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LATEST UPDATES: Tracking COVID-19 | Vaccines | Racial Justice

In The Yellow Tier

Cover image for podcast episode

A sign outside the entrance of Kobey's Swap Meet at the Sports Arena encourages guests to social distance due to the COVID-19 pandemic. April 10, 2021.

KPBS STAFF

15 months into the pandemic, San Diego has moved into California’s least restrictive yellow Covid-19 tier, opening up bars and restaurants to bigger crowds. And, a grassroots non-profit called Breakfast Block works to feed, clothe and provide other essential items to San Diego's growing unsheltered population. It was founded early this year by a woman who lost her job in the pandemic. Plus, changes to San Pasqual Academy have inspired a conversation about foster care in San Diego County.

Good Morning, I’m Annica Colbert….it’s Wednesday June 9th

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Into the Yellow Tier we go

More on that next, but first... let’s do the headlines….

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An FBI investigation led by the San Diego office has resulted in more than 800 drug trafficking arrests worldwide in what’s been called “Operation Trojan Shield.” Suspects sent messages about their criminal activity through what they thought was encrypted technology called “Anom”, but it was actually the FBI’s own program. Here’s Special Agent Suzanne Turner from San Diego’s FBI field office regarding Anom.

“It was exactly what car was coming to what location. What, maybe, vessel or ship, and they were very specific in their detail because they believed it was secure communications.”

The Trojan Shield arrests are the culmination of more than five years of investigation.

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More than 3,900 migrant children were separated from their parents under the zero tolerance policy from July 2017 to the end of Trump’s presidency, according to a new report from the Biden administration. Nearly 60% of the children were Guatemalan followed by Hondurans, Salvadorans, and Mexicans. In the coming weeks the White House says it will reunite over two dozen families that were separated at the Southern Border.

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About 8pm ish last night….some sort of thing shook San Diego county and Tijuana. And no one knows what it was. Mayor Todd Gloria tweeted that yes, he heard it, no he doesn’t know what it is but he’ll share information if he gets any. This is the third time since February that San Diego has experienced the mysterious phenomena. There’s a few unofficial names for it too, “Sky Quake” being one among them. The United States Geological survey showed no seismic activity for us last night, so that rules out our best guess. We’ll keep you posted.

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From KPBS, you’re listening to San Diego News Now.

Stay with me for more of the local news you need.

We’re officially one week away from California fully reopening after more than a year of COVID-19 restrictions. Officials feel we may be well on our way to reaching herd immunity, but KPBS health reporter Matt Hoffman says the virus isn’t going away any time soon..

The pandemic is not over june 15th is not the magic date or bullet
County public health officer Dr. Wilma Wooten says we’re still seeing about 100 COVID-19 cases per day, but things are definitely slowing down as the state prepares to lift nearly all COVID-19 restrictions next week--
12:23:31 Wooten
We are near the end of the tunnel we are optimistic that the worst of COVID-19 may now be in the rear view mirror
Another sign the situation is improving, San Diego’s moving to the state’s least restrictive yellow reopening tier which allows for more capacity at businesses and group events-
00:04:59:23
And That is a testament to those who have gotten vaccinated and our healthcare system
County Supervisor nathan fletcher says San diego is 80 percent toward its goal of herd immunity.. And in addition to the state’s cash prizes for incentives county officials are now partnering with the San Diego padres -- entering those vaccinated in raffles for tickets and two pop-up vaccination sites also coming to Petco Park--
1:24:42 Chuck Matthers, County health & human services agency
The first is coming saturday june 12 and the second is june 26. The first 1000 people vaccinated get a free commemorative t shirt
Officials say vaccine supply is not an issue--
15:17 Wooten
We now have more vaccines than people who want it
There’s a big push this month to reach those unvaccinated with mobile teams, then officials say vaccine distribution will be similar to flu shots, meaning the once very busy super stations will soon be closing.
00:21:29:09 Fletcher
When you have a fire and you declare a state of emergency that continues beyond because it’s part of the recovery
County officials say to align with the state they will be extending its state of emergency to the end of the year but that doesn’t mean more restrictions post June 15th--
00:22:41:24
Day to day life for san diegans will revert to as close to normal as we’ve been in more than a year and a half
County health officials are tracking a number of variants that could be more contagious or less receptive to vaccines.. Public reports about our local COVID-19 situation will soon shift to weekly and after next week these regular weekly news briefings will only happen as necessary. MH KPBS News

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The San Diego county board of supervisors are discussing how they’re going to divvy up about 650-million dollars worth of federal relief money.

