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Father Joe’s Walks For Homeless Awareness

Reported by Nic Mcvicker

San Diego has the fourth largest homeless population in the nation. It’s a persistent problem that’s been characterized as a crisis. This week, Father Joe’s Villages organized “A Short Walk Home.” It’s a 2 mile walk to raise money for homeless services.

Deacon Jim Vargas, CEO of Father Joe’s Villages, joined KPBS anchor Ebone Monet to talk about the walk, and the homeless crisis in San Diego.

Q: So what makes this walk different?

A: It's the only such walk in San Diego. This is a very informal and casual walk. It's very pet friendly, very kid friendly, and we invite the whole family to come out. It's a 2K. It's very easily done. But most importantly it raises awareness here in San Diego of the crisis, as you mentioned, that we have here in San Diego and that's the homeless crisis, which is very much a shelter and housing crisis. We just don't have enough shelter and housing for those who are on the streets.

Q: Why is it so important to keep this conversation going and at the forefront of people's minds?

A: In a great city like ours it's a travesty to have people on the streets suffering. It affects them personally, but it also affects the community at large. It affects us economically and otherwise. I mean tourism is very important to us, right? It behooves us as a community to tackle this issue of homelessness. Then there's the moral aspect of it. How can we as a society, a great society like ours, really tolerate those who are suffering on the streets with or without lending a hand to help them up from their situation and help them to become self-sufficient?

Q: What's the significance of the large door at the finish line of the walk?

A: It's what we want for each and every single one of our clients. We want them to be walking through the threshold of their own doorway in their own apartments and units. Each participant of the walk on Saturday will end the walk by walking through this large, giant doorway.

Q: There's also a tie between homelessness and mental health. Could the homeless population, most of the people who've been impacted by homelessness, could they simply just be given a home and that be the remedy?

A: The remedy is not just a home. It's very complex, because we human beings are complex. There are many reasons why people fall into homelessness. There are economic reasons. I mean the economy may be doing well and it is, generally, but if you ask those people on the streets how they're feeling about the economy, they're feeling so great about it. As the economy economy gets better, as an example, rents go up. That impacts those who are hanging on by their fingernails, in a sense, and they fall onto the streets.

There's mental health issues. We know that a great portion of those who are on the streets have some level of mental health issues and challenges. We have Father Joe's Village. We have our health center that focuses on behavioral, on primary care, on dental care as well and substance disorder. Employment is another aspect of it. There's so many aspects to Father Joe's villages and it's all for the purposes of helping people off the streets and becoming self-sustaining.

Of course, yes, housing is a big piece of it. Shelter is just getting them off the streets in the immediacy. We can have all the shelters in the world, but if we don't have enough housing at the back end then people will fall back onto the streets.

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