As more tents go up across San Diego, more San Diegans are talking about homelessness – and many of the same myths keep circulating.

We’ve all heard them: Most homeless folks are mentally ill. They don’t want our help. They’re moving here in droves.

None of those statements is entirely true.

But perhaps they serve a purpose. All are convenient crutches that make it easier to avoid confronting the hard work necessary to aid the homeless, especially those who seem hardest to reach.

Some of them involve placing blame or making excuses, which are easier to do than having the tougher, solutions-oriented conversations about whether we’re doing enough to help the homeless and whether the resources we’re offering them are working.

Here are the facts on three of the most persistent and distracting myths about the homeless in San Diego.


We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

Myth: Most homeless people have serious mental illnesses.

The most memorable encounters many of us have with the homeless are with those who seem to be mentally ill and that can lead to some faulty conclusions.

For that reason, there’s a tendency to link homelessness and mental illness – and to suggest it’s a major roadblock to eradicating an overwhelming social problem.

In recent interviews with political candidates, the Union-Tribune’s editorial board repeatedly suggested it wouldn’t be possible to end homelessness in San Diego because that “would mean ending mental illness.”

Yet only a fraction of San Diegans who live on the street report having serious mental illnesses.

This January, volunteers surveyed hundreds who live on the street and used the responses they received to gauge the likely percentage of the unsheltered population considered mentally ill.

The Regional Task Force on the Homeless, which conducts the count, estimated just 14 percent of the unsheltered homeless in San Diego have a mental illness.

Since those stats do rely on self-reporting, I did more research and found this conclusion by University of Pennsylvania professor Dennis Culhane, who’s done extensive data-crunching on mental illness among the homeless.

Here’s what he wrote in a 2010 op-ed for The Washington Post:

In my own research, I have calculated that the rate of severe mental illness among the homeless (including families and children) is 13 to 15 percent. Among the much smaller group of single adults who are chronically homeless, however, the rate reaches 30 to 40 percent.

(The Task Force estimates 22 percent of the county’s homeless population is chronically homeless, which means they’ve been homeless for more than a year or had multiple stints of homelessness.)

Culhane told me he stands by that national estimate today, though he believes the percentage of chronically homeless adults with serious mental illness is probably closer to 30 percent.

Iain De Jong, a Canadian consultant who helped create a survey used in regions across the country to pair the homeless with services, also rejected the mental illness myth – and wanted to clarify another thing.

“To say mental illness is a cause of homelessness is a gross overstatement,” De Jong said. “It’s not borne out with the facts that most homelessness is a confluence of events, not one event.”

Myth: Most of San Diego’s homeless moved here from elsewhere.

Anyone who lives in San Diego knows we’ve got a mild climate with fewer cold nights than other parts of the country. This helps fuel the assumption that much of San Diego’s homeless population came here from one of those less comfortable places.

This Business Insider piece, for example, chronicled nomadic folks who “seek refuge from colder climates on the warm beaches and bays of southern California. Here, they regroup, reconnect, and plan ahead for their next move” – reinforcing the idea that outsiders comprise a large share of San Diego’s homeless population.

Even Alpha Project CEO Bob McElroy, whose nonprofit aims to combat homelessness locally, has sometimes seemed to imply San Diego’s weather could be drawing the homeless here.

“Smart homeless people are in San Diego, dummies are on 12-foot snow drifts back east somewhere,” McElroy told KUSI last year.

But data that’s been collected about such movements doesn’t support the theory that there’s massive migration to San Diego.

The latest point-in-time count survey included a question that aimed to address whether homeless folks were migrating to San Diego.

The Regional Task Force on the Homeless has since estimated that 70 percent of San Diego’s unsheltered homeless population became homeless in San Diego and that just 24 percent became homeless elsewhere before coming here.

Dolores Diaz, who leads the Task Force, has noted that migration within San Diego – particularly, to downtown San Diego – is far more common.

Tales of the homeless folks migrating aren’t unique to San Diego, so the Veteran Affairs’ National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans took a look at such movements for a national analysis published last fall.

The VA think tank tracked more than 113,000 veterans who accessed the agency’s homeless services and found just 15 percent moved across large geographic areas during a two-year period.

“The converse of this is that over five-sixths of this study group were stationary or moved only in a local context,” the analysis says. “Even when looking only at those veterans who were homeless for extended episodes, migration is more the exception than the norm.”

The net result for the VA region that includes San Diego, other parts of Southern California and southern Nevada further drives home the insignificance of homeless migration.

Researcher Stephen Metraux found 14 percent of those who utilized VA homeless services in the region moved out and 13 percent moved in – meaning there was actually a net loss of 107 veterans in the region.

