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The San Diego City Council recently held its initial hearing to consider the mayor’s proposal to increase the transit occupancy tax, also known as the hotel tax. The new revenues would be used to expand the Convention Center, fix our roads and reduce homelessness. It is this third, very important aspect, on which I write.
The initiative is projected to raise a minimum of $10 million annually to help those on our streets, and finally provide the city with a dedicated funding source to address homelessness. Some have said that this does not go far enough or that there is no clear funding plan. Others focus on the fact that this would require a special election.
While I think these are valid points and should be considered carefully, as head of one of San Diego’s leading homeless services nonprofits, I urge my fellow residents and city leaders to consider the impact this funding could have on the lives of those living on our streets.
One needs only to walk through downtown to see how urgent the situation is. Allowing so many to remain on the streets is unhealthy for everyone. It has a major impact on the quality of life for downtown residents and businesses, and the impacts are spilling over into Mission Valley and beyond. It negatively affects tourism, a major economic driver for our community. Our police, paramedics, firefighters, hospitals and service providers are all overrun. Most importantly, we have people – veterans, men, women, families with children – literally sleeping on the sidewalk.
It is no surprise that the most recent point-in-time count showed that, on any given night, there are more than 9,100 people without a home here in San Diego County. That is a staggering figure, and it’s trending the wrong way.
At its core, the issue of homelessness is one of resources. Father Joe’s Villages knows this well. We are one of the community’s largest nonprofits serving people and families who are homeless. We have been doing so for 67 years.
I can say without doubt or hesitation that the lack of resources is our biggest challenge.
In 2016, Father Joe’s Villages alone took more than 800 men, women, teens and families off San Diego’s streets and put them into permanent housing. And it could have helped more if we had the resources.
With more than six decades of addressing this problem and working with countless individuals and families, I can say with certainty that the only way to effectively deal with homelessness in our community is to invest in the housing and services needed to help our homeless neighbors reach self-sufficiency. With the right support, this journey to independence is possible.
As the expression goes, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Will $10 million a year from the hotel tax resolve our homeless crisis? Of course not. Will it help? Absolutely.
To put it into perspective, $10 million is enough to provide a year’s worth of therapeutic services and childcare to nearly 1,100 homeless children. It could provide a year’s worth of short-term shelter for approximately 4,500 people. Likewise, it could take more than 600 of our most chronically homeless neighbors off the streets permanently.
At Father Joe’s Villages, I see lives changed every day – people who had no place to turn but the streets finding their way into homes of their own. The work that we and others in our community do is good, not only for our clients, but for all of us. That impact could be greater if only we had the resources.
For the sake of those on our streets, for the health of our community, I urge you to please support this measure now. We can’t afford to wait.
Deacon Jim Vargas is the president and CEO of Father Joe’s Villages.