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Public Safety

Roundtable: Homelessness And Hep A, Fire Season Looms, Catholic Church Sexual Abuse Settlement

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Roundtable: Homelessness And Hep A
Roundtable: Homelessness And Hep A, Fire Season Looms, Catholic Church Sexual Abuse Settlement
Emergency Measures Downtown, Fire Season Looms, Catholic Church Sexual Abuse Settlement PANELLisa Halverstadt, reporter, Voice of San Diego J. Harry Jones, reporter, San Diego Union-Tribune Susan Murphy, reporter, KPBS News Peter Rowe, reporter, San Diego Union-Tribune

Welcome to our discussion. I am Mark Saur. Joining me, Lisa Halverstadt . It is good to see you. Susan Murphy , hello. It is good to have you. Harry Jones, hello . It is good to have you. Hello, Peter Rowe. Shelters, outreach teams and creative policing, rehab programs, job-training, medical care, tough love and jagged rocks. The leaders have tried all sorts of things to deal with the homeless problems. The situation on the street has only gotten worse, much worse. And at -- an outbreak of hepatitis high is hepatitis A is urgent. How bad is the outbreak? It is one of the deadliest outbreaks that we have seen in at least 20 years. This is a very serious issue. There has been 16 death at almost 300 people have been hospitalized. There are more than 420 cases that we know of. It is going to continue to grow and the homeless population is disproportionately hit by this. We will get to those details and what they are trying to do but the county sent a directive with more handwashing stations. Did the city leaders dropped the ball and drag their beat ? There has been finger-pointing on this issue. One thing I would say is that it was clear early on, the urgency one would expect with an outbreak that is this deadly was not there. early on, the county who is the public health agency responsible for dealing with this had started with a pilot program to put handwashing stations out. They emphasize vaccination because that is the number one tool but for this population, they do not have the same access to sanitation that the rest of us do. There are elements of that that help inflame this situation and spread the virus. Do you have numbers on the vaccinations? Are they getting out to help ? 21,000 people have been vaccinated at this point. 7000 people at this point who are considered to be most at risk and the county is emphasizing that a lot and it is in the approach. One of the challenges with the homeless population is that they cannot just walk into a clinic to get a vaccination. They have nurses and homeless outreach workers to do the vaccinations. What we have seen in the past couple of weeks is a big increase in a Tatian -- attention to the sanitation piece. The city hired an outside group to do some cleaning, the bleaching of the streets in different zones and now, there are 45 handwashing stations that have gone up. Which earlier, the county had a pilot project a view weeks ago and there were two with those. I was wondering about the cleaning of the streets. I understand high pressure hoses and they are washing the streets with chlorine. Where does that go? Says that all into the street and wash out to the ocean? That is a good question. There has been concern on the city part of having to deal with the storm water. The emergency declaration helps them get around that regulation wise but that is a good question. Certainly in the reporting I've seen, I have not seen a clear answer on that. Are the tents going up? We were not going to do the temporary tents and now we are. How many will they have? It starts -- they are starting with three tents but it will take months to get them up. Two are located where the temporary shelters were placed for decades. They were open five months of the year and they will be in the Imperial and 16th Street. The other is near father Joe's village. The other is in Midway with a better intent used to be. You know, in the East Village where we have the biggest population of the un-sheltered homeless population. I was asking them what they got the 10th if they will go to stay there and many were in big favor of this. They are exhausted from living on the streets. They are exhaustive from living in squatter. They feel unsafe. They want a foothold and get their lives come to haps somebody help take care of them until they can find healing. I do have clips of three people I spoke to, Deborah and Kate Bart. Let's hear that. It is a good idea because people do not have tents to slip in. They usually sleep on the ground with no like is. I want to go now. I really do. I hope they put it up. Tent shelters are good. It is community living and it is good. Would you go there ? What I? Know. I have other things to do right now. When I was out talking to people about why do you not go to emergency shelters. People do not like the strict rules. They could not check in until evening. They were kicked out at 5:00 and a morning. They could not bring bareback stock or their -- their friends. Bob ran the emergency tents. I'm sorry. They will run one of the tents. [ OVERLAPPING SPEAKERS ] Longtime advocates. People trust him. He creates an environment of safety and peace and dignity, allowing lots of different services and allowing people to have services and meals and showers. The people you speak with downtown, what do they say about the hepatitis situation ? They are worried about it but they do not know about it. They are talking amongst each other but they do not pay attention to the signs. Do you read the signs? There is a sign? I was asking one person that I know well who is homeless. Somebody here started calling people and they came out of the woodwork. You know? He said all you have to do is look for people who have eyes who were yellow. This woman, look at her eyes. The John situation ? Right here expect the one who wanted to say this was trouble. [ Indiscernible low volume ] How reliable are they ? The specific downtown -- is the area where we think of when we think about homelessness in San Diego, over the past years, the numbers have more than doubled. Downtown is