Metraux also emphasized that there wasn’t a massive movement to warmer weather cities like San Diego during the winter months.

“There was a modest seasonal migration effect from colder climates to warmer regions,” he wrote.

Myth: Many of San Diego’s homeless aren’t interested in getting off the streets.

It’s a comment often expressed in exasperation when the conversation turns to ending homelessness in San Diego, a goal that can seem insurmountable after years of effort.

Many homeless people in San Diego don’t want help. They prefer life on the street, they say.

San Diego authorities do face big challenges as they try to get the homeless into shelter but the truth is far more complicated than this myth implies.

For one, many people do want to get in shelter but can face weeks-long waits and seemingly complex sign-up processes to get into those beds. The latter can be enough to discourage some people.

More crucially, shelters aren’t always inviting places for the homeless. Many are uncertain the resources being offered will work for them.

Some shelters have rules that frustrate homeless people. They can’t drink or must abide by a curfew. Or they can’t sleep beside their partners or bring their pets. Forced to choose between a roof and their closest companions, many choose their companions.

Then there’s the fact that many of the folks who seem most resistant to getting off the street aren’t apt to quickly trust those who offer them a path. They may not view life on the street as the ideal option but they do see it as a safer option.

When I’ve pressed homeless folks who seem disinterested in shelter, most have told me they haven’t found an option that works for them, or at least acknowledged they’d like to get off the street eventually. The right scenario might change their minds. They just haven’t been convinced that an existing option could work for them.

Experts say it often takes weeks or months to persuade a person who’s been on the streets for years to take up the offer of housing, let alone shelter.

“People need to understand that we’re dealing with people that have experienced the trauma of homelessness and other life traumas,” Diaz said. “Something has to happen to establish trust and open the lines of communication.”

When that happens, lives can change.

Exhibit A is Project 25, the collaboration between Father Joe’s Villages and a handful of other entities. Father Joe’s initially targeted 34 homeless San Diegans racking up significant emergency service bills and put them in permanent housing with access to around-the-clock medical care and case workers, saving more than $2 million in 2013 alone.

But getting folks to enter the program wasn’t always easy.

Project 25 director Marc Stevenson often talks about Douglas “Hutch” Hutchinson, who struggled with alcoholism and health issues on the street.

Before they could help Hutchinson, case managers had to find him. Then they had to earn his trust.

“It took us four months to really engage with him and get him on board with what we were trying to do,” Stevenson has said.

Hutchinson was dubbed a Project 25 success story before his death in 2014.

    This article relates to: Homelessness, Nonprofits/Community

    Written by Lisa Halverstadt

    Lisa writes about San Diego city and county governments. She welcomes story tips and questions. Contact her directly at lisa@vosd.org or 619.325.0528.

    36 comments
    Michael Schroyer
    Michael Schroyer

    I am currently a professional welder and do a lot of back and forth work from east to west coast.  I also used to live in San Diego for the 20 years I was in the Navy.   I was also a member of both the Homeless Coalition and The Alpha Project in San Diego, Ca. 


    A few things I did notice that the ever growing Homeless Population encountered was: 

    1. the lack of adequate housing, especially for the Disabled, Mentally Ill, and Veterans.  Most of the housing was either open bay, or SRO (single room occupancy) Hotels.  The rules where very strict and if you had pet's or partners you could not even share the same room nor where you allowed pet's

    2.the paper work difficult to fill out, and the wait times just to get a bed where very long sometimes months to a year of wait time

    3. There was virtually no where to put the mentally ill where they could be housed and properly treated.  If there was anything like for instance HUD housing the wait times are virtually unreachable!

    4. As for those that where capable, the job search was tireless to almost impossible due to the policies that many companies both small and large had on Homeless

    5. Although there where Drug and Alcohol Programs for those with such Habit's Re-habilitation Centers would release them but usaully Homeless would end up right back into the same addiction due to ending right back on the streets.

    6. The new laws and budget cut's have limited the City of San Diego and made it Impossible for Homeless to get things like A Social Security Checks...Food Stamps....WICK...Especially for the Mentally Ill, and or Veterans.

    7. I literrally watched Law Enforcement take blankets, Tents for temporary shelter, Personal Clothing, Personal Items and throw them into "locked Dumpsters" leaving Homeless to the eliments.  How this helps Homeless I do not know?  All I see it as a way to harrass and push and move the Homeless Population or corral them to a more undesirable spot where they are even more unsafe.

