Mayoral Candidate Barbara Bry’s Horrible Homeless Crusade

by on October 21, 2019 · 10 comments

in Election, San Diego

From Words&Deeds / Oct. 19, 2019

Note: I promised myself I’d stay out of Democrat vs Democrat races where the election of one or the other wouldn’t have a great impact. Barbara Bry has crossed that line. We don’t need four more years of Kevin Falconer.

Councilmember and Mayoral Candidate Barbara Bry isn’t the first person who comes to mind when I hear Senator Bernie Sanders railing against the 1%. Sometimes though, it’s not how much money you’ve got, it’s how the trappings of the uber rich filter down the economic food chain.

The 1% need a little help beyond what money can buy to protect their interests. This means advocacy and ideology supporting their interests. Otherwise well-meaning people parrot policy ideas favoring the status quo that are all about protecting people’s “stuff.”

La Jolla’s Councilmember has been beating the drums lately with an op ed in the Times of San Diego, direct mail, and Facebook ads stirring up issues around homelessness in a manner aimed at juicing up the disgust many San Diegan feel when confronted with the results of decades of heightening inequality.

Here are some of her words:

  • “Over a decade of treating homelessness as principally a “housing problem” has dug a deep and dangerous hole.”

I’ll skip over the part about how our present situation is Assem. Todd Gloria’s fault.

Here’s the relevant sentence about the Los Angeles Times article–which measured physical and mental health issues differently than the government does. 

  • But neither the UCLA study nor the Times analysis suggests that these disabilities and health conditions alone cause people to end up on the streets. Elected officials and researchers largely agree that California’s affordable housing crisis and poverty are the primary drivers of homelessness.

Back to the Bry screed: (Emphasis mine)

  • The new plan commissioned by the San Diego Housing Commission, while not perfect, finally breaks from this disastrous path by recognizing that success is dependent upon mental health professionals, drug rehabilitation specialists, vocational trainers, and educated law enforcement officers to deal with the issues that are actually at the root of homelessness.
  • Living on a street or in a riverbed is unacceptable, unsafe for the homeless, and a public health threat. But we cannot address the root causes of homelessness by treating it principally as a “housing problem.”
  • Accepting the failure of past policies by making mental illness, drug addiction and public safety our first priorities is the first step to a successful approach.

I don’t know how to read that last sentence any other way than “lock’em up.” 

The County of San Diego has control of mental illness facilities and oversight of drug rehab programs.

Other than urging better coordination between entities and contracting out tents, the main tool left for a San Diego Mayor is the police, unless you count having public works install stony sidewalks under bridges.

Bry campaigning on this issue isn’t much different than City Council candidates promising to resolve local education issues. [School boards are independent of local government].

How about the other half or so of the homeless population NOT afflicted with mental illness and substance abuse?  

Many of the local homeless population are senior citizens whose social security simply can’t cover the cost of living. We don’t see the majority of unhoused people; more than three times the number of people counted in the annual point in time census used homeless services in San Diego County last year.

Maybe Barbara Bry should try living on the street for a few months so she can experience the thrills of trying to stay sane with no money, the constant fear of predators and/or police. There’s nothing like going mostly sleepless for weeks on end to rattle the ol’ synapses. I’ve been told that once you hit six months on the street de-socialization occurs.

I suppose I should repeat the relevant part of Megan Wood’s Voice of San Diego explainer focused on the myths of homelessness:

