‘Housing, Not Hand-Cuffs’ – What San Diego Leaders Can Do to Reduce Homelessness and Save Lives in 2023

by on December 30, 2022 · 6 comments

in Homelessness, San Diego

By Ann Menasche, Coleen Cusack, and Matha Sullivan / OpEd San Diego Union-Tribune / Dec. 29, 2022

The human-made catastrophe of mass homelessness can be deadly. There have been at least 1,425 preventable deaths in San Diego County since 2020. Elected officials and their appointees in San Diego County have failed homeless people since at least 1996, when the city of San Diego reported to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that “inability to pay high rents” was among the most common reasons for homelessness.

This is a policy failure of epic proportions — implicating all levels of government and both major political parties. But rather than take responsibility, officials often blame the victims. Hence, the criminalization of homelessness serves an insidious, irrational purpose.

Seniors, people with disabilities and low-income workers and families are caught in a speculative housing market with a median monthly rent of $2,384. Since landlords typically expect an income of three times that amount to rent a unit, an annual income over $85,000 is needed to qualify for a home at that cost, compared to the $12,482 that Social Security Insurance pays annually. San Diego’s minimum wage — $16.30 an hour as of Jan. 1 — means those working two full-time minimum wage jobs would still be $17,000 short.

Many people are likely to die before getting access to rent subsidies for the city’s Section 8 vouchers due to 10-year long waiting lists. The federal government recently passed a record $858 billion military budget but somehow can’t fund vouchers and construct public housing to take care of over half a million of its own houseless residents. Meanwhile, the Pentagon, under basic accounting practices, can’t account for at least $6.5 trillion of its long-term spending.

So houseless people sleep in tents along sidewalks or shelter in vehicles, playing cat and mouse with police officers who ticket, fine and arrest them, dump their belongings like wheelchairs and walkers into trash trucks, impound their vehicles, and threaten to forcibly treat and institutionalize them under California’s misnamed “CARE Act.”

None of this is effective in moving anyone into housing. Rather, treating unhoused people as criminals makes their lives that much harder.

The city offers stopgap measures like congregate shelters, which are unusable by seniors and people with disabilities and prone to outbreaks of diseases, and “safe parking” lots. A whole industry has built up around homelessness, but these grossly inadequate offerings have far less capacity than is needed for the growing numbers of houseless residents.

They really have no choice, and it is only getting worse. The Regional Task Force on Homelessness reports that for every 10 people placed into housing last year, 13 more people fell into homelessness for the first time.

The city allowed the COVID-19-related moratorium on evictions to expire at the end of September, leading to a tsunami of evictions. There were 1,150 in October alone. All it takes is a job loss, an illness or a rent increase for someone to join these ranks.

Our homeless problem is not at all complex. California has higher rates of homelessness compared to other parts of the nation not because we have more drug addiction or mental illness but because our housing is more expensive.

Nor are we unable to address the problem. There are many things that San Diego leaders can do. They can:

Repeal the Vehicle Habitation Ordinance and stop using the anti-encroachment ordinance meant to control trash to punish people forced to live on city streets.

Preserve affordable housing and boost housing stability by reinstating COVID-19-related eviction protections, passing local rent control and lobbying our state Legislature to repeal both the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which bans effective rent control, and the Ellis Act, which allows affordable housing to disappear.

Treat this housing crisis like a real emergency. Stop approving luxury housing, tourist hotels and new sports venues, and put every possible city resource into creating housing for extremely low to middle-income San Diegans and to expand housing subsidies.

Improve the conditions for unhoused people while permanent housing is created.

— Establish and properly maintain bathrooms and handwashing stations that are open 24/7.

Improve “safe parking” programs to meet basic humanitarian standards.

Establish a low-barrier permit program for street parking of vehicles used as shelters with access to bathrooms, handwashing stations and trash collection.