different than the path we hear about every January. They should have shown that as of the end of last month, 1400 people live on the streets in downtown San Diego. A big majority of them do live in the East Village but countywide, there is a significant increase in street homelessness. One increase is that people are intense which makes this more visible than we have seen historically in San Diego. I go down there so often and people are lying on the street and there are so many people just lying there on the sleeping bags. I tried to talk to a man slumped over in a wheelchair who just looked really in bad shape. His voice was so faint that I still talk to him and he was trying to talk to me. I wonder if anyone has ever heard what this man has to say or who he is or what his situation is. The politics comes into play of course. We are talking about public money. The services that deal with these issues. Has city been driving the the? The mayor said there has been a declaration. Do we need to double down? What you think ? Mayor Faulkner has been involved in emergency declarations. What they are saying, this situation has gotten worse even though we had this existing state of emergency shelter crisis, maybe we should call for something more. A committee voted this week to bolster the existing one and send it to a full city Council for about. One thing I would say is that Mayor falconer made commitments at the beginning of the year. He wanted to add quickly hundreds of shelter beds. More than six months -- eight months since he made that commitment and he is promising, I will open -- three but I am hoping more. Early on, he wanted a consensus on this. That has been a basic tenet of his leadership. He prefers to have consensus and to move forward. With this issues, there is not a lot of consensus. He came out and he said I know I am not going to get consensus. We need to act now. There are regional discussions that are happening. There has not been a huge backing. What we see right now with the crisis, they are pushing that. People want to see a plan. They want a strategy. The issue was shelter is that it is not a final strategy. A shelter cannot be a permanent destination. What advocates -- they ought to look here is can't wait move people through the shelter to a permanent home? Historically, we have not had success moving people to shelters. This past year, 25% of people moving through the shelters ended up in permanent housing. We have plenty more to talk about. We will look for that plan. We will move on. It has been a brutal summer on the western United States. There has been scorched fires. County watched -- lost homes. What are firefighters saying? We had rain last winter and sometimes you hear both sides of that. There is growth and there is drought. At the beginning of every season, they say it will be bad for one reason or the other. We have not heard because they are small and that is the hold idea. There is a lot of dry grass and dead brush. It is ready to go. It needs a spark and we have not had the right weather conditions so far this year to have a big firestorm. Right. For people who were here, they were horrific. People were in shocked as the construction -- destruction we have seen. You know, it can change in 48 hours. It is terrifying. You would say people say it is clear and sunny and warm but it is deadly when the wind blows. We have had hot weather here but we have not had the height dry wind from the east. You are right. The high wind and the low humidity and the heat is not as important. It is the wind that pushes everything. So far, so good. Usually, historically, they come in October and that is what they are worried about. They always are. That puts us in the middle of the season. September and October, is the season lengthening? We had fires in May and several homes were lost. [ OVERLAPPING SPEAKERS ] Is it climate change? Something is going on all across the country. Buyers can start at any time. It is coming up now. Is in October the time where vegetation reaches the driest point? It has been baking all summer. It is lacking moisture. If we get a day or two of low humidity, everything dries up and then there is a spark and conditions are perfect. Certain areas are more vulnerable than others. Explain why that is. What places are more honorable ? Every Canon, if a place is burned when the area is burned more recently, there is less fuel to consume so it will not burn as fast or years. Areas that they are concerned about our areas that burned back. They go to the North and West of that. It has not burned in almost 80 years. Even though there are not a lot of people that live up there, it can push into a populated area. In 1970, there was a fire which was the biggest and it took 33 years. That whole print in the East County has not burned since then. If that same footprint happened today, it was a couple of hundred homes back then. Pine Valley and North and south of interstate 8, again, not a lot of people live there. But it has not burned and many years and it would burn quickly. The fuel, we've noted how destructive the fires were. What are the changes since then? We made improvements and mitigated some things. We are communicating better expect they have spent improved firefighting efforts. Also, new technology has come in and that has helped. Certainly, the alert system and everything else is better now. They have done a tremendous amount of work replacing poles with steel poles and they do not spark as much and they are more efficient with turning off the fire. It has not happened since they put that into effect. We all know it is coming but it is a matter of when. You noted in your story that the firefighters in this region are elsewhere riding fires. Spread thin if conditions get bad ? They are also helping hurricane victims. That is not normal this time of year but what they worry about is the fires moving up into the West and in Montana. This will continue because of the changing weather patterns that we seem to have. It would keep us in the most critical points. We have enough people that everybody would be on board. We will keep our fingers crossed. It