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Afghans Await Visas

 June 28, 2021 at 2:00 AM PDT

Good Morning, I’m Annica Colbert….it’s Monday, June 28th What people who helped the US military in Afghanistan are facing as US troops pull out More on that next, but first... let’s do the headlines…. ###### Coronado High will not be forfeiting their basketball game against Escondido’s Orange Glen. Community activists had been calling on Coronado to forfeit after a racist incident where tortillas were thrown at a largely latino team when they lost the championship game. In a letter to the California Interscholastic Federation, Coronado Unified School District Superintendent Karl Mueller says that they reviewed videos of the incident and found no evidence that would justify the school forfeiting the game. ######## Doctors in the university of california system will now be allowed to provide abortions and gender confirmation surgeries at non UC hospitals. That’s following a new policy approved by the university of california board of regents last week. The UC has contracts with religiously affiliated hospitals, like dignity health … which often have restrictions on reproductive and transgender health care. The new approved policy says any contract with another hospital must allow the uc physician to provide whatever care they deem medically necessary … regardless of the hospital’s policy. Dignity health says they’re looking it over. ######## Gas in San Diego county is now at it’s most expensive ever since 2014. The average price from Saturday was about four dollars and 26 cents. Housing, food and gas prices have all gone up recently, putting San Diego’s inflation rate at 4-point-one percent. That’s compared to 2-point-six nationally, leaving San Diego with one of the highest inflation rates in the nation. ######### From KPBS, you’re listening to San Diego News Now. Stay with me for more of the local news you need. The White House and Congress are vowing to help thousands of Afghans who face retribution for working with the American military during two decades of war. They're in danger of being left behind as U.S. troops leave Afghanistan. KPBS Military Reporter Steve Walsh says a special visa program designed to bring them to the U.S. is badly backlogged. Before coming to San Diego in 2017, Ali Rasouly was a translator working with U.S. Marine Special Operations outside Kobul - a risky job that made him a target of the Taliban. Though he left that job to take a safer one as an accountant with an American contractor in Afghanistan, he still felt threatened.. “On two occasions, two people came to me and said I know you from somewhere.” He denied being an interpreter for American forces but after he was approached a second time: “That same night we moved. I quit my job and I called my employer and said I’m not going to work for this company...Even that employer didn’t know that I used to work for the US.” Now that the US is preparing to withdraw Rasouly says he feels betrayed. He is Harari, one of the minority groups which is often targeted. He still has family in Afghanistan. “So these are the 300 commandos, afghan commandos. They’re surrounded the Taliban a few days ago” Now every day, he watches videos on Youtube of the Talaban driving unopposed into Afghan cities. “It doesn’t make sense to me at all. Absolutely, this is wrong. They shouldn’t leave the country until we have a rational peace at least.” Rasouly was allowed to come to the U.S. through the Special Immigrant Visa Program - visas set aside for people who worked with the US government. Noah Coburn - a political anthropologist at Bennington College – says the US depends on local contractors in Afghanistan, but has never really had a plan to handle the fallout when their lives are threatened. “That’s very much a part of the way the US views these global entanglements. Trying to keep them temporary. Trying to keep them economical but not thinking through what some of the longer term repercussions of them are.” With American troops on the verge of pulling out, Coburn says there is a real potential for people to be slaughtered - especially members of minority groups who backed the U.S. The Biden Administration indicates that it will try to evacuate the Afghans to a third country while they await their U.S. visas. There's a backlog of roughly 18,000 applications, not including families, but the process is so slow many more people gave up. “if i've got the Taliban threat that is really imminent. i'm going to be not applying for this and I've interviewed several people who have forgone the application process because it's a waste of time and waste of money for them.” The Afghan community in San Diego is tiny compared to other immigrant groups in the city. The area took in tens of thousands of refugees at the end of the Vietnam War. Armaghan Kakar was a medical interpreter for the American military in Kobul, before he came to the U.S. in 2014. He now works with Jewish Family Services in San Diego, counseling other immigrants from Afghanistan. “Before they are coming here they are thinking that when I go, everything will be easy for me in America, but the first year is difficult for them.” Still, it’s worth it, he says. Back in Afghanistan, working with the