The panel included: Lisa Jones and Keely Halsey of Homeless Housing Innovations for the SD Housing Commission; Capt. Scott Wahl of SDPD; Omar Passons, County Health and Human Services; and guest speakers John Brady and Francisco Mendoza, who have both experienced homelessness first hand.
“This event acknowledges the gravity of homelessness,” noted event host District 2 Councilmember Dr. Jennifer Campbell while pointing out, “Homelessness could happen to anyone of us.”
Campbell said the purpose of the workshop was to “talk about solutions and ask questions of local agency officials who are in the front lines, working every day to resolve homelessness.”
All of the speakers urged San Diegans to vote in favor of a March 2020 citizens initiative on the presidential primary ballot proposing a hotel tax hike that would fund a convention center expansion, homeless services, and infrastructure improvements.
The tax increase proposed by Mayor Kevin Faulconer would raise the city’s transient occupancy tax from 10.5% to as high as 15.75% in certain areas of the city, collecting an estimated $6 billion over 42 years.
Campbell discussed the City’s new three- and 10-year strategies for combatting homelessness, all 63 pages of which are available online at www.sdhc.org.
“The goals of our three-year strategy are to decrease the number of unsheltered by one half, finish the job of ending veterans’ homelessness and prevent youth homelessness,” Campbell said. “The 10-year strategic plan resolves the issue.”
Jones of the SDHC said the City’s new strategy for combatting homelessness “creates a plan and action items for addressing the needs of the homeless that move our needle forward. It identifies trends and solutions that make sense.”
Jones said the new homelessness strategy “builds on resources available while providing the tools to do that.”
“We didn’t want a plan that was just a bunch of words sitting on a shelf and not taking any action,” said Keely Halsey of SDHC. “We wanted special action steps to come out of that.”
SDPD Capt. Scott Wahl discussed the recently created neighborhood policing department.
“Homelessness is complex, and we knew if we wanted to have a positive impact, that we would need to adapt,” Wahl said. “So in March 2018, we started neighborhood policing, bringing outreach and enforcement under one umbrella. We’re headed in the right direction, able to balance compassion now with accountability.”
Passons of County Health and Human Services talked about “prevention being a worth a pound of cure” noting it’s important to “get way upstream” in working early-on with high-risk youth to “prevent very bad outcomes.”
Formerly homeless, John Brady talked about landing on the street.
“It’s incredibly challenging living on the streets day after day with the threat of losing your personal possessions and overcoming obstacles like lack of housing and re-engaging with employment without an address,” Brady said. “You now are at the bottom of the bottom and you really feel at war with everybody — the police, your neighbors. The recovery process is challenging. But the good news is the City and County are taking the necessary steps… we’re seeing a lot of changes.”
Francisco Mendoza, who spent 28 years in the state prison system and now works rehabilitating the homeless stressed that “we need to reach into our human side, put ourselves in their place. You can’t understand someone until you walk in their shoes. We can’t just talk about it. We have to have conversations that lead to growth, understanding, and solutions.”