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Bob McElroy hasn’t been known to pull punches, but he said Friday he’s starting to feel a change.
McElroy, whose Alpha Project has operated the city’s emergency tent shelter for many winters, has been on myriad task forces and studies about homelessness in San Diego since he started Alpha Project in 1986 as a small agency to find and create jobs for homeless people. Even the tent itself was an annual political morass for most of the last decade.
But Mayor Bob Filner stopped by the tent recently and turned to McElroy. “Bob, what do we have to do to end this?” Filner asked.
“I nearly fell on the ground,” McElroy said. “I’m not usually speechless.”
These days, politicians like Filner seem eager to address homelessness, even declaring goal dates for ending homelessness of various types and in certain geographic areas. As we examine the scope of homelessness here, and what’s being done about it, we also want to catalogue the various promises to end it. Consider these:
• City Councilman Todd Gloria, who recently became president of the City Council, pledged in a recent speech to make a big change in the city’s center.
“I can now see a day when we have ended homelessness in downtown,” Gloria said last week. “I am committed to achieving this goal in the next four years.”
• For San Diego, Filner’s been a little less specific. “We’re going to look at the homeless literally directly in the face when I’m mayor. And say, this should not happen in the richest country in the history of the world. We’re going to look at it and deal with it. Frankly, I want to be the first city in the country that eliminates homelessness in our major cities. I think we can do it,” he said on Nov. 26. As of Friday, we couldn’t get any more specifics from Filner about whether he means the region, the city or downtown — and in what timeframe. We’ll keep you posted with what we find.
• Federal officials reaffirmed their pledge to end homelessness among military veterans by 2015, an effort Filner was involved in as a congressman. While the number of homeless vets dropped 7 percent nationally between 2011 and 2012, the number rose in San Diego, according to a federal study released last week. That’s the same study that pegged San Diego’s overall homeless population the third-highest among metropolitan areas nationwide.
Last January, 1,753 veterans were counted in the region’s point-in-time homeless count, up from 1,649 the previous year.
The federal Veterans Affairs department announced last Monday it plans to triple the funding for a program that targets veterans for assistance who are in danger of becoming homeless — before they end up on the streets. U-T San Diego reported that Veterans Affairs will soon open a center between Old Town and Mission Hills to treat Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who don’t need hospital care but do need some inpatient assistance.
As 2012 ends, the region’s approaching another deadline — one identified in the 2006 Plan to End Chronic Homelessness. That sought to build or designate 2,000 housing units as homes for the most severe cases by 2012. The plan picked up some steam in 2009, and some of the efforts I’ll write about in the coming weeks came about as a result. But, as 2012 ends, we’re still talking about many of the same problems that plan wanted to fix.
McElroy said he’s still skeptical of the buzz around ending homelessness, but he said he trusts Filner and City Councilmen Gloria and David Alvarez, whose district the tent sits in this year.
“This is the first time in 26 years I think we might be able to do this thing,” he said.
Have you seen any other politicians or leaders making pledges or promises to end homelessness? Or have you wished others would talk about the issue? Dozens of you have written with questions and directions for me to go on this quest — thank you. What else do you want to know about? You can send me a note at email@example.com.
I’m Kelly Bennett, reporter for Voice of San Diego. You can reach me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.325.0531.
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Disclosure: Voice of San Diego members and supporters may be mentioned or have a stake in the stories we cover. For a complete list of our contributors, click here.