Americans was nearly the only option for thousands of Afghans. But for many, that option ended when they were threatened by the Taliban. “In general they are saying the situation is not getting better right now. The only way is if peace comes to Afghanistan that will be a solution..” At the moment, almost no Afghans are coming into San Diego. A combination of the visa process being slowed under the last administration. And more recently, complications caused by COVID. In the US, groups who resettle Afghans in American wait for everything to reboot, fearing time is running out. I'm Steve Walsh in San Diego. This story was produced by the American Homefront Project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans. Funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting ########## At least three San Diego County residents have died of COVID-19 after being vaccinated. That’s according to our partners at inewsource who broke the story. Inewsource investigative reporter Mary Plummer has more. The cases are unusual and extremely rare. All three people who died were over 65 and had underlying medical conditions. Two of the people were fully vaccinated, and one died a week after receiving the second Pfizer dose but before the end of the waiting period. The deaths were confirmed through county officials and medical examiner records. UC San Francisco professor Peter Chin-Hong points out that nationally only about 750 people have died of COVID-19 after being vaccinated. That’s according to the latest numbers from the CDC. CHIN-HONG: It's the same risk as being struck by a meteor and dying. He encourages people to get vaccinated. Especially older adults. In California over 1.4 million people who are 65 and older remain unvaccinated. That’s about 22% in that age group. That was Inewsource investigative reporter Mary Plummer. inewsource, an independently funded, nonprofit partner of KPBS. ########## With less demand for shots, County health officials say they’ll be closing more vaccination sites. KPBS Health reporter Matt Hoffman visited a site in Chula Vista on Friday just before it closed this past weekend. He says, despite the closures, the push for vaccinations isn't over. I’ve been wanting to get if for a while, I’ve been putting off At the Vaccination super station in the South Bay, people like Anthony Stewart are getting their shots before the Sharp healthcare run site closes over the weekend. I’ll admit I was a little hesitant I just waited just because I’m young I’ll take my chances initially and then I got a little bit of vaccine fomo and I dont want restrictions of where I can and can’t go Those getting their first doses like Max Bera will have to schedule their second appointments elsewhere, Bera contracted COVID-19 back in January and it nearly hospitalized him. 15 days of misery and then after the fever broke i had another two weeks of dizziness and confusion He has some immunity since getting infected, but wanted to boost it with the vaccination and is looking forward to some normalcy— Max Bera, North Park resident Getting my life back, you know being able to go out Others say they were afraid of possible side effects, but ultimately chose to get the shot. Veronica Carranza, Chula Vista resident I knew everyone was doing it before I was unsure but after that I got pretty comfortable because my sister did it too Matt Hoffman, KPBS News Just under 100,000 people came through this site alone, but efforts to vaccinate people in an area hard hard by COVID-19 are continuing We keep going even though the super sites are closing the san diego latino health coalition is still assisting people with vaccinations and doing vaccination pop up sites Sandra Mendoza with the Chicano Federation and Latino Health Coalition says teams of community health workers called promotoras are still one of the best ways to get the vaccination message out. And they do a lot of the talking for us to community so they’re very one to one their at food distribution events, school events they’re handing out PPE gear and providing resources for families so they are the ones breaking the barriers for the hesitancy The county’s vaccination dashboard shows 77 percent of residents 12 and over are partially vaccinated while 65 percent have completed all the doses. The super stations were designed to push thousands of people through per day.. The one in Del Mar will stop administering doses next Tuesday and County health officials also expect to close some additional smaller vaccination sites by the end of the month. MH KPBS News. ########## Coming up.... the number of homeless people living on the streets in Downtown San Diego has increased dramatically. Today a joint city-county outreach effort begins to get them into shelters. We have that story next, just after the break. Last year, people thought the effort to protect homeless San diegans from covid-19 would help solve the region’s overall homeless crisis. Yet, that doesn't seem to be the case. The downtown San Diego partnership is a non-profit group that advocates for a healthy downtown. It says the number of homeless people living on the streets in downtown has increased dramatically....with hundreds of tents set up across the area. A joint city/county outreach effort is set to begin