La Jolla Town Council trustees learned about these and other developments in combating homelessness in a public forum on the issue at the group’s March 12 meeting.
Dolores Diaz, executive director of the Regional Task Force on the Homeless, and Sgt. Teresa Clark of the San Diego Police Department Homeless Outreach Team, discussed tackling homelessness from social services and law enforcement perspectives.
“It’s a complex issue,” admitted Diaz, adding that an annual homeless assessment report, which includes head counts by volunteers, goes to Congress each year and is a major factor in legislators determining how monies are spent, and to whom, on the vexing social problem.
Noting that assessment is “a snapshot of a point in time,” Diaz said there were 16 homeless people counted in La Jolla between 4 and 7 a.m. this January. She added that San Diego is among the top five major U.S. cities with the largest number of homeless, behind New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
“In San Diego overall, more than 8,500 homeless people were counted in January 2014,” she said adding our region has adopted a “housing first” model for dealing with people living on the streets.
“The system’s changing. Rapid rehousing works,” Diaz said.
“Our federal government has set a very aggressive strategic plan to end veteran homelessness by the end of this year, chronic homelessness by the end of 2016 and family and youth homelessness by 2020,” said Diaz, adding, “We’re on an aggressive path to house our veterans right now. It’s a huge effort.”
Clark came at the problem differently. She noted police officers in the field “live and breathe” homelessness issues, dealing with them “every day.”
“I don’t know that one fix is going to be the fix,” said Clark, noting the city’s homeless outreach team comprises five police officers, two County Health and Human Services workers specializing in providing social services and four vans.
She added the homeless outreach team’s efforts are largely focused on downtown San Diego, which has the greatest concentration of homeless. She said the outreach team generally begins downtown then works its way toward more outlying areas.
“My goal is to get to the rest of the city, somehow, some way,” Clark said, adding, “There were more than 700 people counted last month just in East Village.”
Noting homelessness is not a crime unless people are illegally lodging in encampments, are on private property or have criminal records, Clark said people can be helped only if they want to be, adding that only a small percentage actually accept offers of housing or other social services. Nonetheless, it's the job of police to maintain contact offering a way off the street.
Agreeing with Diaz, Clark said the majority of homeless encountered by police are an admixture of alcohol/drug dependency and mental illness. She said the gravity of the problem is evidenced by the fact that violence among the homeless greatly increases at the beginning of the month, when many homeless get paid and are able to indulge their dependencies.
In other action:
• Yolanda de Riquer, Ann Kerr Bache, Emiliano de Riquer and Cathy Jones were re-elected to three-year terms on the town council’s 24-member board. Freshman members Douglas Fitzgerald, Lawrence Zynda and Jessica von Buelow were also elected to the group.