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San Diego Councilman Calls For Homeless State Of Emergency; Mayor Calls On County To Respond

Encampments constructed by homeless people stretch down 17th Street in San Diego's East Village, July 6, 2017.
Susan Murphy
Encampments constructed by homeless people stretch down 17th Street in San Diego's East Village, July 6, 2017.
San Diego Councilman Calls For Homeless State Of Emergency; Mayor Calls On County To Respond
Councilman Calls For City Homeless State Of Emergency; Mayor Calls On County To Respond GUEST: David Alvarez, councilman, City of San Diego

Our top story on midday addition: a hepatitis A outbreak has brought sickness and in some cases death to hundreds of San Diego's homeless. It is also sparked the controversy among San Diego city leaders. David Alvarez has called on the mayor to declare state of emergency on homelessness to allow the city to speed up the process of opening city buildings as temporary homeless shelters. Mayor Faulkner's office says there has are to been an emergency declaration on homelessness and the city is working closely with County health officials to combat the hepatitis A outbreak. Joining me is Councilman David Alvarez. Welcome to the program. Spectare to be here.What exactly tran9Great to be here.What you this will entail?People are dying. 15 death on the streets primarily homeless individuals. I think one death is tragic that 15 in my mind is definitely an emergency. Hepatitis A is a preventable infection. The fact that you don't see this in a first world country, you see this in Third World countries and it is happening in our streets of San Diego. The fact that Downtown San Diego has been declared as a contaminated site by the County of San Diego and that they are calling on some pretty intense measures to clean up downtown, to use bleach to watch the streets -- wash the streets, to open up every single bathroom available. I think that speaks to the emergency that we are at at this point. The fact of the matter is individuals don't have a safe place to be. They are being put in danger. Right now it is centered around the homeless population, but this quite easily could become a problem for the at-large population in San Diego. That is why this is an emergency today.How do you see the ability to open up public buildings to shelter homeless people? How do you see that helping to stop the spread of hepatitis A?As the county has now said, downtown is fiscally contaminated which means that the streets of downtown where these individuals are sleeping are contaminated. They are sleeping within contaminated sites. We need to ensure that we provide a safe place, a clean place, and a place where they can have access to facilities not only to wash their hands and use the restroom, but also to keep the rest of the public safe as well so the declaration of a crisis allows for the city, under the state government code, to open up public buildings like the former downtown library that has been vacant now for over 4 years, unused or Golden Hall that gets underused to be used for purposes of a shelter so people can live in those safe conditions.Mayor's office has pushback on the call. They say the city Council declared a homeless shelter crisis last year cited the same section of California law that you did in your letter yesterday. Didn't the city already declare a state of emergency on homelessness?Probably technically it has but we have not acted on that, and that is what is of more serious importance. It allows us to utilize public buildings shelter space. We have not done that. Speculator in the mayor's office statement they say, go, while we appreciate tran9In the mayor's office statement they say, while we appreciate his concerns we are trying to protect the most vulnerable people in our city. They also say they will begin exit writing -- expediting the process of approving up to 30 downtown handwashing stations.Handwashing notations -- stations can only take you so far. That is a way to prevent the passing of hepatitis A but if they are living and sleeping in these conditions then we are at risk of the stations really doing minimal impact to help with this crisis. I will also just note that last year we declare the crisis -- a year later in our point and time count that we do every year, the regional task force on homelessness show that on sheltered homeless individuals have grown to 4900 to 5600. The number of people living in shelters has decreased. We are going completely in the opposite direction not to mention we had no deaths last year, 15 deaths today.Learned in an article in voice of San Diego that the county try to locate a handwashing station at a transit center location downtown but the Metropolitan transit system declined because it would attract homeless people. You are on the MTS board. Did you try to get them to relent on that?I think every government entity including MTS in the city of San Diego and the County of San Diego have the responsibility to make facilities available to individuals. That means public restrooms and parks, facilities like the convention center, facilities like our libraries. MTS has public restrooms. I think the only location is at the downtown 12th and Imperial location. Every single government agency, public serving agency now must make their bathroom available to the public for use.As a member of the MTS board, did you say something at that time when they gave that pushback to the county?I just learned about this Marine thanks to the reporting a voice San Diego -- Maureen thanks to the reporting and the voice of San Diego.Now the hepatitis A outbreak could easily be seen as a public health emergency. Have 350 people diagnosed. You have 15 deaths. The mayor says he wants the county to declare a state of emergency. Isn't it really the county health department job to make these declarations?Probably on the public health emergency this all sounds to me like passing the buck which in this situation where we are talking about 15 situations who have died, and that number seems to grow every week, we all need to be responsible for that. Sure, they should do their part and lookout. In my 7 years on the Council we have asked for them to act more and they haven't. Councilmembers before me have asked for the out -- that and the county has not stepped up their game. I don't want to continue to wait for the county because that is what has led us to where we are today.On twitter you said the county is the biggest problem but in the absence of them giving, and expletive that begins with S, we should. You don't think the county cares about this?I think the county has a track record of not wanting to engage on this critical issue. We have asked, again, for my 7 years on the Council we have asked for them to step up their game. They are responsible for those services in our government and the state of California, and I think that they can be doing a lot more. Just one example, the 100+ million dollars that they have in mental health funding that they have not allocated is a clear example of lack of understanding of what is needed to help the most vulnerable population in San Diego.Councilman Alvarez, I am wondering, do you intend to work with the mayor on this? I am concerned that maybe a squabble like this could get in the way of saving lives.I don't think this a squabble. Today we see recognition from the mayor's office that this in fact is a crisis and we have to do more. But I want to see action. I think the growth in numbers of homelessness speaks for itself. The data shows this problem is not getting any better. We must take every actionable step possible so that we can get people housing, get people safe and prevent death.I have been speaking with San Diego City Councilman, David Alvarez. Thank you very much.Thank you.

