The homeless, and the San Diego clean-up

Paula Peeling of the  St. Paul’s Outreach Committee writes, Our fellow parishioner and SPC verger, Don Mitchell, posted the following on Facebook on  March 5. I appreciated his multiple perspectives on the recent City postings about unattended property. His statement nudges each of us to face our own thoughts about sanitation, a “clean San Diego,” the constant challenge of mental illness, the inevitability of the financial stratification, and personal responsibility. Public Policy is a rocky road and none of us have the perfect answer. Keep the dialogue going, and keep your feet on the ground today. As followers of Jesus we can make a difference each day, one person at a time. Thank you, Don.

Signs are going up in the East Village. These signs posted by the city warn that any unattended property will be removed by a certain time. This happens periodically, but this time the affected area is much, much larger. Normally one to two blocks are cleaned up. This time, it is virtually the entire East Village. This has upset a lot of people because it seems like they are just trying to move the homeless to another area. Well, yes and no. Unfortunately, there is a mix of people out there and some of those people cause some serious problems for the residents, business owners, and the others on the street.

I know on the 1400 to 1700 block of Commercial Street there are a lot more pressing matters than simply homeless people. There is a lot of narcotics activity, fights break out (often times with weapons used) and I have personally performed CPR on heroin overdoses three times in the last year in the area. The residents and business owners complain about these issues and something must be done.

In my job, I work with the homeless community every day. There are so many who truly want to get their lives on track and they utilize our services. There are, unfortunately, the groups that use and sell drugs, resort to violence, and simply don’t want help. It is not illegal to be homeless and we cannot force people into using services geared to finding permanent housing.

For those who DO utilize the services, the process is long, drawn out, and bottle-necked. 25 Cities, the SDHC, Father Joe’s Villages, and many other organizations truly want to house the homeless. A couple of major problems: we are at something like 6% vacancy in the city AND landlords are not willing to open their properties to assist in the housing of those who so desperately need the help because they don’t want the homeless in their units. That is very, very sad.

The cleanup and property removal is not as harsh as it sounds. There are many items on the street that are true health hazards. If the property is UNATTENDED it will be removed. Sanitary items are held for 90 days and can be reclaimed at no cost. Unsanitary items will be discarded.

Please let people know the San Diego Day Center (formerly known as the Neil Good Day Center) at 299 17th Street is open seven days a week starting at 6am. There are mail, phone, and laundry services available as well as other programs. Showers are available at Father Joe’s Villages during the day for the homeless. Though the wait list is long, the Day Center is the first point of entry to begin receiving services from Father Joe’s.

The philosophy of “Housing First” is great, on paper and in theory. Unfortunately, the system is backed up due to the two major problems I mentioned above. It is not as easy as it sounds.

I have a very soft spot for the homeless, but I understand the reasoning behind the cleanup. I also understand that this tends to happen in the East Village when major events are coming (Comic-Con, baseball season, etc.); mostly for image, but also for the safety of those who traverse Commercial Street and Imperial Avenue to get to the stadium and the Convention Center. And yes, there are legitimate safety concerns – I see the violence and drug activity with my own eyes, every day.

We can only take it one step at a time – one person at a time. Will we ever end homelessness? Probably not; especially in a place as expensive to live as San Diego, but we can do everything we can to reduce the homeless population and get people housed.

ANYONE can end up on the streets; you, me, your neighbor, your kids – ANYONE. I truly believe there are good people out there both trying to help, and trying to get help. Actions like the cleanup are necessary evils.

Don Mitchell

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