Open city beach and parkland for quality campgrounds, full-service RV parks with hookups and tiny homes for unhoused San Diego residents. Similar measures were taken to provide temporary housing for homeless veterans after World War II supported by the courts.

Establish non-congregate shelters for seniors and people with disabilities in hotels and other locations. Ensure that no one is ever discharged from a hospital into the streets.

Issue a moratorium on impoundment of vehicles used as shelter for so long as the housing emergency exists.

— Facilitate and empower unhoused individuals to run their own programs and communities.

All it takes is political will to stop our fellow human beings from dying needlessly on our streets. Will San Diego meet the challenge?

Housing, not handcuffs!

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul Webb December 30, 2022 at 11:45 am

I find it terribly ironic that Ann Menasche is portraying herself as someone trying to end homelessness. She is trying to keep people homeless and living in their vehicles.

I was recently at the Mission Bay RV dump to empty my van’s waste tank. Ahead of me in line was a man who turned out to be very elderly (by which I mean older than me) and clearly disabled – barely able to walk and needing to hang on to the side of his van. When his turn to use the dump came, he opened the back of his van and it was very clear that he was living in the van. Not a camper van, but a cargo van with makeshift living accommodations. He took out two plastic jerrycans which contained the waste he was going to dump.

The only word I can think of to describe his living conditions is “squalor.” He had no real bed, and he was clearly reliving himself and storing his waste in the jerrycans. A person his age and in his condition simply should not be forced to live in the conditions in which he is living.

Ann Menasche is the attorney who is fighting to repeal or have nullified in court the City’s vehicle habitation ordinances. In other words, she is fighting to keep this man in his van, rather than seeking meaningful solutions to find him a home. I have come to believe that there are many homeless who will not go into shelters or avail themselves of other solutions unless forced to. If they can somehow remain in their vehicles, their encampments, their home on the streets, they will not seek help.

Ann, you are perpetuating the problems of the homeless by working to facilitate their ability to live in their vehicles. People should not be forced (or be able!) to live in these conditions.


Andrew T December 30, 2022 at 9:15 pm

“Trying to keep people homeless and living in their vehicles”?

Unless you have a better option for ‘them’ than living in tents without transport — or stints in carceral City shelters — what solution do you propose? And not later, but now?


sealintheSelkirks December 31, 2022 at 1:11 am

The Federal Poverty Level is $12,700 for a family of one, rents on a 1-bdrm apartment is $2,000 a month (national average) which is double the poverty level. Does that make sense?

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour (yes some states have raised it) and working people pay a much higher percentage of their income in taxes than the wealthy. The ‘cost’ of living in the US continues to skyrocket so the wealthy can enjoy their ever-higher profit margins while government spending totals for war is over $1,000,000,000,000 a year…and that obscene number continues to grow like black mold behind a leaking toilet as every government social responsibility program for its citizens are either cut to the bone or discarded like yesterday’s newspaper wrapped around a stinking dead fish by politicians owned by the wealthy who fund their election campaigns…and you are blaming Ann for perpetuating the problems of the homeless?

And you say people should not be forced (or be able!) to live in these conditions? I agree with the first half of this sentence and violently disagree with the second in this sentence.

This young woman also sleeps in her car a lot:


As someone who was LUCKY enough to have just enough money (helped by a few friends and people whose boards I had repaired who pitched in) to buy a broken down old 1955 GMC 16′ breadtruck in 1974 for $300 after I was evicted from a tiny Mission Beach converted 1-car garage studio having being burglarized and left with no way to pay the rent (they took everything valuable including my rent money), I understand completely how this guy is living as I lived in that truck and a friend’s camper truck for the next five years before I finally was able to rent one of those tiny apartments above Harry’s Market in 1979 while running my ding repair out of front yards and tiny garages until 1980 when I moved back to OB where a friend needed a roomie and opened the shop in the back yard & garage on Sunset Cliffs Blvd. with a girlfriend who wanted to live with me…

At least I wasn’t old then and I can’t imagine what it would be like now like this guy is experiencing.

