Editor: The following is an edited version of the “Report from the Open Forum Regarding Issues of Homelessness in Ocean Beach” just recently released by the Inter-Faith Community of Ocean Beach and the folks who actually ran that first forum on July 6th. We have only included the text of the report, as we edited out repetitious titles, page numbers, as well as Appendix A and B; you’ll have to go to the pdf format here: download file for the issue tables and graphs.
Prepared by San Diego Restorative Justice Mediation Program in conjunction with the Ocean Beach Inter-Faith Community
Report from the Open Forum regarding the Issues of Homelessness in Ocean Beach
In mid-June, 2010, a merchant in the community of Ocean Beach, San Diego, California, began selling a sticker focused on homelessness in the community. Fashioned after the California State Parks signage discouraging feeding bears, the sticker read, “Welcome to Ocean Beach/Please Don’t Feed Our Bums.”1 Seen as a response to aggressive panhandling and youthful, apparently able bodied, homeless called “Travelers,” the community responded. Some saw the message as appropriate, some humorous, and others as hate speech. The controversy over the sticker and the issues surrounding homelessness in the community, culminated in a protest in front of the merchant’s business calling for a boycott of the business. “Both” sides participated and close monitoring by the San Diego Police Department precluded the vocal protestations from turning violent.
On July 6, 2010, the inter-faith community of Ocean Beach2 sponsored an open forum to discuss the issues surrounding the homelessness in Ocean Beach. The purpose of the forum was twofold. First, the inter-faith community recognized the escalating polarization and anger in the community regarding the issues involved with the homeless and the forum was viewed as a venue to de-escalate the growing animus in the community. Second, the forum was designed as a spring board to bring the community back together and begin working toward transforming the conflicts and collaborating on solutions.
[1 Countering the “Please Don’t Feed our Bums” sticker, the San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless, designed it own sticker which was presented at the forum.]
[2 The inter-faith community consisted of representatives of St. Peters by the Sea Lutheran Church, Point Loma United Methodist Church , All Souls Episcopal Church , Second Chance Ministries, Sacred Heart of Ocean Beach Catholic Church, Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Bethany Lutheran Church, First Baptist Church of Ocean Beach.]
The forum was held at the Sacred Heart of Ocean Beach Parish Hall, a facility large enough the hold the expected 75 to 100 attendees. The process to be used was the peace circle format. The issues to be addressed and the rules of the forum were posted in advance on the OB Rag blog site (http://obrag.org/?p=21710). Additionally, those who attended were asked to sign in with a name and e-mail and were given a name tag (first name only), a set of the issues to be discussed and the rules of the forum. The facilitators were provided by the San Diego Restorative Justice Mediation Program (SDRJMP), and members of the faith community who had received training prior to the forum. Each facilitator was provided with a checklist to follow to ensure uniformity of the process (See Appendix A).
The forum was of public interest and there were five television news stations and two print media representatives. Concerns over grandstanding, or the chilling effect of the media lead to a compromise regarding media coverage of the event. The moderator met with media representatives before the forum began and allowed them to film and photograph prior to the beginning of the peace circles. The process and the reasoning behind the exclusion were explained. Not surprisingly, all the representatives of the media cooperated with the desires of the organizers, with little to no complaint.
The forum opened with a welcome from Fr. Ron Hebert, Pastor of the Sacred Heart of Ocean Beach Parish, followed by a brief overview and invocation by Rev. Thomas Ziegert of the United Methodist Church. The invocation prayer was by Thomas Merton, and can be found in the Appendix B. The moderator, from SDRJMP, then explained the peace circle process to the attendees. In explaining the process, the moderator informed the attendees the forum was not organized to find a solution, but to identify issues and begin the collaborative process in addressing issues surrounding homelessness in Ocean Beach.
Approximately 235 people showed up to the forum. Of those, about 190 attendees actually engaged in the process. The moderator had those who planned to participate, count off beginning with “one” continuing through to “ten.” The number counted by the participant indicated the circle the individual was to work in. This assured a cross section of the community in each circle (e.g. no one group was made up of strictly homeowners, business owners, or members of the houseless community).
