The City of San Diego Takes First Steps Toward Select Committee on Homelessness

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Councilmember Chris Ward File Picture

March 20, 2017 (San Diego) The Council approved two reports on homelessness,, and will refer the creation of a select committee on Homeless to the April 5 meeting of the Rules Committee. This first step for the city to deal with what has become a human-made disaster. This committee will explore different ways to address the emergency, including the creation of affordable housing units.

This is what Councilmember Chris Ward proposed:

Ward’s expansive memo proposes a wide variety of ideas for further exploration and action, including:

 

· A comprehensive review of public lands;

· Establishing a City-sponsored community land trust to support affordable and permanent supportive housing;

· Conversions of ‘red light’ and nuisance properties and potential for adaptive reuse to increase supportive housing;

· Zoning updates to embrace micro units and tiny homes;

· Implementing Homeless Care Zones, which would provide homeless people a place to reside without fear of arrest over carrying out the routine behaviors of daily life;

· Establishing a protocol for city engagement with the homeless, and expand public health and safety outreach programs;

· Halting citations by the City of homeless encampments and explore forgiveness of outstanding penalties;

· Expanding shelter opportunities and the supply and diversity of diversion programs, and support for inclusive, low-barrier shelter and transitional housing facilities;

· An expansion of the successful Project Homeless Connect program;

· Exploring the use of large city-owned facilities such as Golden Hall or the former Downtown Library as interim shelter opportunities.

The hearing had hundreds of people in attendance, with plenty of ideas shared. Near the end, Sue Lindsay, executive director of San Diego State’s Institute for Public Health said the following after Council Member Barbara Bry asked as to how to spend limited funds the best:

Lindsay started her comments by addressing a conversation she had the other day with the 211 system operators, who are many times the first line where signs appear of distress. “They see the lights are going to be turned off. They see those kinds of things that are the warning. And being the data parson that I am, can we merge these two and can I make a predictive model?” This model does not exist yet, but the data is likely there.

This could be a place to intervene before homeless hits somebody. She also said something else, which goes against many of the stereotypes surrounding homelessness. While the city, and the county, are looking at a cooperative model that ultimately will lead to more affordable housing units, and a housing first approach, not every client requires the intensive, support.

She added, “my personal opinion this is an economic problem more than anything.”

Her words echoed much of the testimony from the public, as well as the reports. At the heart of it, is the lack of affordable housing in the County of San Diego. Why the County and the City are going to be working together.

While this was about accepting the reports and relaying it for further action, some of the solutions suggested by the public are solutions the should be considered. Or at least the Activists thought so. Jeeni Criscenzo of Amikas, Housing  for Women and Children suggested what other cities, such as San Jose, are already doing These are very small cabins that require very little to set up, that will give a person some privacy and security.

These small cabins can be built very inexpensively and offer effective shelter tonight. She pointed out that many homeless people do not go to shelters for fear or other reasons.

Others, such as Martha Sullivan suggested using both the Qualcomm Stadium and the Chargers training facility for temporary housing. These cabins could be set there as well. It will also replace many of the single room occupancy units that have disappeared over the last ten years.

Father Joe’s Villages also announced that they will be in the process of getting 2,000 units of affordable housing This points to the kind of private-public partnerships that the city is also exploring.

There was also a general plea to decriminalize homelessness and to stop ticketing people who lack the means to pay the tickets. There was a call for an amnesty for tickets already issued.

What was clear is that those who opposed the motion and those who supported the motion, with one exception were in agreement, This is a crisis, and it has to be dealt with. This is a human made disaster and the city needs to act, together with the county.

The fact that the city and the county are cooperating in this effort may also draw other municipalities in the county, into more efficient programs. This could lead to a regional solution and cooperation.

Council Member Chris Ward was thanked by his colleages for working hard on this issue and brining it forwards.

Updated with more information 

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