is that time of the year. We move on and it has been a decade since the diocese settled with more than 140 victims for sexual abuse. They paid out nearly $200 million and they posted the crimes on the website. They have undergone a host of changes related to sexual abuse. This is a thorough story this week on all of this and what has happened. You started with a victim and her question was, are they taking care of the children? What changes has the diocese made? How is that different? We really have to start with the victims. It was such a terrible betrayal of trust. Pretty soon, the Catholic Church and the ministers in any religion are looked on with reverence but in the Catholic Church, they are almost deities. representative here. They speak and you hear God's voice but to be somebody sexually assaulted by someone and that position, that is devastating. has happened since then, I guess it depends on who you ask what the diocese says they put in place programs to help eliminate or minimize instances of this. For one thing, everyone who is hired from the diocese and everyone who volunteers has to go through a background check. Even if you are a missionary coming in from the Congo and you are coming to a congregation and you are speaking to them. They asked for money for your mission work. Even that person has to have a background check. You may never deal directly with children. Right but that current Bishop says, you you mean, in the past, they said, we will put a priest who is under suspicion into some role where they do not deal with children. There is no such role. Every priest come sooner or later -- sooner or later, they are dealing with families and if you deal with families, you are dealing with children. There is a new curriculum for Catholic schools and also for the kids who do not attend Catholic schools and they go to the church for catechism during the week. That is on how to recognize the warning signs of the sexual predator and what to do about it. They are trying to reach out to the parents to talk about that as well. You wrote about the panel. The panel is interesting. Right. The panel is made up primarily of laypeople. There is one parish priest on the panel but they are all laypeople they are lawyers and a retired judge and counselors. There is also a survivor. If there is an allegation, the allegation goes to this panel. The panel hears the testimony. The diocese hires a private investigator to investigate the case. They gather that material together. There, they are the determiners of fact. They give a report to the Bishop and the Bishop has to decide what to do. You had an interesting interview with Bishop McElroy. He was not here during the sex abuse scandal. What does he say about how the church deals with this issue compared with how they did previously? In the past, he thinks it was a real problem that he became -- they were legal issues. This was an adversarial system and bishops were told, to not be with the victim because it will look bad when you are pulled into court. He says, you know, it is essential to meet with the victims. He said the first time he met with a victim, it was devastating to hear directly about the pain and the betrayal. In the past, they did not. In the past, it was very much adversarial. Also, as you pointed out, and as a lot of reporting pointed out, the Bishop or the diocese stonewalled. They did not admit anything. They hid documents. Yes. They went into bankruptcy to head off the first case. Right. Speaking of the Bishop here, it was sobering when you asked him about, can we get this problem behind us. Let's hear what he said on that. Is it possible to entirely eliminate this problem ? No. This is part of human nature. It exists in every institution in the life of our society. It exists within family life tragically. Sadly, this is an inclination of the human heart in a number of people. Were you surprised when he said that ? I was Lord. -- Floored. It goes back to, a worldview or a theological view about human nature and what it is we are capable of. I am not saying he is wrong. It shocked me that he said that we will never entirely get rid of this. Let's talk about the victims. 10 years after the settlement, what is the main settlement of the people who went through this horrible experience? What are they telling you? They remain scarred, I think is the best term. They are anxious. This was part of a global scandal. This happened in the diocese around the world. It was across the country. The Boston case, it was the subject of the movie spotlight. It may have been the most well nine but San Diego was a larger in terms of the victims and the settlement that came across. Whatever this comes out in the news, when there is a new report of a priest or a religious person praying on a young person, you know, it brings it all back. You are reliving the horror. We covered this case through the settlement a few years. It came to a head at the end of that period 10 years ago. A big portion aside from the money was getting the information on the website. I the victim satisfied that the church has put the horrible details out there? That was part of the settlement. That was 10 years ago but it took three years for the information to be posted online. For a while, it was posted on the diocese website. It no longer is. You have to go to www.Bishopaccountability.org to find it. They are upset about that. They feel that the diocese dragged its feet on posting this and coming clean about what was happening. Now, has it been enough out there that they are satisfied? I do not know if that is the right term. It depends on you are talking to ? That is right. The people who work with them and victims, they knew child sexual abuse because of the nature of the crime, usually does not come to light until decades later. We have to leave it they are. Go back to the Tribune and look at that. That does wrap up another week of stories on the KPBS Roundtable. I would like to thank Lisa Halverstadt, Susan Murphy , Harry Jones, and Peter Rowe . A reminder that the stories we discussed are available on our website, www.kpbs.org . Thank you for joining us today.