Ann, I applaud and thank you for what you are doing.



laplayaheritage January 1, 2023 at 9:56 am

Thank you ladies for volunteering to help the poor and homeless this rainy stormy New Year’s Day.


Pope Francis reminded us this Christmas that Jesus was poor, and everyone needs help. What is junk to someone, is precious to another.

There has been a dramatic increase in deaths of homeless on our public property including freeways, either by accidents, drug overdoses, or suicides.



The funding solution for Affordable Housing and Homeless is to use the County of San Diego’s Pooled Investment Fund totaling $11.52 BILLION in CASH Fund Balances. The $11.52 BILLION consists of investments of unused money of the County, Cities, Schools, and Special Districts.

See Page 43 for Total Cash, including in Pooled Investment which includes BILLIONS in unused CASH Bond Proceeds. Including some Bond Proceeds from pre-2010 that could for example be used to build public housing on school property for families and teachers.


Specifically, please see Page 39 where San Diego County staff is hoarding $568,071,605 in Federal CASH Fund Balance as of September 2022 in Fund 61040 the Federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) meant for COVID-19 relief. Especially for equity for the poor, disenfranchised, and homeless. This would including housing for the extra numbers of black homeless in San Diego County in private hotel rooms, if they wanted.

The County has a framework for some of the $0.57 BILLION in Federal ARPA CASH still left over as of 09/30/2022

The Federal government allocated San Diego County $650 Million = $0.65 BILLION. As of 09/30/2022, only 12% of ARPA fundings has been used.


There is room to ask for +$100 million in unallocated and unbudgeted Federal ARPA funds for migrant shelters and homeless shelters immediately.

All that is needed is approval by the County Board of Supervisors to use the Federal ARPA CASH now instead of in 3+ years.

Neither the County Board of Supervisors or City Council Members seem to understand the money for the Federal solutions to help migrants, homeless, and our local non-profits to survive already exist as hoarded CASH in the County’s Pooled Investment Fund Balance linked above.

Others who are doing great work on new migrants is Jewish Family Services (JFS) and Catholic Charities. They are doing great emergency work helping migrants who were dropped off by the Federal government at local Transit Centers to fend for themselves.


County Supervisor Jim Desmond has been the lead on bringing attention to this local crisis and wants a solution.



The County and Federal government can override Mayor Todd Gloria’s opposition to open up public owned Mission Bay dedicated parkland including portions of Fiesta Island, South Shores and Sunrunner Parking Lots, and the old RV Park by Campland for public Homeless Emergency Housing.


Paul Webb January 1, 2023 at 5:16 pm

For reasons both obvious and stated in my original comment, living in a vehicle is not a great, or even good, solution to our unsheltered fellow San Diegans – and for the elderly and disabled it’s even worse. It is simply not a decent, safe, sanitary or humane option (and yes, I deliberately used the “decent, safe and sanitary” language of the first national law governing housing passed in 1947.

I do have solutions: build more shelters, provided more money for subsidized apartments, build tiny home communities with supported (read “mental health”) services, and as a last resort use the new state law that allows people unable to take care of themselves to be taken to a facility where they can be helped.


Gerald Sweeney January 2, 2023 at 7:18 am

San Diego elected officials don’t care about the homeless, they don’t vote. The voters need to press the TV and local news to show on at least a weekly frequency the dire life of the San Diego homeless. Perhaps find a reporter who has a humane thought. If the homeless organization can organize a large group of homeless people to picket city hall before and after a council meeting during June,July and August you might see some funds made available for ongoing homeless services. This would be possible with the help of local mainstream press and TV coverage. The council would be apt to assist with humane care funding for your homeless. If the press also did a human care coverage on a frequent basis the council might be apt to see the ongoing needs in San Diego. Best of Luck.


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