    8. Yes it is nice that Churches and Organizations have feedings, but that should not be limited to just feeding homeless but also to re-habilitate and re-enter them back into main stream society as upstanding citizens.


    Some Soluttions to the problems

    1. Our economy is getting better and both Able Homeless and the communities could benifit from Employing Able Homeless by getting them into a special temporary shelter to housing while employing their services.  For instance (A) Park and Recreation for I.E. the Bay Parks, and Balboa Park could benefit from employing the new "Ex-Homeless" doing park clean up, Trash removal even Lawn Maintenance.  (B). The City of San Diego Sanitation Department, Local Sherrif Departments Could Benefit by Employing Ex-Homeless with Police Car Clean Up and Trash Removal.

    2. Homeless Educational Programs designed to integrate Homeless back into Society through Free Education or Grant offered Educational Programs designed to not only take Homeless and transform them back into Working responsible Citizens.

    3. Drug Rehabilitation Programs...And I don't mean Jail...Rehabilitation programs designed to not only clean up drug abuse but to "build confidence and Re-Employ Homeless to Re- Integrate them into Society.  This also helps to stimulate our economy even more in a positive light.

    4. Housing and Hospitals for the Mentally Ill.  This is a Handicape How dare we allow the Handicap with disabilities and mental Illness to be Homeless...What Kind of Society Are Weto Allow this?

    5. Instead of Police Harrassing Homeless, Jailing and Fining them, taking their belongings, let's work on a more positive note and Help the Homeless.  If relocation is a must let's make sure we don't take their belongings, Identification Etc, that will displace them further, but instead let's help them back up.

    In Conclusion:

    Let's all do our part to help our fellow citizens of this "Great Country" I don't care if your Poor or Rich, Small Business Man, Civic Leader, Larg Corporation...We all need to help our fellow man.  I feel that not one person should think that they are above another person.  


    Dynamic Ifiction
    Dynamic Ifiction subscriber

    I can't believe how crappy most low-to-middle-income housing in San Diego actually is - the newer buildings are of very low-quality construction, neighborhoods with failing infrastructure, constantly noisy with too much traffic... I guess that's "normal"...?

    lorisaldana
    lorisaldana subscriber

    Today – June 20 – is World Refugee Day. It is also the day that Mayor Kevin Faulconer has authorized a massive “sweep” to clear tents, tarps, and other personal belongings from areas downtown.


    Whether from economic or political crisis, displaced families with no safe, permanent housing face increased health risks on a daily basis. They are more likely to be victims of violent crime. Women and young people living on the streets are more vulnerable to rape and sexual assault, sex trafficking, forced prostitution and other exploitation.


    Forcing people away from shelter, and/or to pack up their belongings and move on the hottest day of the year, will add to physical and emotional stress that may result in more emergency responders being called to manage their care. That cost falls on all San Diegans- both in economic and humane ways.


    Please join other volunteers in distributing cold water and providing some comfort to people on this hot day. We will be at the shaded area at 14th & L Street, near the Tailgate parking lot for PetCo Park. 


    We also need first aid supplies, bandanas and individually wrapped snacks or fruit for families.


    And please call Mayor Kevin Faulconer and ask him to stop the downtown cleansing and criminalization of people in preparation for the MLB All-Star Game in a few weeks.


    Contact the Mayor today: Phone: (619) 236-6330
    Email: kevinfaulconer@sandiego.gov

    Tommy Brewer
    Tommy Brewer

    Thomas Theison. Good morning and thank you for your service. My wife and I founded and ran a residential rehab for homeless men in the La Jolla/P.B/M.B areas from the early 90's through 2003. We developed intimate relationships with many of the beach area homeless through daily feeding at Mariners Point, and a dinner and fellowship night at our home on Thursday night's. During this period we were fortunate to gain the trust and respect of many of our friends who happened to live outside, and find ourselves in the position of being primary advocates for them regarding Town Council directives to law enforcement.

    I'm curious about the current climate in San Diego regarding the homeless. I've noticed the ongoing gentrification of the Gaslamp/Downtown East has pushed the Downtown poor into about a square block along Island and the I-5/94. I'm wondering what might be happening, both at a macro, policy level, and which individual agencies are really making a difference for people?

    It seems that articles like this one have done much to dispel the myths about the causes and conditions of homelessness, and that we may be moving into an era of hope that is no longer ruled by prejudice, ignorance, and fear.

    I have worked as an MSW in Tucson over the past decade and have had the opportunity to witness the success of the Housing First model, first with the VA in Tucson, then as it grew in Phoenix, and as Tucson Planning Council on Homelessness took its first steps in implementation. Having recently moved back to San Diego, I'm curious about what is happening with Housing First here, and where I may be able to get involved as a volunteer. Thanks for your time.

