More than 200 people packed the church’s parish hall for a local faith-based community forum to discuss the ripple effects of the local homelessness population and a slate of possible solutions.
“It just seemed like we were going the wrong direction, that we weren’t going toward any solutions,” said Thomas Ziegert, pastor at Point Loma United Methodist Church. “Nobody was seemingly on the same page. We’re looking for a page.”
Long a tense topic in Ocean Beach, the homeless situation has recently turned ugly. In response to aggressive panhandling by a loosely-linked band of transient youths, local retailer The Black created green and yellow stickers that read “Welcome to Ocean Beach. Please Don’t Feed Our Bums.”
That sticker appears to have contributed to an already sticky situation that exists between local residents, business owners and transients, who are clearly divided between the “take back our streets” mentality and those who subscribe to the defining “live and let live” Ocean Beach philosophy.
According to Ziegert, seemingly everyone in the weeks leading up to the community forum had different and conflicting opinions on the issue.
“Churches were doing our feeding and sheltering, the merchants were upset about the homeless that were panhandling and scaring away people — particularly customers — and our neighbors were mad because we were letting people hang around the church,” Ziegert said.
The faith-based community in Ocean Beach got the ball rolling on this issue to get the community on the same page when it comes to homelessness. With the help of the San Diego Restorative Justice Mediation Program, the initial meeting got people talking to each other, something that recently seemed unimaginable.
“We’ve really just begun to work so that we can all have an understanding about what our common desire is,” Ziegert said.
After a brief introduction by Sacred Heart pastor Ron Hebert, those in attendance broke into 10 smaller groups called “peace circles,” to discuss eight questions about the community in general. Members in the mediated groups were each given a turn to speak on each of the topics — and lengthy conversations ensued.
“I think what we’ll find is that we can have a sense that we can do it together and I think that what we will find is our common ground tonight,” Ziegert said. “We can then build up other meetings for a more specific direction.”
According to Ziegert, the faith-based community will hold two to three future meetings to discuss homelessness in Ocean Beach, with the next meeting to be held in about six weeks. While the July 6 meeting involved mostly talking, the faith-based group plans to use future meetings to pursue solutions to the homelessness conflict in Ocean Beach.
“This is phase one of us getting to know that we actually all feel the same way about things,” Ziegert said. “We want the same Ocean Beach.”