things to do about homelessness was to sue the county, to stand up and meet their responsibilities. Now, the county says providing housing for the homeless is not their responsibility. But I do think the whole thing started an interesting discussion among the council and the mayor and the county. PENNER: Well thank you very much, Ricky Young, and John Warren.