  • Myth #1: Most homeless people have serious mental illnesses. University of Pennsylvania professor Dennis Culhane is considered one of the top authorities on homelessness research nationwide and he estimates the rate of severe mental illness among the homeless (including families and children) is 13 to 15 percent. For the chronically homeless, he estimates about a third of the population has a serious mental illness.
  • Myth #2: Most homeless San Diegans aren’t from here. Our most recent point-in-time counts – which do rely on some self-reporting and surveys – have suggested less than a quarter of homeless San Diegans first became homeless outside San Diego County. In our most recent homeless census, 78 percent of folks surveyed said they became homeless in San Diego County.
  • Myth #3: Homeless San Diegans want to be homeless. I have talked to dozens of homeless people myself in my years reporting on this issue and I can tell you it tends to be more complicated. Like you or I, homeless people have preferences about the type of housing they’d like to be in. Many have reservations about shelter beds. Or they are jaded after years on the street and are unlikely to trust anyone offering them a path off the street right off the bat. More on this and the other three myths above here.
  • Myth #4: Most homelessness is tied to drugs or alcohol. I researched this quite a bit a couple years ago and found that the lion’s share of sources and research suggests between 25 percent and 40 percent of the nation’s homeless population is struggling with alcohol or drug addiction, or both.
  • One larger takeaway: Many of us make assumptions about the homeless population based on the portion of the homeless population that is most visible to us. But many homeless people fall under the radar. You’d never know they are homeless. They have jobs and routines. They may be couch surfing or in between places. They are newly homeless. More food for thought (and data) on this here.

Now that I’ve dished out some stats and wisdom on homelessness, it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty. 

Whether it’s by commission or omission, Bry’s campaign is selling fear. Just like she did when she warned constituents “they’re coming for your homes” as the legislature considered a law attacking the density restrictions used by cities to protect the interests of single homeowners.

The “it’s not housing” claim she makes doesn’t hold water. People are not homeless, by and large, because of health or abuse problems. There is simply no place for them to live. 

Rents are too high for seniors on fixed incomes. Many jobs don’t pay enough to afford housing. And Single Occupancy Hotels downtown were torn down; many of the people living in those properties had nowhere to go.

Finally, the vast majority of people living without a roof over their heads aren’t doing it as a lifestyle choice.

I get it. Barbara Bry and her set don’t want any of “those people” living near them. In a perfect world, every community would be asked to welcome some new neighbors.

Building an unlimited number of ugly box apartment buildings along El Cajon Boulevard won’t help the homeless. Voting for a convention center bond measure dressed up as a funding mechanism for homeless services won’t do much, if anything.

We need low-income–excuse me, the new terminology is “workforce”–housing built. If Tom Sudberry won’t do it, then let’s find people who will. I’m not talking 10%. More like 100%, run like a cooperative, with non-profits overseeing the management.

If Barbara Bry wants to address the “homeless” question, this (or something like it) is what she should be advocating, not continuing to criminalize a condition DIRECTLY caused by the failures of the “free market” she so dearly loves.

I don’t consider this post an endorsement of Assem. Todd Gloria, even though my instincts tell me he’ll likely win. I’ll get around to profiles on the candidates about the time the window for declaring closes.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Geoff Page October 21, 2019 at 10:52 am


I want to say first that I am a big fan of your writing. But, I really wish you had not written this piece. There are only three choices for mayor. Bry is the only one who has any chance against Gloria. Ms. Williamson is an admirable candidate but is not well known. Yes, Gloria looks like a shoe-in, which would be a shame. But, some people may be looking at Bry and you may have just discouraged them. The homeless problem is a miserable mess for everyone, no one has a good answer and to pick on Bry for this one issue seems to me a bit unfair. No politician is perfect, not even close, but as an overall preference, Bry would be an interesting change for this city. To say that she would be four more years of Faulconer is grossly unfair. That would be Gloria.


Lyle October 21, 2019 at 12:08 pm

You said “Maybe Barbara Bry should try living on the street for a few months”. How about some balanced journalism ? How long has Todd Gloria lived on the streets ?


lyle October 21, 2019 at 12:30 pm

I recommend that readers click the article’s link to the Times of San Diego, and make their own decision regarding how terrible Barbara Bry’s attitude is. Also I found the VOSD article covering the Bry/Gloria debate at the Sierra Club to be interesting, towards the middle of the article. (Link is below .. ed feel free to change location of link if need be).

Gloria may give stronger lip service to the homeless issue but, as the Times article states, he’s had 7 years to solve the problem he promised to solve in 4 years, so his approach may not be working too well.