today (monday) which will include the reopening of some city funded shelter beds that were closed during the pandemic. San Diego county supervisor Nathan Fletcher talked about it with midday edition host Maureen Cavanaugh. TRT: 8:00 what is your understanding about why there's been such an increase in homelessness in recent months? Well, Speaker 2: 00:48 Homelessness is a multifactorial faceted really com complex issue that at its root Maureen really is about poverty. Uh, ultimately people don't make enough money to be able to afford to live. And then it is compounded by issues of substance abuse, uh, of mental illness of trauma. And it really requires a multifaceted approach. And there's no just easy, just do this one thing and it all goes away. It takes really intentional, dedicated effort, uh, over a sustained amount of time to, to see progress. And it, it is very challenging is Speaker 1: 01:20 The increase in people living on the streets due to people who are newly homeless, or is it, uh, that we're not helping people who are chronically homeless? I Speaker 2: 01:29 Think it's both. Uh, you know, I think it's both the old adage of, you know, in social services is, you know, if you stop someone who's heading into the river, when they're ankle deep, then you don't have to save them from drowning. And I don't think we do enough of that preventive work. Um, but I also think that we have decades on end of not treating mental health and substance abuse in the way it ought to be treated. Uh, I think we have a multi-decade failed war on drugs and at its underlying point, we still have significant issues of poverty that while you may have a raging stock market and creating more millionaires and billionaires, your average person out there working, uh, is, is barely making enough to make ends meet because wages remain very low. And, and I think all of these worlds together to do a situation we face today that compels us to act and really compels us to try to do things differently than just the way they've always been done in the past. Uh, and that's what we're really trying to do is recognize the severity of the situation, the impact on the lives of those who are in shelters, but also the impact on our neighborhoods and our small businesses, uh, and our residents, uh, to, to really try and try and significantly improve the situation. What Speaker 1: 02:36 Is this new outreach approach that the city and county is going to launch next week? Well, Speaker 2: 02:41 There's two parts to it. The first part is the immediate next week, which is we're going to have increased shelter capacity, uh, because a lot of the shelters, pretty much all of them operated under physical distancing or social distancing rules of COVID. Those roles have now been lifted, which gives us increased capacity. But in order to fill that capacity, you've got to have dedicated, uh, outreach workers to really blanket an area, offer services, engage with individuals and get them comfortable moving in. And that's the immediate step one, uh, that, that is, that is going to be taking place here in gym. Step two is a program we're launching, uh, again, the county funded, but in partnership with the city, but also doing it county-wide, which will launch in August. And that'll be what we call our C heart team, our community harm reduction teams. These are uniquely trained outreach workers, particularly to reach those with the most chronic substance abuse and mental health issues and engage them in a unique way. Speaker 2: 03:33 And for a lot of those books, there is nowhere for them to go because of the condition they're in and we will be opening new, safe Haven locations that will give them an open door, no questions asked let's facilitate getting them indoors and build that trust and then get them connected with some of the services they need in that program. We'll launch in August. That is a change from, from what is historically been done. Um, but again, focused on those most difficult cases. And we hope the combination of both of these plus everything else we're doing, uh, can, can begin to yield some positive results, Speaker 1: 04:08 Talking about the teams that will be reaching out and providing services to people who have chronic substance use issues, um, who will be on those teams. What types of services are they going to be offered? Well, it's Speaker 2: 04:21 Really going to be a team effort. They're going to have peer support individuals with lived experience. That's very vital for someone to say, Hey, I've been in your path and you've got to trust me. It gets better going include substance use counselors that are really designed to walk people through, you know, kind of this stages of coming to terms with the addiction and the options available to you. Uh, mental health clinicians, along with psychiatric consultation with nurse practitioners, it really is a team effort. You know, some of these individuals, Maureen are 10, 15, 20 plus years, uh, into addiction and mental illness. And, and it, it, it takes a considerable engagement. And, you know, as a county, we just wiped away decades of failed approaches to substance abuse. We just adopted things like embracing syringe services, uh, Naloxone harm reduction strategies. Uh, and it really does take