by Peter Callstrom / Regional Task Force on Homeless / Special to the OB Rag
Kudos to Ocean Beach! This progressive community held a forum last night to proactively address homelessness in their community. A diverse and overflow crowd gathered to constructively dialogue, listen, and find common ground. A number of persons who are homeless were in attendance and actively participated in the discussion. There are no easy answers, but dialogue is so critical: to build understanding, empathy, and ideas. Wisely, more forums are planned.
The Blacks’ “Don’t Feed Our Bums” sticker, as well as the Regional Task Force on the Homeless’ alternative sticker, “Together We End Homelessness” have raised awareness of the growing problem of homelessness in this small seaside community. Stickers have garnered attention – now, let’s turn that into more action – throughout our region.
Ocean Beach’s concern is not unique in the San Diego region. As we recently reported, our region has experienced a 7.8% increase in the last year (8,506 counted), according to our annual ‘Point In Time’ count. In addition, the count reflected a 12% increase in persons who are not in a shelter, that is, living on the street, in parks, behind buildings or in other places not meant for human habitation. Nationally, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, it is estimated that approximately 670,000 are homeless on any given night. In the course of a year, thousands more experience homelessness for some period of time.
Enabling people to leave the street benefits everyone. Whether one believes that there is a moral imperative, there is an enormous economic benefit. Los Angeles found that placing four chronically homeless people into permanent supportive housing saved the city more than $80,000 per year. All fiscal studies have reinforced the tremendous societal economic benefit to solving homelessness.
With such daunting numbers, how can we solve homelessness, or at least, alleviate this extraordinary problem? Solutions involve affordable housing, employment, health care, social service providers, shelters, and much more – all tremendous challenges on their own. However, despite the rise in the count, thanks to the commitment and passion of countless individuals and organizations throughout our community, we are making progress. If not for the efforts of many, and the heroic efforts of dozens of direct service providers in our County, the problem could be far worse.
To make significant progress, we can all learn from the action taken in Ocean Beach – in the end, homelessness is a local/community issue. Working together, we WILL make a difference and help those who are homeless to return to a life of dignity.
Peter Callstrom is the Executive Director of the Regional Task Force on the Homeless.