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Advocates Call On San Diego Mayor To Take Action On Homelessness

Steph Johnson speaks at a rally where she and other advocates for the homeles...

Photo by Jean Guerrero

Above: Steph Johnson speaks at a rally where she and other advocates for the homeless submitted a petition to San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, calling for an end to ticketing and humanitarian action to house the street population, Jan. 3, 2017.

A petition containing more than 1,100 signatures calling for the city of San Diego to stop penalizing the homeless was submitted to Mayor Kevin Faulconer Tuesday.

A petition containing more than 1,100 signatures calling for the city of San Diego to stop penalizing the homeless was submitted Tuesday to Mayor Kevin Faulconer.

The petition requests "emergency action" to suspend the citing, arresting and issuance of stay-away orders to unsheltered residents, said Steph Johnson, a musician who helped organize the signature drive.

She said more signatures are being added, so the total will grow.

"It was a grassroots effort that happened over the holidays and it's continuing," Johnson said outside the mayor's office.

The mayor's office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Stacie Spector, Faulconer's senior adviser for housing solutions, later issued a statement saying that she's "very appreciative" of the community's passion in support of the unsheltered.

"This is a growing concern that we share and city staff are working diligently every day to ensure services and beds are made available to homeless individuals," Spector said. "Mayor Faulconer has made addressing homelessness a top priority and plans to discuss solutions at next week's State of the City address."

The address is scheduled for Jan. 12.

Johnson said the city needs to provide homeless people with safe and affordable housing alternatives rather than punish them for being on the streets. She said temporary shelters aren't a solution because they aren't always available.

"In a city that has this much money, it is wrong," she said.

Johnson added that the city should consider allowing so-called "tiny houses" to be placed on empty lots, and providing better training for law enforcement who deal with the homeless.

"We're ready for real solutions," Johnson said.

She said city officials need to put a higher priority on the issue because homelessness is increasingly being noticed by "shocked" visitors, which could impact tourism.

RELATED: As City Leaders Are Sworn In, Homeless Choir Urges End To Ticketing Street Population

Johnson, a singer and guitarist, formed and directs a choir made up of homeless people called Voices of Our City, which is designed to focus attention on the issue.

The choir performed at a press conference about the petition, and some of the singers spoke.

"My wife and I are homeless and it's no fun, I just hope there's some action that can be done to help everybody," said James Freeman, a member of the choir.

Other activist leaders, such as Martha Sullivan of Women Occupy San Diego, also spoke.

"We need to treat homelessness as the man-made disaster that it is, not a crime," she said.

Lori Saldaña, a former Democratic Assemblywoman, described the "criminalization" of homeless people as "frankly wrong and immoral." She urged the mayor to implement the petition.

Another speaker was Shane Harris, founder of the National Action Network. He said 19 percent of San Diego County's homeless population is black, compared with only five percent of its general population.

"We need to grow, and the only we grow is by really being America's finest city, not just talking the talk but walking the walk," Harris said. "Be fine. Stand up and do something about the homeless issue in our city. And stop snatching tents from those in our streets. We have got to serve them, not push them aside."

Suzanne Morse of Heartfelt Voices United said many of San Diego's homeless are women fleeing domestic violence and that police shouldn't be targeting them.

"This is unacceptable," she said. "You are victimizing the victims, it must stop."

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