    Thomas Theisen
    Thomas Theisen subscribermember

    @Tommy Brewer Hi Tommy.  Sorry it took so long to respond.  San Diego is currently on the cusp of doing something about homelessness, but we could go either way.  On one hand, the community seems committed to a housing first model, at least in theory, and there have been various initiatives that chip away at some of the barriers to implementing housing first (e.g., "Project 25", CAHP and the VI-SPDAT, "Housing our Heroes", Project "One for All").  On the other hand, when confronted with opportunities to rally the community to address homelessness (e.g., Pinnacle East lease-up, the All-Star Game), the leadership of our community seems to focus more on the oppressive approaches of homeless sweeps, criminalization of homelessness and investing money in rocks rather than housing.  The community wants something done about homelessness, and it is unclear whether our community's leadership will offer a housing first solution or a more oppressive solution.

    John Smick
    John Smick

    How do volunteers, with no mental health experience, determine the mental illness rate in the Point in Time Count?  What criteria are used? 

    If you ask those who works directly with the homeless, e.g., the SDPD Homeless Outreach Team, they will tell you the rate is closer to 40-50%. If PITC can't give a closer approximation, can it be dropped from the survey?

    Mr. Theison, why did we have to extend our 3 year goal to house 1,000 veterans in the 'Housing Our Hero's' project? 

    Thomas Theisen
    Thomas Theisen subscribermember

    @John Smick Hi John.  I respect the SDPD HOT Team immensely, but we have to keep in mind that they primarily interact with the more challenging homeless.  Somewhat like asking a cardiologist about what percentage of his patients have heart disease.  


    The PITC is based upon self-reported information about mental illness, but the numbers coming from the San Diego PITC are generally consistent with more comprehensive academic analysis nationwide.  Also keep in mind that the PITC is only looking at mental illness that the person believes is the cause of their homelessness.  I expect it contributes to homelessness in many more cases.


    You will have to ask the Mayor about "Housing our Heroes" :-)  Better, please ask the Mayor....  He would love to hear from you.

    Zack Taylor
    Zack Taylor

    I read this article and from the title I get frustrated even before reading the article. I am not sure what the point of your story is, as most of is contradicting. I have no statistics to reference, nor the word of a professor at a university but as a resident of hillcrest where there is such places as the Friendship hotel only a block away, and do my best to survive myself and not become homeless, it would really be more productive to share with us more reasons why, and tell us more reasons how to make change and help. In all of my years, I have never met someone who wished someone to live on the street, or worked at ensuring they stayed there. What is happening is frustration for not knowing how to help in a meaningful, measurable way that would not only help those living on the street, but help residents who just want a safe clean neighborhood to walk to the store, or to work. The homeless problem is so over politicized it's impossible for an average basic educated working person such as myself to know what is really going on. I wanted to say to understand what is right, or wrong, or who's telling the truth, or lying but it's not a correct characterization but from an everyday persons perspective the question is what do I need to do to help? What I read into this article and others like it, is that funding or defunding is what all of this about. By acknowledging if a homeless person is a Veteran or mentally ill, or a substance abuser or not, I think would mean the difference between how much shelters receive in government funding, or not. My memory may not be serving me, but months ago I read where in 2015, 1500 shelter beds remained unused, then weeks later another article stating the reason was how the calculation was determined. It was some crazy formula that made no sense. Perhaps it's over simplifying but 1500 unused beds in a homeless shelter is a lot of beds not slept in. You cant' possibly think those of us who are busy trying our best not to be homeless ourselves, are going to understand the funding rules and what crazy math is used.


    I make less than 25k a  year in salary and with the average rent in San Diego at 1400 a month, it would take missing only a few paychecks before I'm living in my car. If I were to be in that situation, I honestly don't know what choices I would make. I may want to start drinking alcohol or using drugs from depression and simply not wanting to face my reality. I may need to break into cars, or beg for money at a traffic signal just to eat, or support my new dependency. I may remember writing this comment and realize I need to take matters into my own hands and decide not to do those things and instead perhaps find my way to a city where it takes less to live in an apartment and therefore I won't need as much to get back on my feet. 


    It's not fair that those in the business of helping or authorizing funding, or cutting funding are scolding "us" as though we seem to have no interest in helping. We do. But how? And if we are actually helping by means of tax dollars, how do we know it's working? There are all of these statistics and people sent out to take surveys and professors interviewed at universities that aren't even in our area and that becomes their voice is that of reason and compassion, yet I live in a dumpy apartment and simply want to walk to mcdonalds on university at night and not have to be scared because I don't know what the person is thinking or feeling, or how hungry they are that I won't be attacked. 


