Editorial

San Diego Needs to Better Address Homelessness

March 24, 2017

By Arturo Castañares – Publisher and CEO

America’s Finest City is the self-proclaimed motto of San Diego, but the City is not living up to that claim in respect to dealing with the growing issue of homelessness in and around downtown.

Anyone that drives through downtown or near the Ballpark in East Village can see that the number of tents and make-shift shelters on city streets has increased in the past few years.

The root causes of chronic homelessness can be traced to untreated mental illness, post traumatic stress disorder, and physical disabilities. Many governmental agencies and non-profits have worked to increase available shelter space, provide meals, and offer social services to help these dislocated individuals.

But, more and more, economic factors are pushing people onto the streets, and not enough is being done to help them quickly.

A recent study by the Regional Task Force of the Homeless draws attention to the lack of funding and programs to address the needs of people that recently became homeless, a growing group living on San Diego’s streets.

Of the 17,600 people that accessed social services for homeless last year, more than 10,000 of them had not accessed such programs in the past five years. Many of those seeking help just recently had a life change that left them without a place to live. Some lost jobs. Some have health issues and can’t afford treatment. And some were recently released from jail or a hospital.

Especially vulnerable among our homeless population are women, which make up more than a quarter of San Diego’s homeless population, and unaccompanied youths. The population of homeless juveniles on San Diego streets increased 32 percent last year, while at the same time, the number of homeless kids fell in the rest of the country. San Diego now ranks sixth among major cities in terms of homeless youth.

Helping those that recently became homeless is the best way to combat chronic homelessness. As in medical triage care, you deal with the less injured quickly so they don’t become critical. Spending resources to keep someone from losing their home in the first place, or connecting them with relatives that can take them in, for example, would help lower the population of chronic homeless.

In recent years, funding for homelessness programs has focused on helping military veterans and those with mental health issues find shelter and treatment. Those programs have made great strides in helping those targeted populations, but, much less it being done to help people that have recently slipped into homelessness.

San Diego’s year-round moderate climate makes it easier to live on the streets than in colder regions, drawing homeless from beyond our city, and further adding to our problems. Last year’s homeless count found that nearly 24 percent of San Diego’s homeless came from other cities.

Other cities have had much greater success than San Diego in reducing their homeless population. Houston, Texas, for example, experienced a 75 percent reduction in homelessness in the past five years as a result of an aggressive, coordinated program to find permanent housing for those without a place to live. Granted, Houston’s high vacancy rates and lower cost of living make finding transitional and affordable housing solutions easier, but the greater impact has come from a coordinated intake and assessment process to effectively connect people with the appropriate services and housing opportunities available for them.

Last year, the City was criticized for spending over $50,000 to install sharp rocks along the sidewalks under the bridge at Imperial Avenue near the Ballpark, areas frequently used by homeless. Residents had complained about the encampments, but the City only pushed the problem from one place to another without dealing with the real problem.

Placating residents that complain one block at a time will not solve the problem of homelessness. Without a coordinated approach to leverage federal, state, and local dollars, along with private donations to charities, San Diego will continue to deal with the negative effects of homelessness, and will continue to ignore the needs of those living so miserably on the streets.

San Diego is America’s Finest City. We love the weather, the beach, and the lifestyle. Those living among us with no permanent home deserve a chance to enjoy a real life here, too.

Let’s not ignore those we see sleeping on the streets. Let’s work together to better address their need and provide them a helping hand to get back on their feet. That will truly make us a finer city.

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