The church-sponsored community forum last night (Tuesday July 6) drew as many as 250 residents, merchants, homeless, and property owners to a discussion on OB homelessness.
Volunteers signed people in as they lined up entering the lengthy hall, some homeless guys played music on the front lawn. Reporters mingled with attendees on the sidewalk. Many of OB’s active residents and business-owners were there – this was the place to be in OB on July 6th. Town Council members, the community relations police officer, the woman who feeds homeless people every Monday, OB Rag bloggers, seniors, middle-aged property owners, church volunteers. Christine Shames, a homeless advocate, brought a half-dozen young people who were homeless to the forum.
Peter Callstrom of the San Diego Regional Task Force on Homeless was there, along with some of his staff. They displayed the new “sticker” – the “We can end homelessness” image soon to be made into a sticker. Peter had told me that he’d like to see the new sticker sold in as many stores in OB as possible. “Even the Black,” he said. I replied that we’d call off our boycott of the head shop if they did sell the alternative.
As television cameras and their trucks were parked outside the Parish hall of Sacred Heart on Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, Father Ron Hebert of the Parish gave a warm welcome to the standing-room only crowd. The church had generously offered up their space for the gathering, – coffee, cookies and brownies filled a side table.
Then the Methodist church pastor Tom Ziegert – in displaying local church unity in hosting the event – gave an innovation – because as he explained, “that’s what I do.” Pastor Zeigert also offered that recently, “OB took on a whole new way of being in the way we were looked at.” He added that when local folks work to develop the welfare of Ocean Beach, “you’ll find your own welfare.”
Jack Hamlin, the moderator for the evening, then took the mike, and explained the crowd would be broken up into smaller discussion groups called “peace circles.” Hamlin, a former cop and lawyer, has had a mountain of experience in leading mediation efforts, which was clearly in evidence as the evening progressed. He later told me that twenty people in the crowd bolted for the door as soon as he said “peace circles.”
Jack broke the hall into ten groups and had volunteers lead the circles in discussions and formulating ideas. Once the smaller groups convened, the facilitators went over the “rules” of the circles, such as agreeing to only one person speaking at a time, to listening to others, to speak respectfully, to not swear, etc.
Then each circle member had a chance to discuss, briefly, their likes and dislikes of OB, how they’d like to see the community, what resources they thought were needed, and how to address the threat to peace for OB’s summer. Each circle also had a “scribe” who busily jotted down what people said. All these notes were then later transferred to large sheets for everyone to see.
Hamlin brought the crowd back from its smaller sessions and said that “there will be two or three more of these forums.” Applause, and the tired crowd got up to go. It was past 10.
But the first community forum had been a success. Most of the large crowd stayed put and participated for the entire two hours. No solutions had been reached, but everyone – including the homeless who had attended – had the opportunity to speak their piece.
The forum was definitely a positive step in healing Ocean Beach – and it was an historic moment in which the community that had been in the news so much lately over divisive issues such as the ‘bum’ sticker – pulled itself together. At least for one night.
We’ll post more updates and reflections of the forum in the near future.