Each circle had between fifteen and seventeen participants. There was one facilitator and one scribe assigned to each circle. The duty of the scribe was to record the responses for each circle to the issues addressed by the participants. After a reading of the rules by the circle facilitator, and given an opportunity to ask questions, each participant was asked to sign the agreement to follow the rules in the circle (see figure #1). The session involved two rounds (see figure #2).
After the first round, the scribes wrote down the responses from their group onto large easel paper and taped them to the walls of the hall. By doing so the participants could view what they had been able to accomplish in the first round of discussions.
Peace Circle Rules
1) I agree the facilitators are in full control of the Peace Circle.
2) I agree to speak the truth.
3) I agree only one person may speak at a time, and I will not interrupt.
4) I agree to listen to those who are speaking, and if necessary, to summarize accurately what another has said.
5) I agree to speak respectfully to all during the Peace Circle.
6) I will not use threats, profane language or obscenities during the Peace Circle.
7) I have come to the circle to engage in solutions.
Name two things you love about Ocean Beach?
Name two things which have drawn you to Ocean Beach whether you are a business owner or resident?
Name two things you find negative about Ocean Beach?
Describe the kind of community you desire Ocean Beach to be?
What is in the way of making Ocean Beach the kind of community you desire?
What resources do we have to make Ocean Beach the kind of community you desire?
What resources do we need to make Ocean Beach the kind of community you desire?
How do we address the threat to peace in our community this summer and beyond?
By posting issues and rules in advance, providing the same at the door and then asking the participants to sign the agreements, the facilitators were given the authority to oversee the process, keep it positive and under control.
FINDINGS FROM THE CIRCLES – see actual Report (pdf format above)
Conclusion of the Forum
When the final peace circle reported completion with the issues, the attendees were thanked for their participation and a promise of a report. A benediction was given by Reverend Steven Drescher of Bethany Lutheran Church.
The attendees lingered in small groups, continuing to speak with one another. What had started as a polarized community forum, ended with diverse little groups shaking hands, and exchanging hugs.
The forum concluded at 10:15 p.m.
Follow-up to the Forum
On July 27, 2010, the Inter-Faith Community of Ocean Beach met to discuss a format and direction for the follow-up agenda3. The discussion was based upon the preliminary findings from the forum.
Based upon the findings, and input from the community subsequent to the forum, the following was decided.
First, because cleanliness of Ocean Beach is a major issue, an Alley clean-up was viewed as a community event. With support from the Ocean Beach Town Council, and the Main Street Merchants’ Association, it was agreed to have the community to select a particular alley way to clean up. Ideally the alley selected would be one which serviced merchants and residents. The first clean-up would follow the Saturday morning Breakfasts for the needy provided by Second Chance Ministries, at the First Baptist Church. Tentative dates selected are either August 21 or 28, 2010.
The clean-up was viewed as the beginning of ongoing community process, selecting a particular alley, notifying the residents and merchants who lived on the alley, and starting after the Saturday morning breakfasts to involve the homeless community, and other community volunteers.
Second, the Inter-Faith Community, agreed to host a second forum on August 24, 2010. The most likely venue will be the hall at the First Baptist Church, a location adequate to hold a large number of attendees. The focus of this forum will be on several action items identified by the previous forum and the anticipation of creating community committees to address the manner in which those items may be achieved (i.e. bathroom facilities, or a drop-in emergency shelter).
[3 At this meeting, the Inter-Faith Community was joined by Harbor Presbyterian Church and Oasis Ministries.]
As with the initial forum, the action items and rules for the attendees will be posted prior to the forum. It is anticipated there will be continued involvement from the members of SDRJMP and the Inter-Faith Community.
This report will be made available in PDF format at the churches of the Inter-Faith Community, through the OB Rag Blog site, the SDRJMP website (SDRJMP.org) and forwarded to the media outlets which attended the forum.