Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

KPBS Midday Edition

Rescue Mission Hosts 9th Annual Sleepless San Diego

Rescue Mission Hosts 9th Annual Sleepless San Diego
Rescue Mission Hosts 9th Annual Sleepless In San Diego GUESTS: Herb Johnson, president/CEO, San Diego Rescue Mission Dolores Diaz, executive director, San Diego County Regional Task Force

No single population is more susceptible to a super El Niño in San Diego than the homeless. The annual sleepless San Diego event takes place this weekend. Hundreds of people are expected to's spend the night outside at liberty station to experience just a bit of what it is like for thousands of homeless people every night here this is the ninth year of sleepless San Diego coordinator by the San Diego rescue Mission. A lot has happened in San Diego's response to homelessness during that time period we will get an update on the city's new shelter on the homeless as well as plans being developed to help protect homeless people from El Niño rains here joining me are Herb Johnson, president/CEO, San Diego Rescue Mission, and welcome her. Dolores Diaz is executive director with the San Diego regional task force on the homeless, welcome Dolores. , Can you describe how the volunteers spend their nights of sleepless in San Diego. Sleepless is an event we built about nine years ago. It is not a fundraiser. We cover our overhead. It is an awareness program to let the community really get a look at what homelessness is about and how pervasive this chronic disease is. It is not as easy as it looks. People see panhandlers and they think that they are there because they want to be there. Despite the fact that we tell them this is not an opportunity to emulate homelessness, because with Starbucks coffee and food and a five-hour stage show. It is just for people to say, I'm not going to sleep in my bed tonight. I am going to spend some time and think about it. Part of the five-hour show is we show some poignant videos. We are looking to have 1000 people out there on Saturday night and were hoping to have between 400 and 500 kids sleepover. We get the cardboard and he built shelters. We have about 20 interactive booths for them to go to. We have a lot of homeless providers like the hot team, family health centers, that's another organization that has joined along with us. The kids have to go through each booth and get a passport work It is a learning experience. We has the news stories, Herb, about an increase in homelessness about people sleeping outside unsheltered in the last year. Has that been in your -- has that been your experience in the rescue shelter? Dolores can talk more about the cow after first of the year, but I have one barometer, on 1 November we do a vigil every year, the first Sunday after Halloween, to commemorate the people who died on the street to San Diego. Those but numbers have been running in the high 40s or 50s on an annual basis. This year the number is 90. 90 from 51 last year. So something is going on. We will have that walking I people come out and join us. We will step off from the rescue mission about three clock on November 1 we make two stops and March to the County building where we have a pair shoes for every person who died with the toe tags on them. We will read all of the names and ring a bell and will have some speakers. Its accumulated -- it's a good meeting for us to say that we recognize homelessness as a serious problem. Dolores there was a significant number in the unsheltered homeless people from the last point count in January, is that right? We did have an increase. I can tell you that in 2015, over 5500 homeless persons were counted in the people of San Diego sheltered and unsheltered and about 2700, a little over actually, were unsheltered. At me why, what is the homeless population? Antiwhite it is about 8700. We convalescent phase of January every year. About half of those are out in the elements in places not meant for human habitation. The city of San Diego inaugurated a new permanent homeless shelter the so -- the summer. Is operated by the St. Vincent and Paul. Does it help? We spend a lot of time talking about how we can collaborate. I think it does work the problem with a rescue mission is we are pretty much at capacity every night. That's what I was going to ask you. We do not have a lot of expansion where Auburn by our conditional use permit. We do have an envelope of 20 -- the biggest point where we touch that population is the wave of you haven -- is Nueava Haven where we begin 60 mothers and children every night. Every night. That is the saddest thing about America's finest city. But during the bad weather, we have an opportunity to increase it for special needs for up to 20 more beds. In bad weather, we will be putting in Apple house in that place all the way straight through this winter. I know that your Will kind of resources does it need to offer meaningful resources to the people on the streets? It's not just a bed, right? Our program, 85% of the people who are there for 12 to 18 months changing their lives. They are heavily affected by marriage and family therapy that we have built into the program our motto is that we change lives and that is our intent. Now Dolores, San Diego County just released $1 million to build supportive housing for homeless people who are seriously mentally ill. What percentage of the homeless to have serious mental health issues? Of course during the point in Time count, a lot of this is self-reported. We believe the number is significantly higher, about 80% of those that are unsheltered allege or say or self disclose that they suffer from serious mental issues. There is another almost equal percentage that suffers from just general substance abuse. We believe those numbers are significantly higher because these are of course self-reported numbers. The numbers I have seen is between 20% and 30%. That is very possible. What I am trying to get at is the city is a vehicle and the County of San Diego are trying and publicly trying to try with the permanent shelter in the city with this new supportive housing in the county, to try and address the needs of the homeless population, that I have her critics say that this is sort of a drop in the bucket. I would like to get your take, because I know both of you work so closely in this. Dolores what do you think? I want to highlight the fact that the city in the county is doing everything possible within their limitations to deal with this issue. Million dollars is a fun -- million dollars -- $10 million is phenomenal. They don't provide services for just the homeless. They do phenomenal work trying to balance all of this across the region. They partner with the city of San Diego with the San Diego housing commission, and providing vouchers and matching vouchers with mental health services, but clearly it is not enough. This region, we do have a problem on homelessness. We are hoping that we will be able to get improve numbers and our count for 2016, but that is yet to be seen. Both