Matt Phillips, of North Crown Point, recently kicked-off his petition drive on change.org.
It states: “The weekly dinners for the homeless population in Pacific Beach are contributing to the complacency and habitual state of their homelessness. Because of this, it's logically apparent that this seems to be one of the primary reasons that we have such a population of homeless that never leave or attempt to get off the streets. Churches are enabling some of the very crime that plagues our seaside community. We exercise the right to demand an end to cooking the homeless dinners six days a week because it gives people the wrong idea. For too long has this transpired without accountability of the local churches and we demand immediate legitimate recognition of this petition as it accumulates in signatures.”
Phillips admitted he's been surprised by the immediate response his petition drive has kindled. He plans to submit signatures he's gathered to District 2 Councilmember Lorie Zapf and the City Council.
Phillips, 30, has been a Pacific Beach resident all his life. He claims the homeless problem “is getting worse and worse.”
A parent, Phillips believes the homeless feeds “aren't helping them or healing them. I see the same people (participating) year after year. It's just attracting a negative crowd of people in our neighborhood.”
Would ending free meals minimize problematic homelessness in PB?
“It would be a step in the right direction,” argued Phillips. “If you stop the feeds, you could lose half the (homeless) population.”
Phillips' petition drive to curb free meals in PB has resurrected the long-simmering debate over whether feeding helps — or harms — the homeless in the long term.
On Next Door social media for Pacific Beach, residents have been weighing in for the past several days on whether they agree or not with Phillip's petition proposal.
One of those people who chimed in was Susan Wilding.
“I have volunteered to feed hungry people at St. Andrews by the Sea for at least three years now,” Wilding said. “My experience has been the people who come regularly may have some mental illness ... They are thankful for our service and really enjoy, what is quite possibly, their only meal of the day.”
Of Phillips' efforts, Wilding commented: “Feeding the hungry is part of the Christian doctrine, and I am not sure that this petition will change any behavior by those churches that feel it is their calling to help those who are hungry with a meal. I do, however, caution those individuals who blame 'homeless' for crimes against the PB community.
“There are different subsets of homeless,” continued Wilding. “Some live in cars or RV’s, some have cheap apartments or rent rooms, some sleep in alcoves and bushes, and some run and steal from those living in the community. Some use drugs, some rummage in our trash cans for recyclables, some pick up our cast-offs to resell, some have to self-medicate because they are unable to afford and/or acquire healthcare.”
Wilding's witnessed some of these patrons of free meals get better.
“They get a bed in a shelter, they get clean clothes, they get medical help from the parishioners and clergy of these churches,” she noted. “It has been wonderful to see them come in, clean and clear-eyed, and grateful for the help and love given at these dinners. Because that is what love can be, a meal!”
But not everyone agrees with Wilding.
“We don't have shelters or other infrastructure to handle the homeless population here, so it doesn't make sense to hand out food,” said Tim Brock of PB Plaza. “You're guaranteed to have some people up where they aren't necessarily welcome. If the church, or some other organization, wants to also provide shelter, great idea. If not, the effort would probably be better spent somewhere with a full infrastructure for aid, not just food.”
Jill Davis Curtis of PB Southwest concurred with Brock.
“As hard hearted as it may seem, something has to be done about the crime rate in Pacific Beach, http://crimestats.arjis.org/default.aspx,” Davis Curtis said. “Pacific Beach crime rates are the highest (six to 10 times more) than 'any' other city in all aspects of crime … So, either we need to lock up a lot of people, or we need to move them out of the area and stop making Pacific Beach a haven for the homeless.”
Of the homeless hanging out, Davis Curtis said, “The library is a 'public' facility, yet it has become a daytime hotel for the homeless. You cannot go there without being overwhelmed with the homeless sleeping in all the comfortable lounge chairs where someone might like to sit and read. Sleeping in the library needs to be curtailed, as do peeing, pooping, and (sex) in the outside surrounding property.”
Davis Curtis added the homeless are wearing out their welcome for some in the community, including herself.
“We used to help the homeless whenever we could, but slowly but surely, we have become too scared to even interact with them,” she said. “It only takes one to follow you home and attempt to molest you. I'm terrified to walk down our alley and go into our garage alone. I've had more than one homeless individual follow me from the library. It is down right scary. We have to do something to make Pacific Beach less attractive. They would be much better off in areas where there is a myriad of resources to get themselves moving in a more healthy lifestyle, rather than hanging around the library and beach boardwalk.”