    This type of article seemingly dismisses the fact that drugs and alcohol aren't causes of one's mind not working properly. Homeless or not homeless, if someone is drinking booze or using crystal meth, or another substance, they will do crazy things. This applies to anyone, just visit gas lamp or hillcrest on a saturday night and there are plenty of people with homes fighting, throwing things, screaming and yelling on the street. So you take a person living on the street who is cold hungry and under the influence and anything can happen. 


    We can't call the police and expect them to do anything. It's not their fault, if they enforce a law the human rights attorneys are filing complaints and lawsuits. And anyway what good does it do to throw off of one sidewalk? It's mean but don't residents have rights too? 


    I'll just end things with this. Give me a solution that I can do and that I can see that's it working. I assure you any resident on my street would do whatever they could to get homeless people in a shelter or medical facility if we actually knew the money would not go to fund excuses math formulas and hiring survey takers to tell us what we already know, there's a homeless problem and it needs a solution! Stop creating an adversarial situation pitting homeless with those with homes. Dumb it down for those us who really can't figure it out. 



    Thomas Theisen
    Thomas Theisen subscribermember

    @Zack Taylor Hi Zack.  Lisa's article addresses the arguments often made as to why we cannot end homelessness in San Diego.  The best thing you can do is DEMAND that our civic leaders make it a goal to end homelessness now.  If they offer the excuses like we can't do it because the homeless are a) mentally ill, b) not from here or c) want to live on the street, send them to Lisa's article.


    Other communities are doing it and we can too.  All that is lacking is the civic will to do so.

    Thomas Theisen
    Thomas Theisen subscribermember

    @Kathy S @Thomas Theisen @Zack Taylor A few quick examples:  Utah has reduced chronic (i.e. long term) homelessness by over 90%.  Houston, Phoenix and numerous other communities have effectively ended veteran homelessness.  Fresno reduced its total homeless population by over 50% in two years using a housing first model.  There are many more examples.

    Don Wood
    Don Wood subscriber

    I was driving into town on highway 94 this morning. As I came into the city street off the freeway, I noticed a SDPD car and pickup truck (I've never seen a SDPD pickup truck before) pulling away from the curb. The back of the truck was full of homeless people's property, including tents, plastic bags full of clothes and sleeping bags and even a walker. Apparently the police department is patrolling the downtown streets and sweeping up property temporarily stored on the street by the homeless when they're not around. I wonder if the city hall politicians are aware that the police are doing this?

    Irene Grumman
    Irene Grumman subscribermember

    @Don Wood The politicians TELL the police to do this.  It's supposed to be keeping the streets safe in the sense of removing garbage.  They call it "abandoned property."  On the stormy day when police removed such property under an overpass, while the homeless were away getting breakfast at a shelter, an indignant citizen reported he called DA Bonny Dumanis to complain.  He said she told him it could not be happening because the police are not allowed to conduct raids on the homeless when it is raining.  He reported this at the City Council meeting the next day.  I was one of the attendees wearing trash bags over our clothes, to make the point that using a trash bag as a poncho was the only protection those homeless had that day from the storm.

    Glenn Younger
    Glenn Younger subscribermember


    Although each of these "myths" by themselves cannot be held as THE cause of the homelessness problem, these 3 plus a few others are indeed part of the problem.  So the root cause of homelessness is not one thing, its many things.  These are my take aways from the article:

    1. 15% with serious mental health issues.  40% or more with some level of mental health problems.

    2. 24% of homeless are from elsewhere

    3. Many of the homeless are not able to conform enough, or trust enough, to take advantage of available housing.  While this is not itself a mental illness, it might be considered a mental shortcoming.

    My mother is in a care facility.  It would be inhumane for me to allow her to make decisions about her well-being.  Seems like we are allowing some of our population to make decisions for which they are not able.  We are so afraid of taking someone's rights that we impose that person on the population at large. Until we get comfortable taking responsibility for others, and the tradeoff of them losing some individual rights, we may never improve on our homeless situation.

    DavidM
    DavidM subscriber

    @Glenn Younger Your mother is lucky to have you; where would she be if she didn't have family?

    Glenn Younger
    Glenn Younger subscribermember

    @Derek Hofmann @Glenn Younger Thanks Derek for the link and the %. 

    The 9% number does not match up to the stats gathered by the Alpha Project in Downtown and Hillcrest. In 2015 they identified 600 homeless in hillcrest, and after thousands of contacts, placed less than 20 into available beds. 