KPBS’ John Carroll reports on some of the planning.

“No one deserves to be homeless, no one deserves to be struggling, no one.”
Mia Roseberry co-founded and runs Wounded Warrior Homes, based in San Marcos.
CG: Mia Roseberry/Wounded Warrior Homes
“We provide transitional housing and reintegrative support services for post 9/11 veterans with traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress.”
Like so many non-profits, Roseberry says she could use more financial help, especially when it comes to helping veterans experiencing homelessness.
“Somewhere between 20 and 25% of the homeless are veterans in San Diego. //CUT TO 1:30// So, a significant funding from the County with regard to housing would always be very helpful to, like I said, for helping us to plan for long range funding.” 1:42
Here’s a big picture breakdown of how county staff is recommending the money be distributed. The lion’s share - 307 and-a-half million dollars would go to costs already incurred from the pandemic and money to deal with it into the future. As you can see, homeless services, small business, infrastructure, mental health and “premium pay” for county workers who stayed on the job during the crisis would all get assistance.
CG: Jerry Sanders/SD Regional Chamber of Commerce President & CEO
“A lot of small businesses still need cash support so that they can pay their employees, pay their rent.”
Though the Chamber of Commerce represents many types of businesses, Sanders says restaurants are among the hardest hit. Many shelled out thousands to build outdoor dining spaces… and with the on again, off again closures, purchasing food was a vexing proposition.
“They wouldn’t know whether to buy it or not and they’d have to just take a chance and buy it and sometimes they would end up just throwing it away.”
The premium pay portion of the money for essential county employees is opposed by Supervisors Joel Anderson and Jim Desmond. Whatever the board decides, Chairman Nathan Fletcher says the help should be coming soon.
CG: Nathan Fletcher/San Diego County Supervisor
“Our hope is by summer folks will be able to benefit from those programs.”

Programs that represent a big forward step in helping the people of this county recover from the COVID pandemic. JC, KPBS News.

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Social service agencies have fallen short in the pandemic -- so...Mutual Aid groups run by volunteers have sprung up across San Diego County to fill in the gaps. KPBS Race and Equity Reporter Cristina Kim tells us how one local group is working to feed the homeless.

It’s 6AM Sunday and Athena Bazalaki and her boyfriend Fernando Tabor are already brewing a second giant carafe of coffee and assembling over 40 sandwiches.
Nat/Sot “Push…” (B-roll athena dancing in the kitchen)
As music plays in the background Bazalaki dances around the kitchen, but she moves with the methodical purpose of someone that’s done this routine a few times.
She is the founder of Breakfast Block… a mutual aid volunteer-run group that provides hot meals, tents, clothing and anything else people donate to San Diego’s unsheltered population. This is her tenth event.
The other day when I came home from work there was just boxes at the front of just donations of clothes and I was like oh my goodness. We worry that we need stuff and then people “pingggg.”
Bazalaki says mutual aid, which has become increasingly popular during the pandemic, is a simple concept rooted in community.
“I mean, it's for all of us because the idea is, if you need help, I'm going to help you. And then if I need help, you're going to help me. And that's just how it works.”
Bazalaki first came up with the idea for Breakfast Block in February after seeing a video showing a group of San Diego police officers surrounding a homeless woman. One officer pointed a gun at her. In that moment something clicked.
“I realized that I have definitely been guilty of looking past unsheltered people, feeling guilty about what I have, feeling guilty that I'm not doing enough, but obviously not enough to be able to mobilize myself, you know? But this time I was like, you know what, let's do this. ”
By 8 AM Bazalaki and over 20 volunteers are unloading two pickup trucks full of item. They set up on the bridge at the intersection of 17th and Island over the constant din of the 1-5.
Nats in The Clear - MATT7756_01.MOV - 09;10;43;06 -” Here’s shoes they can go that way….”
When they arrive there’s already a line of people eager to see them, including Terry Young, who helps them unload boxes from the truck.
Young has been unsheltered for two years. He came early to help out and to grab some food and socks. He says Breakfast Block feels like his community.
“It feels comfortable. You know people are really friendly, it’s like family in a sense the way they come towards people. They are professional.
The number of people that entered homelessness for the first time doubled last year in San Diego County, according to the regional task force on the homeless.
Finding a home is especially hard here where the median home price rose to over $800,000 this past April. And the rental market is equally tough with more than 130,000 low-income renters locked out of affordable housing.
At one point during Breakfast Block… Bazalaki is driving around the area with a megaphone in hand to let people know what’s happening.
B:Roll / Volume and Nats Up.
As a Black woman and mother to two black sons, Bazalaki is also deeply involved in the racial justice movement. She was on the front lines of the local protests last year after the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
“I just felt like I was at my wit's end and the only way to kind of express myself was to get out and protest in the streets”
She sees Breakfast Block as an extension of her racial justice work.
“The fact that it's disproportionately people of color, it's like, there's something there. There are things that are adding up and These systems were put in place on purpose.”
Decades of racist policies like redlining, over policing, pay discrimination and unequal access to credit, have made Black Americans more vulberable to housing insecurity.
One in three homeless people in San Diego are Black even though Black people only make up 5.5 percent of the general population.
Bazalaki sees these struggles as interconnected.
“It’s not an individual issue. None of these issues are individual issues.There are community problems.”
By 10:30 AM it’s time to wrap up. But Breakfast Block will be back in a couple weeks, trying to make San Diego a more just place ... one cup of coffee at a time
Cristina Kim. KPBS News.

