Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
KPBS Midday Edition

San Diego Rescue Mission CEO To Retire At The End Of June

Herb Johnson, president and CEO of the San Diego Rescue Mission is shown in this photo. September 2014.
San Diego Rescue Mission
Herb Johnson, president and CEO of the San Diego Rescue Mission is shown in this photo. September 2014.

After more than 10 years as the head of the San Diego Rescue Mission, president and CEO Herb Johnson is stepping down.

RELATED: New Children’s Center Keeps Homeless Toddlers Off San Diego’s Streets

Johnson's retirement will be effective at the end of June, but he will continue to work as a part-time consultant.

San Diego Rescue Mission CEO To Retire At The End Of June

The Rescue Mission, which relies on private donations, is one of the region’s largest homeless providers. It offers a variety of programs including transitional housing, job training and an emergency shelter for women and children. It also runs a preschool for homeless toddlers.

Johnson discusses Thursday on Midday Edition, some of his major accomplishments and how San Diego's homeless crisis has evolved over the years.

San Diego Rescue Mission CEO To Retire At The End Of June
Rescue Mission CEO To Retire At The End of June GUEST: Herb Johnson, president/CEO, San Diego Rescue Mission

The rescue mission is a reliable source of help the homeless. The organization offers overnight emergency shelter for single women and has a one-year program for men and women to help them transition into housing. Herb Johnson has led the rescue mission for more than a decade and he is retiring. Thank you so much for joining us. Thank you for having us over expect you have been with the rescue mission, why did you decide to step aside? Back I hit a lot of age brackets. It is time to move on. It has been a great run. This is not a 40 an hour week job on its best week. I think we hit the markers that I would like to hit. I would like to do something more quiet and requires less time. I am going to consult back to the mission part-time for six months my final day is June 30th. My wife and I will go back to Boston and visit with our kids and then come back and put things back together. Nice. How did the mission get started? How has it changed that you have been on the job? It has a history that is nearly 63 years. It is a spiritual mission for people who are in long-term programs and a are required to go to chapel twice a day. You are not forced to jump up and down and seeing or praise but you have to be there. I explained to people, we have juice -- agnostics and Muslims and long-term projects, they go to chapel twice a day. You have been there for more than a decade. There is a lot of talk about the homeless but how have you seen the homeless situation change that you started? It is frustrating. The mission has been celebrating the Sunday after Halloween, individual to commemorate the people who have died on the streets of San Diego. About five years ago, one of those who died was a child under the age of one. In the 40s or so, a few years ago, it took off and now is up running 120 a year. It is not easy living on the street. It is dangerous and it is not easy to get off the streets when you land there. I was going to ask you when you look at the causes, the people that are living on the street and in the canyon, what would you say are the people that you meet are the main causes? The statistics will show you that 40% to 60% is alcohol or drug related or mental health issues. And each of those cases, there is something, whether it is an addiction or the capability to make sound decisions, people do not want to come in off the streets. Where the eighth largest city in the country and we have a largest homeless population. We are number 17 on the HUD list for many. Our continuum have care has gotten smarter and how they approach getting money from the federal government but let me tell you, we need a solution that is not on the table. Current methods will not get us out of this trouble. We need a dramatic change in how we approach getting people off the street but I have not seen it yet. That is a serious message. If you were in charge of the world, what would you say needs to happen to take care this? We have to find space warehousing can be built. Nobody wants to be homeless. Believe me. The rescue mission knows that. We bought the old Harborview hospital and spent two years and $2 million and litigating against the neighbors who did not want us there. The PostScript is the neighbors love us now. The people who sued us our donors now. They really care about us because we have done a good job but nobody wants to hundred homeless people living next door. The city has to get over that. That is a good example about what can happen if people stereotypes get challenged. Coming, what do you think is the best way for organizations who are working to challenge the stereotypes? We work hard to not have loitering outside our building. Right now, up for clock or 5:00 -- for clock or -- 4:00 or 5:00, you might see the stream in the afternoon but other than that, there is no homeless people wandering around and there were no cages and loitering. The neighbors know we will enforce the standards. That hasn't happened where the city will build them. People do not have faith that they know how to do that. What would you say is the thing you are most proud of of your time at the rescue mission? The greatest thing I've had is that we have increased the programs that we have there. We have a gala -- it is a fundraiser. I am going to raise -- I hope between $200,000 to $300,000 to perpetuate our programs. College programs are coming in teaching inside our organization. We will double the size of the children center which is the first of its kind, a center for homeless preschoolers. Leads to -- lead San Diego did a great survey and we were able to open the school for 14 kids who never get to go to school until first grade. The housing stock is so dramatically changing that they do not put kids in school because they can move back and forth across district lines. When those kids get to school, every child in the class has been to school for three years, whether Headstart or preschool and those kids never catch up. Eventually, they get so far behind that ninth grade, they are discipline problems and they turn out of the system. I am not making this up. We have the numbers to show that is the truth. By taking these kids for a couple of years in preschool and our school is going into the third year, we have two years of experience. Those kids who start with us in the first two years went to first grade this year. Every single one of them, they were reading at level and they were riding at level and they were socialized at level. You are breaking the cycle. I think education not only for the young kids but also for the adult clients is one way out. It may not be the only way but it is a tool that we used to prepare life for these people you have to go out and become accountable to society expect we do we know who will lead the rescue mission? I know but I cannot tell. We will announced next week. The person has been selected and it will be in place by mid July. Thank you so much for everything that you have done. Thank you for having us. God bless you