Here’s one way to look at San Diego’s homeless crisis: Thank goodness for business folks, or the critical mass of pressure to get something done might never have arrived.
Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s move to erect large, industrial tents as temporary homeless shelters in downtown San Diego was prompted by two prominent businessmen, who proposed the idea months ago.
Even before then, concern about the growing homeless problem was pushed to center stage, in part, by the business community as much of the region’s political focus was on keeping the Chargers in town — along with offering $350 million in taxpayer funds for a stadium — along with the never-ending effort to expand the convention center.
Granted, whatever the degree of social conscience, there certainly was motivation because this was bad for business, with customers and tourists potentially being scared away after walking around people sleeping on sidewalks.
Nothing wrong with that. If self-interest helps the greater good in addition to one’s bottom line, everybody wins.
But there haven’t been many wins for the homeless lately. Even Faulconer’s announcement of temporary shelters left many wanting. It took months to get to that point, and he says it will take three months to get the first tent up and ready for business. FEMA knows how to put up serious shelters in a fraction of the time in a disaster, which is what you might call San Diego’s homeless situation and related hepatitis A outbreak.
The mayor and his business allies did have a plan hatched early last year to bolster homeless services with $10 million annually through a proposed tax increase. But that was grafted — along with a provision for road repairs — onto a plan to expand the convention center, which was the main purpose of the proposed ballot measure and would have received the lion’s share of the money.
The City Council didn’t go for it. Councilman David Alvarez has been perhaps Faulconer’s harshest critic for the pace in doing something about the homeless, and the mayor’s aides have begun regularly pointing out that he opposed a special election for the tax increase.
Putting up big tents as temporary shelter is nothing new in San Diego. It was just no longer the practice. The city created some more indoor shelter at Father Joe’s Villages and, more significantly, made complete policy shift toward a focus on permanent shelter under what has become the popular “housing first” philosophy nationwide.
The problem is the tents were scrapped — literally recycled — before enough permanent housing could be created.
Eventually, restaurant chain owner Dan Shea and Padres Managing Partner Peter Seidler came back to the idea of tents, but couldn’t seem to get anyone interested at City Hall at the outset. Eventually, they committed $1.5 million to buy some. But it wasn’t until the hepatitis outbreak started looking like it could mushroom into an epidemic that the tent plan gained steam.
It may be just coincidence, but the intensified response by the city and county — which just the other week installed dozens of hand-washing stations around San Diego — came as more details were getting attention, like who was contracting hepatitis. Much of the focus rightly has been on the homeless — more than 70 percent of the afflicted are either homeless, hard-core drug users, or both — but interest is rising about the rest.
You know, people like us — and like the decision makers and their constituents. Things tend to happen faster when trouble starts spreading beyond a demographic of the politically impotent downtrodden. That goes for once it spreads to restaurants as well.
Perhaps the final embarrassment of reverting to tents is this: That was the approach advocated by disgraced ex-Mayor Bob Filner, a serial sexual harasser and all around difficult person.
But nobody said he was stupid.
You can find the original article here.