Midway area working on solutions to homeless, panhandling issues
by DAVE SCHWAB
Published - 06/23/15 - 01:32 PM | 0 0 comments | 34 34 recommendations | email to a friend | print
There’s no “silver bullet” to combat homelessness, which has become endemic in the Midway area.

But police and social services are joining with the community to do everything possible to alleviate panhandling, drug and alcohol abuse and other problems there.

That was the message delivered at a mini-workshop on homelessness organized by District 2 Councilwoman Lorie Zapf, held June 17 at Midway Community Planning Group.

The workshop included San Diego Police Department’s Western Division, County Mental Health, which has a facility in Midway at 3853 Rosecrans St., and the Community Transition Center, which helps released state prisoners returning to San Diego to re-enter society.

“I took over District 2 half a year ago, and every community has their own issues,” Zapf said. “What I found in Midway is that there’s been an explosion of urban campers, with a lot of people complaining about homelessness and panhandling crimes.”

Zapf said there’s a new generation of urban campers using smartphones and living an itinerant lifestyle.

“We’re trying to get to the bottom of what to do, coming up with some solutions the community can support and move forward with,” she said.

Zapf said homelessness is a national problem, noting Southern California is especially attractive because of its mild climate. However, she pointed out that San Diego’s rate of homeless growth is far less than the 12 percent growth Los Angeles experienced last year.

“We must be doing something right,” Zapf said.

City supervisor Karna Lau discussed the transition center, comprising a multi-disciplinary team of mental health clinicians, case managers and probation officers whose job it is to ensure that San Diego natives released early from state prison are successfully transitioned back into society.

In 2011, two laws governing early release were signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, reducing the number of low-level inmates in the state’s 33 prisons to 137.5 percent of original design capacity. This means many of those offenders are being released early back to their home communities.

Lau said the transition center wants to be a good neighbor.

“We care about the community, and we want to be very transparent,” Lau said, adding that “we don’t bring people back to San Diego who aren’t from here. Our number one goal is to make sure they don’t go back to prison or jail, that that period of re-entry is seamless and safe for everybody.”

“These are people who could be your neighbors or your family members,” Lau said, adding those paroled are regularly drug tested and offered detox programming if they falter.

“We’re treating these people onsite seven days a week with a team model to reduce the likelihood of their committing another crime,” Lau said.

Police community relations officer David Surwilo, who’s worked the Midway area previously, pointed out homelessness “was worse before.” Though homelessness remains a continuing problem, Surwilo added, “We’re moving in the right direction. We try our best to stay on top of it by responding.”

But, Surwilo noted, “The problem, unfortunately, is not going away.”

“It’s not about targeting the homeless,” concluded Surwilo. “It’s about addressing the issues that happen to a lot of people (panhandling) on the corner.”

Surwilo noted that it is not illegal for someone to stand on a median and solicit money, as long as they don’t go out in the street and present a safety hazard.

Surwilo noted some communities are looking into using surfaces on medians making them difficult or impossible to stand on in order to prevent panhandling.

“I have my staff looking into what other cities are doing in their medians,” Zapf said.

Planning group board member Kurt Sullivan suggested that some kind of public outreach needs to be done with homelessness asking people to “please not give money to (panhandling) individuals because the handout enables them to continue their lifestyle.” Sullivan said people should donate instead to social service agencies the homeless can access to help them transition into mainstream of society.

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