Dolores and I participate on a regional continuing with care, for me that is more bringing our organization into the hope process. We do not accept any public funds. I have nothing to gain by being on that board. What it does do, it ties us together in a way so we can share implementations, we can share good news and we can share bad news. The numbers are kind of daunting and that is Dolores's department, but what happens if the city has done a really good job. I think they take a lot of beating over the fact that there are still homeless people, but under Todd Flores leadership, the regional continuum has done a good job. And the county is manning up to. Nick Maggio does a lot of work. They are really trying to the problem with the homeless population is about every three years it seems to more it is that it seems to morph into something else. We are seeing more mental illness, and we haven't RC an and and RCU unit. Those beds are full all the time. Dolores, if we get the El Niño that is being predicted this year, what are your concerns about people who are living unsheltered? Clearly we have a lot of vulnerable people. They have physical illnesses and air out in the elements. This is evidenced by the number that Herb just talked about about people who are dying on the streets. All of our service providers are deeply concerned about the unsheltered people during this period whether the weather is nice or not, but when it gets bad, they huddle and they try to work on solutions. How can they get the most people out of the elements into their facilities? I know those plans are currently underway because our providers know that we are expecting some bad weather. Are there plans -- their plans this typically targeting areas -- are there plans -- are their plans specifically targeting areas? No matter what our plans are, there are still going to be people looking for places to get out of the elements. That may be unfortunately under a bridge, or in other places because they cannot get into the facilities. As her site, they are full. Herb, are you able to make any El Niño plans for perhaps an increase in need over this winter? We always have some capacity that is not taken. We're going to push our numbers this year. We will not violate any of my conditional you standards, but I can tell you that one of the rules of the San Diego rescue Mission is that we will never turn a mother and child away after dark. We are the only emergency shelter that those intakes in the evening. We get to a point where we have to say that with singles away and send them to other programs. We always try to find a space for mothers and children. Are you cordoning at all with the city on what is going to be happening this winter with El Niño X We are proud of that. Even though our best circles down pretty much most of the time. With dissipate every time there is a weather alert or an El Niño alert we do everything we can to increase our population. Dolores, in preparing for this, I read reports that say homeless people are coming to San Diego because of the resources available here and the great weather. Since we are having a problem with both of them, is there any chance that we may see a decrease in the homeless population? I am hoping that we will see a decrease in the home yellows -- in the homeless population as a continuing due to what we have done and the increases that we've made in the homeless for veterans. But the data does not really show that the homeless, that people are coming or flocking to San Diego because there are services. The data does not really tell us that. We are going to hone in on some of those questions during the 2016 survey to find out more information, but at this time the data does not support that. I also wanted to ask you as well, housing first mandates that many of the agencies use now to place homeless people in housing in an apartment and get them stabilize, and then begin whatever rehab that needs to be undertaken, that has come up against a problem because there are so few available housing units. That is absolutely correct. Every program can, and we are working closely with the continuum, can have a cow -- can have a housing first labor, and the continuum is working to identify what programs have barriers, maybe we can reduce those so we can get people from the street to permanent housing as quickly as possible. Sometimes they may need a little bit more help and need to be in some kind of bridge housing for sure -- for a short period of time. That we are working on aggressively so we can have that period be as short as possible and get folks into permanent housing. Housing first works. There is a lot of research and evidence that shows that. Back to sleepless San Diego, finally, Herb, what are you hoping that the people who participate in the event take away from it? At the end of the evening, if people have a better understanding of just how difficult it is to be homeless and that everybody that is out there is not out there because it is an easier lifestyle, there are a lot of people that just made a few mistakes. You never know when you are in a room full of people who is either homeless or nearly homeless. Almost every single family has a family member, a son, a brother, a child, who is experiencing this terrible situation. We try to have a fun evening with the music, but it is an awareness program for us. If people want to join in and come part of sleepless in San Diego you can go to to take part in that event this Saturday and Sunday at union station. I do talking to her Johnson San Diego rescue Mission and Dolores Diaz with the San Diego regional task force. Thank you both very much. Thank you.

Sleepless San Diego

When: Oct. 10-11

Where: Liberty Station


About 9,000 people in San Diego County have no place to call home and are living on the streets or in shelters.

Hundreds of San Diegans are expected to sleep outside Saturday night to get a taste of what it's like for the homeless. The ninth annual Sleepless San Diego event will also provide information about homelessness.


"It's not a fundraiser," Herb Johnson, president of the San Diego Rescue Mission, told KPBS Midday Edition on Thursday. "It's an awareness program."

Johnson said there are misconceptions about homelessness and the event will provide information about what it's like. The event will include video screenings, interactive booths and information from homeless service providers.

This year, advocates are especially worried about El Nino's effects on the homeless.

"We've got a lot of vulnerable people that have physical illnesses," Dolores Diaz, executive director of the San Diego County Regional Task Force on the Homeless, said. "All of our service providers have deep concerns about the unsheltered homeless."

Diaz said providers, including the Rescue Mission, are examining ways to house more people as they prepare for the storm.


"We're going to push our numbers this year," Johnson said. "We'll try always to find space."

Rescue Mission Hosts 9th Annual Sleepless San Diego