a different approach, uh, with these folks, one of compassion and empathy, uh, and one of opening a door and building trust to just facilitate, Hey, let's get you in a better place. And then let's work on a long-term path, uh, to try and get you well. But these are very challenging cases. They are very, very, very hard and difficult Speaker 1: 05:29 People. If they don't agree to stop drinking or stop using drugs, there are virtually no shelters available to them. Now, how would that change under this new outreach? Well, Speaker 2: 05:38 That's right. I mean, right now most shelters and housing options for, for the unsheltered require you to be sober or actively committed to sobriety. That's obviously a preference, but for a lot of individuals, that's not a reality. You've got to build trust. Um, and so we've got to look for creative ways to get people off the streets and into shelters, um, in order to facilitate a pathway to recovery, when someone's suffering with addiction and mental health issues, you know, the standard promise of a hot meal, a Cod, a roof over their head that may not be appealing enough. And if we're being honest, some of these individuals just don't have that level of trust. And so a safe Haven will simply provide you a housing and shelter and opportunity with no questions asked, it's going to be unconditional. It's going to be non-judgemental. But we also know based on evidence, it is the key to unlocking rusty and getting people on a pathway to recovery. And so sometimes we have to do things that may be a little controversial or a little unconventional in order to get an outcome different than what we've been doing urine in your out. As Speaker 1: 06:40 I understand it, police officers will be involved in the first phase of this outreach effort. Are you concerned that it may put people off and prevent people from engaging? Speaker 2: 06:50 Oh, that is a concern that that's a very valid and legitimate concern. Um, you know, a lot of these individuals have been justice involved in the past and just the presence of law enforcement, not law enforcement, not doing anything wrong at all, but their presence, uh, can escalate the situation and create some trust issues. Um, and so that's why as a county we've really moved now more than $20 million to build out our mobile crisis response teams. These will be coming online late summer, uh, countywide, and we think this can help and assist. Um, you know, I think generally the, the, the best engagement is going to be those, those lived experienced peer support specialists to kind of work with these individuals, build some trust, engage with them and try and get them into help and services. I think that's the probably preferable path. Speaker 1: 07:33 The fundamental problem San Diego has with homelessness is there are not enough low income housing units for people to live in. Where will that resource come from? Well, I think Speaker 2: 07:44 It's twofold. I think you're right there. There's not enough, uh, affordable housing that's out there. Uh, you know, I'm moving, I've got hundreds, if not thousands of units that are under construction in my district, taking county owned land and building a hundred percent affordable projects. But the other problem that we still face Maureen is, you know, I see this, my wife and I and our family. We live in city Heights. You know, if I go for a run in the morning and I see people who live in their car, and these are folks who work full-time. And so we have two problems and that people who work full-time still do not make enough money. We have not seen a wages track with the stock market and track with, you know, income, inequality, and differences. And so increase in wages will help deal with half of the problem. The other part of the problem is ensuring that that rent remains affordable and there's affordable housing options. And I think we have to push on both of those recognizing again, that homelessness at its root is about poverty. Uh, and, and if we tackle poverty, uh, then we can begin to see some structural change as opposed to just back-filling that, that, that poverty with helping assistance to bridge it over. And so I think we, we have to really keep pushing on the issue of surrounding wages and pushing on issues surrounding affordability of housing. That was San Diego Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, speaking with KPBS Midday Edition Host Maureen Cavanaugh That’s it for the podcast today. Be sure to catch KPBS Midday Edition At Noon on KPBS radio, or check out the Midday podcast. You can also watch KPBS Evening Edition at 5 O’clock on KPBS Television, and as always you can find more San Diego news online at KPBS dot org. I’m Annica Colbert. Thanks for listening and have a great day.

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The White House and Congress are vowing to help thousands of Afghans who face retribution for working with the American military. Some have come to the U.S. on special visas, but others are in danger of being left behind. Meanwhile, San Diego is phasing out some of its vaccination sites. Also, the number of homeless people in Downtown San Diego has risen dramatically, and a new joint city-county outreach effort to get them into shelters begins today.