HOMELESSNESS CRISIS

The Story

San Diego took emergency steps this week to ease the homeless crisis. City officials announced a return to a program they ended in 2015: the temporary tent shelters. They also started power-washing the sidewalks downtown, an area the county has referred to as a "fecally contaminated environment."

These measures come the same week a 16th person has died in the region from Hepatitis A. The outbreak started last November, and has hit the homeless population particularly hard.

The Conversation

-Are the measures the city is now taking going to be enough?

-Has the city lagged in dealing with this crisis?

RELATED: Death Toll Rises In San Diego Hepatitis A Outbreak

RELATED: After Months of Stagnation on Shelter Plan, Faulconer Pledges Action

WILDFIRE SEASON

The Story

Fire season is here, but thanks to a wet winter and summer showers, San Diego is not as dry as last year.

But the rest of the West has had a brutal summer. Some 47,000 wildfires have scorched 8 million acres across the nation, with much of the destruction in Oregon, Montana and California. That means fire personnel normally stationed locally are helping up north, and the region could be competing for resources.

Fire officials have also noted that in the last decade, fires are bigger and more destructive than ever before. And, the traditional fire season is now basically year-round.

The Conversation

-How has San Diego's traditional "fire season" changed in the last decade?

-What areas of the county are most vulnerable?

RELATED: Cautious local officials warily approaching wildfire season

10 YEARS LATER: SAN DIEGO CATHOLIC SEXUAL ABUSE SCANDAL SETTLEMENT

The Story

Ten years ago, the San Diego Catholic Diocese agreed to pay $198.1 million to settle lawsuits with 144 adults, who were sexually abused as children by church leaders.

The Diocese has implemented safeguards to protect kids. Employees now undergo background checks, and students and parents are taught how to recognize predators.

But even the Bishop, who took over in 2015, has said the problem is not completely solved. He told San Diego Union-Tribune reporter Peter Rowe "It will never go away, it is part of human nature."

The Conversation

-What changes has the church made, and are they effective?

-Are victims satisfied with the outcome?

RELATED: A decade after settling sex abuse cases, the Diocese of San Diego still copes with the fallout