    5 years ago there were not enough beds, now there are unused beds for the homeless in San Diego.  That is the information I am getting.  Would love to see that confirmed or debunked.  


    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    @Glenn Younger Of the Alpha Project's properties, Alpha Square didn't open until November 2015, Oxford Terrace and Sierra Woods are only for whole families, and Escondido Apartments is only for seniors. Given these constraints, it doesn't surprise me that they were only able to place less than 20 homeless into available beds in 2015. Maybe 2016 will be better.

    Jorge Serrano
    Jorge Serrano

    Mental illness is a fallacious concept. By that I do not mean that it doesn't exist, only that it is founded on the fallacy of petitio principii: mental illness can be whatever we say it is. We must be very, very cautious with our use of fallacious terms -- otherwise we wind up sounding as insane as The Donald or The Hillary, two world-class sociopaths. (See what I mean?)


    In California, homelessness became associated with mental illness in the 1970s, when "Reagan's Army" invaded. These were people who had been housed at state expense and whose disabilities, hopefully, did not present a danger to anyone: they were released into the general public ostensibly to save the state money. These people became noticeable during Ronald Reagan's administration but, to be fair, both his predecessor (Edmund G. Brown, Sr.) and his successor (Edmund G. Brown, Jr.) promoted the same policy. Today's policy is called "mainstreaming" and it's not too different -- they get meds now.


    We have since received wave upon wave of what might be called "Madoff's Army", people who have lost their jobs due to bankruptcies, economic constrictions, corporate reorganizations, reductions in force, and other euphemisms. As these people suffer the excruciating humiliation of being unable to provide for their families, they become angry, apathetic, and suspicious -- classic symptoms of mental illness.


    Let's not forget all our homeless vets, cannon-fodder for an endless stream of imperialist wars who were trained to hate foreigners, sent to some forlorn part of the world in order to kill and to be maimed, and returned home with no employable skills and no prospects for the future.


    We say these people live on the streets because they are mentally ill. We say that to avoid our own complicity. The real mental illness is to be found inside the community of greedy, selfish people who permit their neighbors to live so abjectly. Sociopaths blame the victims. Decent people try to correct the root causes.

    DavidM
    DavidM subscriber

    @Jorge Serrano O'Connor v. Donaldson created "Brown's Army."  That's the Supreme Court case that said the state could not involuntarily house mental health patients unless they were incapable of surviving safely outside.  It wasn't up to Brown.

    Jorge Serrano
    Jorge Serrano

    @DavidM The point of my original comment is to show that "mental illness" commonly relies on the eye of the beholder. We have no truly objective standard in this area. 

    Reagan's gubernatorial administration released into the general population many people who clearly were incapable of caring for themselves, hence the popular epithet "Reagan's Army". I witnessed those times and this is the first I've seen Pat Brown tarred with Saint Ronald's excesses.

    In those same days, AMSLAN acquired a new sign for the name "Reagan", thanks to the many cuts in handicapped budgets: the forefinger drawn across the throat.

    If only we might stop being greedy and selfish! The world would improve tremendously.

    DavidM
    DavidM subscriber

    @Jorge Serrano @DavidM I'm not a huge fan of "Saint Ronnie," but I do recall having a policy discussion my first year in college (78-79) regarding the increase in homelessness and closing of hospitals in response to O'Connor v. Donaldson.  The case was decided after Reagan was governor, during Brown's first year.  To be honest, I've never heard of the term "Reagan's Army," or "Brown's Army."  I just used the term in response to yours.  I did find this quote from the New York Times in 1984:


    "In California, for example, the number of patients in state mental hospitals reached a peak of 37,500 in 1959 when Edmund G. Brown was Governor, fell to 22,000 when Ronald Reagan attained that office in 1967, and continued to decline under his administration and that of his successor, Edmund G. Brown Jr. The senior Mr. Brown now expresses regret about the way the policy started and ultimately evolved. 'They've gone far, too far, in letting people out,' he said in an interview."


    http://www.nytimes.com/1984/10/30/science/how-release-of-mental-patients-began.html?pagewanted=all


    I'm not a good believer for thinking that one party or the other has a monopoly on creating problems.  We have a Dem Governor and Dem-controlled legislature today, and our court system is in crisis mode over lack of funding. 

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    The points you make in your assessment seem to reinforce the goals of the "housing first" advocates, particularly shelter rules that prohibit cohabitation with partners and pets  What's happening on that front?

    lorisaldana
    lorisaldana subscriber

    Re:the rate of mental illness among homeless populations: without counseling and support, even a "slight" mental illness can prevent people from moving forward with their lives and getting off the street into employment and safe, stable living situations.


