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Three Grand Civic Projects With Room For The Homeless

Pigeons feed on scraps of a pizza as a homeless person looks for food in a trash can.
David McNew
Pigeons feed on scraps of a pizza as a homeless person looks for food in a trash can.

As I’m writing this, an online news item tells me that two meetings are about to take place in San Diego to discuss what might be in the city’s future. One deals with municipal bankruptcy. That’s not my subject today. The other envisions three new municipal developments – huge, luxurious, and paid for by public funds. That interests me since those are the same three proposals that could provide the answer to San Diego’s growing homeless problem.

The numbers shift from article to article and from report to report. But it is clear that in the last few years, thousands more have only the streets to call home. In San Diego, those streets might sustain existence because our climate is so mild. But we do experience wetter, cooler weather for perhaps two or three months starting in December.

Compared to other parts of the country, our winter is pleasant. But sleeping outdoors in rain with no shelter is torment. Yet, that’s what hundreds, perhaps thousands, of human beings in San Diego must do. It has to be a nightmare for them.

And it was a nightmare reading how each San Diego City Council member was unable to suggest a location for even a temporary winter shelter for the unfortunate homeless men and women military veterans, unemployed mothers and fathers with their children, and senior citizens who have swelled the street- dwelling population. Although there are organizations that provide transitional or emergency shelter, most have long waiting lists or are simply full -- too many people for too many facilities.

So it’s clear that it’s time to create a permanent facility that’s large enough to house our un-sheltered residents and the support services needed to help them get their lives back. Over the years, countless dollars and time have been spent on organizing committees and plans and personnel. And the problem is still here and increasing. Now, it’s past time for action.

Political Analysis: Housing The Homeless In San Diego
Possible locations for a permanent homeless shelter are working their way through San Diego city government. KPBS Political Correspondent Gloria Penner has a few suggestions to add to the mix.

So, here’s the idea. Select one of those three grand civic projects that have been proposed and are now being discussed and promoted by city leaders, and immediately include a permanent section for the homeless in the architectural plans. The pricey expansion of the Convention Center is supposed to generate additional tax revenues for critical city services. What is more critical than sheltering human beings? Or perhaps the $432 million City Hall Complex would be a better fit.

As Councilman Tony Young said, “This is a great time to show vision.” So how about a vision for the homeless, especially since we taxpayers will be footing the bill. The project still needs multiple approvals. But more than $700,000 is being spent right now on negotiations with a developer.

And finally, there’s that long-considered downtown library which started out costing $185 million. Now the construction is estimated at upwards of $200 million. Its location would be perfect at Park Boulevard and 11th Street. Space has been considered there for a high school, which may or may not be needed. Why not tack on another few million dollars and outfit one floor for the homeless, assuming that any of it is affordable? Additionally, all that internet capability could help the jobless in their employment searches.

For those who doubt city leaders would seriously consider those new Taj Mahals as suitable, I ask, what is suitable or even acceptable about walking near the Civic Center after nightfall? There you must find a path between people whose reclining bodies border the curbs and the buildings as they bed down on city streets for a few safe hours in full view of passers-by, an experience that turns many visitors and residents away from downtown. As the homeless numbers continue climbing, the cost to businesses and government will be dismaying. There has to be another way and perhaps the permanent shelter in San Diego’s future public buildings is exactly what is needed.