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Coming up....

“We are very concerned.. So a huge number of children are entering into the foster care system due to all of the stress, and abuse and neglect that's happened over the pandemic.”

The changes to San Pasqual Academy have inspired a conversation about foster care in San Diego County. That’s next, just after the break.

The move to close a North County group home for foster children has put a spotlight on foster care in San Diego County. KPBS reporter Tania Thorne has a look at how the system is changing… especially after COVID-19.

In 20-15, the assembly passed a bill to eliminate most group homes for foster youth. The ultimate goal was to maintain “a stable permanent family” for foster children. Congregate care… the use of group homes… was to be limited to short term interventions. That’s something Teresa Stivers says her organization did decades ago.
TERESA STIVERS/WALDEN FAMILY SERVICES
“When we see the youth who enter our program at 18 from a group home the majority of them don't have a GED, they have no life skills whatsoever. They don't know how to live independently or out in the community. They've been told what to do every day, every minute of their lives.”
Stivers is the CEO of Walden Family Services. She says when her foster care agency was established in 1976, they only worked with group homes.
TERESA STIVERS/WALDEN FAMILY SERVICES
“We changed very quickly to move into foster care in a family situation because if we don’t teach these children to learn how to live in a family situation when they're young, when are they going to learn? It's going to be much more beneficial to them as they get older.”
Rajah Gainey was born into the foster care system and spent his childhood living in different places.
RAJAH GAINEY/FORMER FOSTER YOUTH
“Between 7 to 11 i went through probably , i want to say 9 or 10 different foster homes and probably 4 or 5 different schools. I had been in a couple of different group homes by that time.”
Gainey says that through his experience he preferred the family setting over the group home.
“Just kind of like summer camp, extended summer camp. It was fun for a kid but for my education it really suffered. I had challenges when I was moving back to certain foster homes, moving to new schools. So obviously if you’re somewhere for an extended period of time once you get back to your regular routine it's a challenge.”
At 11 years old, Gainey found stability when he got referred to Walden Family Services.
“They really supported me and made sure that I was stable and then also when it came time for me to transition out of foster care, which was a challenge, Walden really stepped u p and tried to find as many resources and opportunities to help me and other kids get out.”
Gainey is now on the board for Walden Family Services, has a family of his own, and has stayed in touch with his mentor for 26 years.
Walden offers a treatment team that helps individualize what each case needs. Work that didn't stop because of the pandemic.
“We continued to place children during the pandemic, we placed children who had COVID. Our nurse came up with a plan, and the families agreed to quarantine. So we worked non stop as essential workers, it didn't stop for us just because of the pandemic.”
Stivers says she expects the entire child welfare system will be busier than ever this next year due to the aftermath of the pandemic.
“We are very concerned. Children are being seen for the first time in over 12 months. Being seen by all the mandated reporters, whether they're in the doctor's offices, in sports, in schools. So a huge number of children are entering into the foster care system due to all of the stress, and abuse and neglect that's happened over the pandemic.”
Another stressor for the system is the expansion of foster care to youths aged 18 to 21. Stivers says more resources, donations, and foster families are always needed.

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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San Diego News Now

San Diego news; when you want it, where you want it. Get local stories on politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings. Hosted by Anica Colbert and produced by KPBS, San Diego and the Imperial County's NPR and PBS station.