    People who are living in cars, sleeping on sidewalks, or even have a "safe" shelter bed do not sleep well. This contributes to a myriad of health problems, not the least being poor mental functioning.


    Homelessness also isolates people, and makes them more vulnerable to theft, assault, rape and other violent crimes. The students in my class who are homeless don't have to tell me they are experiencing it: I can see it in their mannerisms and hyper-vigilant behavior, classic signs of PTSD. They have trouble concentrating on their studies, and often self=medicate with drugs and alcohol.


    Most of these students have lost valuables to theft, including their school supplies. Several have been assaulted. They are easily disturbed by noises in the classroom that other students tolerate well.


    So while it may be correct that not ALL homeless people have a mental illness BEFORE they arrived on the streets, the chance of them developing one increases tremendously the longer they are homeless, and makes recovering from homelessness all the more unlikely without professional counseling and supportive services. 


    These are just a few reasons why I campaigned on ending homelessness for ALL populations in San Diego- not just for veterans. 


    I believe San Diego will never move forward as a thriving, vibrant community until we provide adequate services to move people from homelessness to housed, from unemployed to earning a living, and from despair to possibility. I see this pattern play out in my classroom every week. 


    It's time for it to end. We have the resources and ability. The city and country simply lack the leadership and vision to implement the changes required.

    Dennis James
    Dennis James subscriber

    @lorisaldana  So many problems with this political grandstanding mess.


    So you want to end homelessness for ALL populations in San Diego? If we somehow solve this problem, do you think we might get in more homeless moving here? What then?


    What if they don't want what you want for them? Are you suggesting housing people against their will? 


    "We have the resources and the ability." This seems like an open ended problem with no known resource limitation. While there might be enough money in the world, that is not to say that taxpayers will support such an effort. 


    For most of the homeless, the lack of housing is a symptom of the problem, not the problem. The problem is behavioral dysfunction due to illness or substance abuse. The chances of political "leadership and vision" solving all homelessness, unemployment and despair are zero. Human nature is a stubborn thing. 

    Irene Grumman
    Irene Grumman subscribermember

    @lorisaldana The high cost of housing contributes not only to homelessness, but to food insecurity.  I have a friend who has been on the list for Section 8 for over 10 years.  Thousands of San Diegans qualify for help that never comes. 

    stirfry
    stirfry subscriber

    I can honestly say, I have never defended the SD Union before, in this case though, your sloppy reporting and VOSD's lack of an editorial process warrants it. To use your math and citing your specialist, If the homeless population with mental illness is near 40% -- then yes -- MOST homeless aren't mentally ill. Just a shocking proportion and hardly a crutch and no where near a 'myth' to be debunked. Your claim that SD Union's Board believes in this myth, and your linking to the SD Union reporting on Chris Wards comments during the council meeting are just false. I suggest you reread the article. Additionally, I respectfully suggest that your editor rethink his choice of careers.

    Thomas Theisen
    Thomas Theisen subscribermember

    @stirfry Hi stirfry, Could you please explain how you got to "near 40%...of the homeless population with mental illness"?  I

    Dennis James
    Dennis James subscriber

    Would you say that most homeless, well over 50%, has some mental issue ("serious" or not) or a substance problem? This is my understanding from years ago. The phrasing of your first myth interesting, focusing on "serious mental illness." I have read about homelessness for decades and never had the idea that most were seriously mental ill, unless you want to include substance abuse.


    And I find your third myth slightly tortuous. The ability to have a "home" means having the ability and stability to work and fund that choice. Obviously many homeless don't want that choice, or are unable to attain it because of other problems. Asking someone if they would like to be off the streets is not the same as asking them if they want to seriously change their behavior. 

    Thomas Theisen
    Thomas Theisen subscribermember

    @Dennis James Hi Dennis,  I think you are missing the point.  Of course, if you create all kinds of barriers to housing, there are a lot of people who would prefer to stay on the street rather than be subjected to random drug and alcohol test, have to comply with a 10 pm curfew, not be allowed to keep their treasured possession, pet, or sleep with their loved ones.  Likewise, if you require the homeless to "seriously change their behavior" before they are housed, there are some that are incapable of doing that or will say "no thank you".  


    The idea behind "housing first" is that it is both economically and morally correct to house people first and then address their challenges rather than placing barriers (no matter how justified they may seem to you) before a person is housed.  So...


    Yes, there are some homeless who would rather stay on the street than put up with the BS of shelters or "seriously change their behavior" to get housing , but,


    No, the vast, vast majority of homeless would prefer to be housed rather than live on the street, if they can do that without the barriers and your imposing your values on them.


