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Voice of the Year: Peter Seidler and Dan Shea

This year, two powerful voices with Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s ear forced a conversation about an interim response, leading a movement to erect temporary homeless tents like those the mayor proudly abandoned two years ago.

Peter Seidler and Dan Shea / Photo courtesy of KPBS

As San Diego’s homeless crisis has spiked, the city’s debated what to do in the absence of permanent housing solutions.

This year, two powerful voices with Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s ear forced a conversation about an interim response, leading a movement to erect temporary homeless tents like those the mayor proudly abandoned two years ago.

Padres managing partner Peter Seidler and restaurateur Dan Shea said they supported the city’s years-long push to focus more on permanent housing for homeless San Diegans. They just didn’t want to force homeless San Diegans to wait on the city to deliver.

“That will take several years, and in the meantime, we need to save lives and try to help the people on the street,” Seidler said.

In July, after the mayor’s staff ruled out several potential shelter sites, the duo called Faulconer’s bluff. They’d supply industrial-sized tents. Two months later, the mayor announced he’d put up the tents.

The power-brokers’ success and even their decision to take on the homelessness issue speaks to the longtime dearth of leadership and action on the homelessness front. Seidler and Shea seized on the issue when they realized it needed committed, powerful leaders with the capacity to pull together stakeholders. They saw a void and decided to fill it.

That two businessmen could wield so much power underlines the leadership vacuum that’s for years hampered major progress in reducing homelessness.

Six months after Seidler and Shea’s July press conference, in the wake of a hepatitis A outbreak that also helped force action, one tent has already been pitched in Barrio Logan. Two others will soon open in Midway and East Village.

It’s a controversial pivot for city leaders who shuttered winter tents for the homeless two years ago in favor of a permanent, year-round shelter. The city’s approach has drawn some fire from other homeless advocates.

Yet Seidler, Shea and their supporters promise to ensure the tents are “best in class” and move more homeless San Diegans off the streets permanently than tents of years’ past.

They aim to continue to shape the local conversation about homelessness in 2018. They’re mulling additional tents and ways to push for more permanent housing progress, and planning gatherings with educators, nonprofits and others to hammer out solutions.

“We have a lot more on our plate,” Shea said.

This is part of our Voice of the Year package, profiling the people who drove the biggest conversations in San Diego in 2017.

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