Also Bry has been outspoken in her support of neighborhoods by trying to reign in the scooter and STVR industries, while Gloria seems happy to kow-tow to them as shown by his support of helmet de-regulation and state supercession of local zoning efforts. Actually Gloria looks more like Faulconer than does Bry.

Here’s the link:


Val October 21, 2019 at 10:48 pm

Spot on.


Carolyn October 21, 2019 at 5:53 pm

I dont disagree her emails are provocative but this article is too. I mean enough with the rich lady from La Jolla crap. Why does she keep getting trashed for being successful. She wasnt born a Trump, she worked her ass off at a time when being a woman sucked (as if it doesnt still, but I digress). Fine, don’t like her approach but from what I understand she has more than given back to our community and there is nothing about her actions that say she is out of touch or doesnt understand peoples suffering. Last time I checked she was the only one rallying against the 15,000 housing units that are being used as mini-hotels instead of actual houses for residents. Nor did she eliminate SROs – you say dont blame Gloria, but he did ok the removal of SROs and he hasnt done squat to the vacation rentals. And you are absolutely right, there is no one solution, she didnt say there was but I sure would like someone to do something about the drug addicted and mental cases because maybe if we could get those guys off the street but sympathy would turn to those senior citizens you mentioned. I may not agree with her message delivery but at least she is trying different approaches.


Geoff Page October 22, 2019 at 9:16 am

Very well put, Carolyn, I agree completely.


Porter Deb October 22, 2019 at 11:05 am

Thank you for reminding me about the now-non-existent SROs……… which the city let be demolished in order to build million dollar condos downtown.
They provided a valuable function and could have been brought up to modern codes less expensively than building new housing and densification.


Douglas Porter October 22, 2019 at 10:57 am

I will not stand down when somebody–politician or not–dehumanizes human beings. Bry said these things and they were obviously vetted, since it went out three different ways. This is an attempt to appeal to people who believe–or are willing to ignore–that the solution to homelessness is some form of incarceration.

UT ran an article a few days ago saying 40% of people in SD jail were homeless when arrested. That number keeps going up; so do the number of homeless. MAYBE it’s not working. Read the threads on NextDoor, where the rage against these folks falls just short of violence.

As to this issue of “fairness.” When Todd Gloria says something really stupid, I’ll be there to tell the story. In 10 years of writing about local politics I’ve never backed away from speaking out. I feel no obligation to say something about him to provide “balance,” or to suggest that he’s somehow the same on this issue. This faux “both sides” stuff is why we have Trump.

To the point of portraying Bry (figuratively) as a”rich lady from La Jolla.” I make the point as often as I can that politics is driven by class interests. Everything I’ve seen about Bry tells me she’s picked a side, albeit with liberal window dressing, and it ain’t my side. We have a wealth problem in this country; people who’ve got $$$ (or think they do) throw up all kinds of crap to keep and expand what they’ve got.

You have to manifest some of these traits in order to be a major candidate in San Diego, which means TG isn’t without blame. Mayoral Candidate Tasha Williamson speaks to this in her podcast interview at Voice of San Diego.

Finally, Barbara Bry said these things. Todd didn’t. That’s why I sat down at the keyboard.


Geoff Page October 22, 2019 at 3:26 pm

Doug, did you make any attempt to contact Bry and give her a chance to defend herself? Did you as her “How about the other half or so of the homeless population NOT afflicted with mental illness and substance abuse?” I think you let your own biases affect your interpretation of what Bry wrote. Your writing is usually very well done but this piece presents your interpretation of what you think Bry meant more than anything else. I completely disagree that she is selling fear and I’ve lived long enough to have seen plenty of that. Did the quoted words “those people” come from something Bry actually wrote or was that your emphasis? And finally, if not Bry, then who? Williamson is agreeable but is a complete unknown. That leaves Gloria and all you’ve done with this piece is enhance his already formidable chances.


Micporte October 24, 2019 at 5:12 am

Competant reviews in the latest comments, pay heed, oh ye Barbara, wannabe mayor of San Diego, the jewel
of the west coast, be mertitus, or be rose colored glasses history….


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