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With a total homeless population of 4,476 living on the streets, the amount provided by the city of San Diego in the last decade remains far too little to have any meaningful impact for the scale of the problem.
Last month’s release of the 2019 point-in-time count conducted by the San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless revealed yet again that homelessness in San Diego remains a serious crisis.
That’s not exactly news.
To refresh our memory: Three years ago, in response to an outcry from the downtown business community and residents frustrated by homeless people using new public restrooms, the City Council voted to remove the only two portable public toilets in East Village. That decision reversed a previous vote that had put those toilets in place.
A year later, in April 2017, San Diegans watched in outrage and shame as the city suffered the largest person-to-person Hepatitis A epidemic on record in U.S. history.
What should alarm those of us who care about our city’s less fortunate citizens is this undeniable truth: Today’s homelessness crisis has the potential to worsen into a catastrophic public health disaster — one equal or even worse than the Hep A outbreak.
Another recent report, one conducted by the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, provided the clearest example of the breach that exists between the growing need for more funding versus what’s actually been made available.
According to the report, the city of San Diego has provided only $62 million to fund housing for the homeless over the past 10 years. Let’s put that into sharper focus: At best, if that $62 million were directed entirely toward development as a standalone resource, it would support the construction of approximately 200 new units of affordable housing. That’s it.
With a total homeless population of 4,476 living on the streets, the amount provided by the city of San Diego in the last decade remains far too little to have any meaningful impact for the scale of the problem. Simply stated, the city of San Diego has not allocated enough public funding to sufficiently address and solve the crisis.
Well-intended though they might be, these reports offered little direction on how to solve the homelessness problem. Meanwhile, homelessness has become one of the most urgent moral issues of our time, a potential public health crisis in waiting. Poll after poll indicates that San Diegans are well aware of this and are demanding meaningful solutions.
To me, the answer is clear: Mayor Kevin Faulconer and the City Council must regard these latest reports as an urgent call to action.
The mayor, the Council and the city’s public health agencies need to provide sufficient funding to the San Diego Housing Commission to build enough affordable housing for the thousands of homeless men, women and children who are now sleeping on our streets.
San Diego has struggled for decades to reduce homelessness. That struggle has worsened in large part because of the lack of funding by the very agencies — local, state and federal — charged with protecting the public welfare of our citizens.
It is long past time that our elected leaders, government agencies and the public acknowledge that we need much more money, not less, to help solve this problem as humanely and effectively as possible — before the next public health crisis erupts on our city’s streets.
Ricardo Flores is executive director of LISC San Diego, a national non-profit “bank” that has financed affordable and homeless housing in San Diego County since 1991.