    The real question is whether we want to house someone who is not a "productive citizen" or whether we want to withhold housing to force them to "seriously change their behavior."   I am working to end homelessness because I do not believe it is appropriate to deprive someone of housing just to get them to "seriously change their behaviour".   Better phased, I believe we are more likely to get someone to "seriously change their behavior" when they are housed rather than when they are on the street.

    Dennis James
    Dennis James subscriber

    @Thomas Theisen @Dennis James

    Thomas you use very interesting language. I am not trying to impose my particular values on anyone. Housing is an economic good that needs to be produced and maintained - it is not like a grain of sand on the beach that you can pick up for free. It is true that I am withholding from and depriving the homeless of the use of my own home, as most people do. But other than that I'm not requiring or demanding some code of conduct for individuals to own or rent housing*. I was simply showing a relationship between different behaviors and different consequences.


    I believe free housing is a form of charity. And there is certainly a place for charity in society. Charity sometimes comes with conditions. I'm not sure that withholding charity is depriving someone else of their due. It sounds like we differ on that point. Fair enough.


    Do you think someone should be able have a house by means of only stealing from others? If not, you would be requiring some specific behavior for housing. I guess I do believe in some standards of conduct. 

    Thomas Theisen
    Thomas Theisen subscribermember

    @Dennis James @Thomas Theisen Thank you Dennis for the well thought out response.  I can appreciate your perspective, but mine is a little different.  To answer your question using your language, yes, I do "think someone should be able to have a house by means of only stealing from others." though I would not agree with your language.


    There are very compelling practical reason to house the homeless without requiring them to "seriously change their behavior."  For example:


    We are wasting tremendous resources on taking care of the homeless on the streets. San Diego's Project 25 demonstrated a $100K net saving over 2 years per homeless persons housed  in police, court, jail, EMS, emergency room, hospital admissions, etc. (http://uwsd.org/files/galleries/Project_25_Report.pdf)


    Homelessness is depressing our property values.  The assessed value of property in just 92101 is $13 BILLION.  Every downtown developer I have talked to tells me that ending homelessness would increase downtown property values by at least 20%.  That is $2.6 BILLION for just downtown.  We could let every homeless person county-wide "steal" housing in a well designed program for just a fraction of $2.6 Billion, and end up ahead.


    Homelessness is a blight on our community.  Most surveys of San Diego residents identify homelessness as one of their top two or three civic concerns. We can end homelessness for less than the cost of a new Charger stadium, and I'll let you decide which would have a greater positive affect on the quality of life in our community or our ability to attract the tourist dollar.  For me, it is not even close.


    But those are not the reasons I am working to end homelessness in San Diego.  For me, the same society which allowed me to make a good living by working hard also has a moral obligation to provide adequate food, housing, clothing and medical care to every participant in that society.  I do not look at it as "charity" or "stealing", but instead part of my cost of getting the benefits society provided to me.


    A couple of caveats: First, I said "adequate".  We should definitely maintain financial incentives for people to improve their lot by working hard and participating in society. But staving someone, forcing them to live on the street or denying them medical care should not be used to punish someone who is incapable or unwilling to do so. Second, to answer your question about "standards of conduct", I believe that housing programs should require participants to comply with all the rules applicable to other tenants, and provide resources for addressing other problems once the person is housed.


    You may not agree with my views, but you seemed like you would be open to appreciating them, much as I appreciated yours.

    bgetzel
    bgetzel subscriber

    Thanks for the insightful article on this issue. It is a complex problem, and there is no "one size fits all" solution. At least it is a problem that is finally getting some attention!

    DavidM
    DavidM subscriber

    I suspect that a little dose of accuracy will mean nothing to the general opinions offered by suburban San Diegans who don't know enough to agree that don't know.


    More's the pity.

    michael-leonard
    michael-leonard subscriber

    @DavidM Beliefs die hard.


    When  I see homeless most times I think, "There, but for fortune, goes you or I." One blanket statement I'll bet is totally true: no homeless person planned to be so. 

    Thomas Theisen
    Thomas Theisen subscribermember

    @DavidM I have just started reviewing the other comments, and I see what you mean.  Indeed, more the pity.  Waste of time to reply.

    lorisaldana
    lorisaldana subscriber

    @DavidM doesn't keep me from trying- and I'm a "suburban San Diegan" surrounded by many many others most of my life.


    I've also been an educator for 30+ years, so I will never give up on offering information that might open someone's mind to another way of solving a problem.