In San Diego, the Homeless Don’t Count

by on March 1, 2022 · 0 comments

in Homelessness, San Diego

It’s becoming all the more apparent to critical observers in San Diego, that here in our town, the homeless don’t count. The numbers of the houseless are surging and local government seems just to sweep their encampments from place to place, never really dipping into the real crisis or affecting the real numbers of our fellow humans who don’t have a shelter over their heads.

Lisa Halverstadt at Voice of San Diego peered into the abyss and wrote:

Street homelessness and the misery tied to it appear to be surging to new highs across San Diego.

Tents and makeshift homes line downtown sidewalks, open space in Balboa Park and other corners of the city. Dozens of residents created a village along Sports Arena Boulevard in the Midway District that eventually drew the sort of clean-up operations and police crackdowns typically concentrated downtown.

The suffering of residents residing outside is palpable. Many are pessimistic that help is coming and have recently endured cold, rainy weather and weeks of halted city shelter intakes amid spiking COVID cases in those shelters. Partial data on deaths investigated by the county Medical Examiner’s Office shows deaths of unhoused people are also rising. Drug overdose deaths among homeless residents alone spiked 85 percent in the city in 2021.

She reports that a downtown business group claims homelessness has expanded by 60% in downtown since last Spring.

But, perhaps there’s an option that hasn’t been embraced: city-sanctioned plots – dubbed “safe villages.” Filled with tents or even tiny homes, the plots could offer an immediate effective response. Mayor Todd Gloria reportedly is now eager for more details of the concept. “He acknowledged he’s frustrated with the worsening state of the city’s homelessness crisis and how the pandemic has hampered efforts to move more people indoors as cases have spiked and service providers face staffing shortages.”

San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Charles T Clark agreed in today’s paper:

After Thursday’s annual count of our homeless community provided a glimpse into the suffering and challenges facing some of our region’s most vulnerable residents, San Diego City Councilmember Steve Whitburn best summed up the state of affairs when he described it as a “humanitarian crisis.”

It is difficult for anyone to argue with that assessment.

Our last local count of the unsheltered was conducted in January 2020, because COVID forced the organizers to skip the count in 2021. In 2020 though, San Diego County was found to have 7,619 homeless persons, the seventh largest homeless population in the country.

Although we won’t know the results of the 2022 count until April, there are indications things have only gotten worse.

Clark adds that at times it  seems “elected officials care more about the photo ops and good press that come with appearing to care about the issue than about the actual human beings suffering because of homelessness.”

Clark points to several factors that help paint a dismal picture of the houseless situation. Project Homekey — a state initiative to use state and federal dollars to support projects that convert buildings into permanent, long term housing for homeless residents — had set aside about $61 million for supportive housing projects in San Diego County. Yet, local government failed to act in time. The county and local cities “failed to provide any housing proposals to the state by the Jan 31. deadline.”

Another is that in February, San Diego police resumed enforcing laws against camping on sidewalks, and “some homeless advocates say the policy is being enforced in an aggressive way, as evidenced by some videos and photos we saw coming out of the enforcement strategy being applied to a large encampment on Sports Arena Boulevard.”

Clark summarized his feeling: “Even if the enforcement is being fairly applied, though, I’m feeling a sense of dissonance because our officials just failed to even apply for funding to address the issue.”

What has to happen to ensure the homeless of San Diego do count?


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