An adviser to San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said Councilman David Alvarez's call Thursday for a declaration of a state of emergency in the city due to a shortage of homeless shelters and an associated health crisis caused by an outbreak of Hepatisis A in that population is not needed.

RELATED: Number Of Hepatitis A Cases In San Diego County Continue To Rise

"Mayor Faulconer declared a state of emergency on homelessness last year that was approved by the City Council, including Councilmember Alvarez," Jonathan Herrera, Faulconer's senior adviser on homelessness coordination, told KPBS.

"The City Charter explicitly states in section 295(e) that the City Council must approve emergency measures with at least six votes. We received Councilmember Alvarez's memo earlier today and while we appreciate his concerns, we are already taking steps to address our city's homelessness crisis to protect the most vulnerable people in our city.”"

The mayor also declared a shelter crisis in the city in 2015.

The 2016 and 2015 resolutions both referred to a "shelter crisis," but cited the same section of California Code that Alvarez referred to in his letter about a state of emergency.

"I would disagree with the assertion that the declaration that the councilmember is requesting is in anyway different from the one that is already in place," Herrera said.

Alvarez's proposal included suggesting opening the former Central Library or Golden Hall for use as a homeless shelter. The library building at Eighth Avenue and E Street has been vacant since a replacement opened in the East Village nearly four years ago.

While the number of homeless people has swelled over the past few years, those living on the streets have also had to deal with an outbreak of hepatitis A that has killed 15 and sent more than 260 to hospitals.

The illness has primarily impacted the homeless and intravenous drug users, according to health officials.

"People are dying," Alvarez wrote in a memo to the mayor.

"We must do everything we can to protect the public," said Alvarez, whose district includes Barrio Logan and south San Diego neighborhoods. "This crisis has gone on for too long. I urge you to take immediate action."

In January's annual tally of the area's transient population, 5,619 homeless individuals were counted in the city of San Diego, a 10.3 percent increase from last year. Of those, 3,231 were living on the streets.

City and county officials have responded over the past few months with a series of proposals on how to address both homelessness and a lack of affordable housing.

Also, Padres co-owner Peter Seidler and restaurateur Dan Shea recently suggested erecting industrial-size tents to provide shelter to the homeless. Numerous civic and political leaders have signed on to their plan.

RELATED: Plan To House San Diego’s Homeless In Industrial Tents Gains More Support