Lauren Mize is a student at High Tech High International. She worked on a project to expose a problem that strongly needs improvement in San Diego.

Do San Diegans realize how many homeless people we see each day? According to SANDAG, (San Diego Association of Governments), there are 4,258 of them. There are potentially thousands more that have been difficult for our city to account for. Homelessness in San Diego is at a critical stage, and our city does not provide enough assistance and funding to address and change this sensitive, social issue.

Most shelters are usually open during the winter months when the weather is cold. President and CEO of the Alpha Project, Bob McElroy, runs the San Diego downtown winter shelter. In Peggy Pico’s article he states, “We turn away people every night, probably between 50 to 100 people each night.”

Pico also interviewed a young girl named Malia Mason. Malia is homeless and considers herself lucky for being able to catch a bed at the shelter. “Malia said it breaks her heart to see people turned away. It takes very little to do a lot she said, especially for the people who are left out in the rain and cold.”

These homeless shelters are only open during the winter because of the public outcry that pressures local politicians. Once the weather improves, these individuals are back on the street, yet again, in the same housing crisis situation.

One of the leading causes of why people remain homeless is the lack of quality in programming within the shelters that are provided. There is no form of long-term help provided in these short-term shelters. One of the most important ways to make change in this population is to identify the leading factors that lead to homelessness. Once the cause is identified, specific treatment models can be successful.

In order to decrease the number of homeless people in San Diego we need to offer at least one full functioning shelter in each major San Diego neighborhood. A stipulation of sleeping at the shelter should include that the individual be assessed by a professional that can recommend which program track is suitable for he or she to enroll in. Sample programs would include financial responsibility, job skills, trade school partnerships, heath checks, substance abuse classes and counseling for mental illness.

You can even attribute a part of our crime rate to homelessness. From “2003 to 2006 police ticketed or arrested 1,084 people for illegal lodging.” Now, law enforcement advocates successful options for the homeless instead of criminalizing the behavior. They lack the manpower and resources to deal effectively with the homeless population, and it takes them away from their core function — protecting our welfare.

On a positive note, there are good things happening in San Diego. Steve Binder is the founder and supervising attorney for the San Diego Homeless Court Program and chair of the Veterans Treatment Court. San Diego runs this special weekly court to help homeless individuals overcome their minor criminal charges such as loitering and illegal lodging.

Instead of issuing fines, which the homeless cannot pay, the court gives them credit for participating with local homeless service agencies. The homeless give back to the community by providing community service and receiving treatment while participating with these organizations.

So, why does there continue to be no long-term solution offered by the city, nor action by our residents? Research shows that people support the idea of helping and having programs in theory, but choose not to donate funding and are adamant that centers should not be built around their homes.

One of the most recent examples of this type of controversy is the shelter purposed for San Diego World Trade Center. The proposes shelter would include living space for 225 people and be complete with an onsite medical clinic, mental health screening, drug and alcohol treatment and job counseling. A classic example of lack of support is from Tim Cowden, a real estate broker downtown. He objects to the site as he claims it would “devastate” the nearby business district.

Mr. Binder is an advocate for the city turning San Diego’s World Trade Center into a one-stop, full-service residential program for all San Diego’s homeless population. He suggests that the mayor and City Council look to the model of Veterans Village of San Diego, VVSD. The VVSD is a national recognized leader in serving homeless military veterans. This organization specializes in intervention, treatment, after care and employment services for homeless vets in San Diego. They have complete impatient and day treatment programs, and have treated over 2,000 vets since their opening in 1981.

Mr. Binder does acknowledge that the city’s homeless service agencies like St. Vincent de Paul and the San Diego Rescue Mission do a good job even though they do not receive the resources necessary to effectively serve the entire San Diego homeless population.

Instead of glancing awkwardly in the other direction, it is time to look directly at the crisis at hand and to take action.

As a member of this community, please research, support and lobby for added programs to be funded through the city. If you are able to assist at your local shelter or food and clothing drives within your own networks, take action. If you are employed in fields that can assist a shelter (such as medical or job placement services), reach out to the nearest shelter and ask if you can help provide services to expand their offerings to our homeless population.

I strongly urge the mayor and City Council to approve a one-stop homeless service center at the World Trade Center. It will truly be able to help many of the homeless people regain their lives. It will be able to decrease the number of homeless people in our society, don’t you think?

Lauren Mize is a student at High Tech High International in Point Loma.

Dagny Salas

Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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