By OB Rag Staffer
Can you picture yourself being homeless and living in a tent city? That’s a frightening thought, but it is a looming possibility for more and more San Diegans as the economy gets worse for ordinary people.
Ocean Beach has a large homeless population. We see these people, chat with them and help them out with a buck here and there. But all the handouts and good will in the world don’t add up to enough money to pay rent. As rising rent is squeezing more and more ordinary people out of their homes (and allowing landlords to live ever-more luxurious lifestyles), the number of homeless people is increasing. Where are these people supposed to go? As long as the cost of housing continues to rise, wages continue to fall, more people lose their jobs, and Wall Street corruption drains people’s life savings, then there will be more homeless people living in the neighborhoods.
Ocean Beach attracts homeless people for the same reason it attracts the rest of us. There is no better climate anywhere. OB is a place where people can live outdoors year round without freezing or overheating. OB has plenty of open areas, parks and beaches where people can stay. OB is the end of the road (literally at the end of I-8). The OB community is generally compassionate and understanding toward homeless people. Most OB residents are poor to middle-class, many are just a few paychecks away from being homeless themselves. And OB is a beautiful place to be.
A few years back, the homeless shelter on Midway Drive was turned into a FedEx facility (the big tent next to the Post Office). It was taken away from the poor and needy and handed over to a wealthy corporation. Homeless people were turned out into the streets. It used to be open during the coldest nights. Now the same people have to endure the cold whatever way they can.
In June of 2007, City Councilmember Toni Atkins voted NO to continued funding for a homeless shelter, to save the city $465,000. Then she voted YES to spend $520,000 to buy a vacant lot in City Heights to turn it into Toni Atkins Park. Maybe Toni Atkins Park should become a tent city for the homeless people who were displaced from the shelter.
San Diego’s downtown skyline is dominated by the new high rise glass-walled condominiums along Pacific Highway and Kettner Blvd. Newer neighborhoods are full of pink stucco mini-mansions. Who in San Diego can afford to buy these places? Are they meant to attract rich yuppies from out of town? How long will they remain empty and unsold? Why not convert them to low income housing for displaced San Diegans? I suspect that Father Joe Carroll would gladly accept a donation of a high rise building downtown.
Homeless people need restrooms and showers. The city locks up many of the public restrooms in parks and beaches at night to prevent homeless people from using them. Since they have to go somewhere, there is a sanitation issue. The obvious solution is to leave public restrooms open 24 hours a day in areas where homeless people live.
Health care is a huge issue for most ordinary people, but even more so for homeless people. What happened to the free clinics? They seem to have given way to high-dollar clinics that accept HMOs and PPOs from the people lucky enough to have them. People who can’t afford to pay the exorbitant costs of health care are on their own. The US has the best health care money can buy. But without money or insurance, people are forced to rely on home remedies and self-treatment, or else just suffer and let a disease run its course.
When Reaganomics and “trickle down” began in the 80s, the number of homeless people grew. The rich got richer, the poor got poorer, and the poorest got trickled down on by the richest. Many middle class Americans were so busy waving the flag and chanting “God Bless America” that they failed to see what they were allowing to happen. Now we need to undo what was done. We need to get conservatives to unwrap themselves from the flag so they can see what they have done to ordinary people, and then help fix it.
Now, the government is paying billions of tax dollars to bail out the most wealthy and corrupt business people in America. But very little bailout money will find its way to help the poorest Americans pay for food, shelter and health care. It seems like a CEO can destroy a corporation and cost thousands of jobs, and be rewarded with millions of dollars. But a poor person can work for an honest living and be rewarded with a layoff and an eviction notice. No bailout money for them. And whenever anyone mentions helping the poor, it gets called socialism. Some of that bailout money needs to go for food and shelter for homeless people. This needs to change, and soon.
Conservatives like to say, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” But it drowns those who can’t afford a boat.