After months of waiting on Mayor Kevin Faulconer and other city to leaders to make dramatic moves to help San Diego’s surging homeless population, two power brokers are effectively calling their bluff.
They’ll provide large industrial tents to house the homeless, if city leaders supply the land and political will.
The mayor has repeatedly promised to quickly add hundreds of new shelter beds. That hasn’t happened yet.
So Padres managing partner Peter Seidler and restauranteur Dan Shea, who have spent months discussing shelter options with Faulconer and others, on Thursday announced philanthropists are prepared to buy tents to temporarily house hundreds now sleeping on the street. The catch is that they’ll need a place to put them – and contracts with outside agencies to operate them.
“We’d like to get them up immediately,” Shea said at a Thursday press conference. “What we did is we introduced a plan in the absence of any other plan for the short term.”
They’ve committed to purchasing multiple tents, which cost an estimated $800,000 each. They believe the tents can serve as a temporary refuge for homeless people while the city builds the housing and other options needed to end their homelessness.
City Councilman Chris Ward, who represents the downtown neighborhoods most impacted by homelessness, on Wednesday made some short-term proposals of his own. In a memo, he called for the city to discuss whether Golden Hall or the former Chargers practice site could serve as short-term housing options for homeless people. He’s also advocating a look at city-controlled parking lots to see if they could be safe sites for the homeless to park or stay without fear of police enforcement, among other ideas.
“I want to do something now, and I mean it,” Ward said.
Ward’s ideas are set to be discussed Monday at the homelessness select committee he leads.
Heated debates about all of the above are a given. Advocates disagree on the best approach to address the city’s tragic problem. Some maintain that the focus should be linking homeless people to permanent homes, the solution that ultimately solves their homelessness, while others have said more immediate help is also needed. Then there are individual neighborhoods’ concerns about shelter locations.
Meanwhile, many homeless people have concerns with the shelter options the city’s already got, citing everything from worries about the number of people packed into them to their inability to bring pets or partners in with them.
The short-term proposals speak to mounting frustration over San Diego’s growing homeless problem. Street homelessness has spiked 31 percent in the city since 2014. Homeless encampments dominate some blocks downtown and are increasingly popping up throughout the city – and Faulconer earlier this year promised swift help that hasn’t come yet.
The mayor has said his team continues to work behind the scenes to seek hundreds of new shelter beds, more storage for homeless people’s belongings and other help.
Faulconer said last month he’s trying to ensure both stakeholders and key details are lined up before he proceeds. He wants to make sure proposals can become reality.
But Seidler, Shea and Ward have decided San Diego can’t afford to keep waiting.
“I think the problem is growing to a level where it’s very clear to all of us San Diego citizens that something really impactful needs to be done,” said Seidler, who said he also believes the region needs to invest in long-term solutions.
A Faulconer spokesman on Thursday said the mayor welcomed Seidler and Shea’s financial commitments and noted the challenges his own efforts have faced.
“There is no perfect spot for homeless services and the city does not own any property that doesn’t come with serious challenges, whether they be logistical or financial,” spokesman Craig Gustafson wrote in an email. “The mayor is committed to finding a site and city staff continues to follow the mayor’s direction to identify a suitable location.”
Gustafson said the mayor’s office also looked forward to reviewing Ward’s proposals.
But Shea, Seidler and Ward are hoping for more than a discussion.
“It’s about doing something. We’ve got a lot of information. We’ve got a lot of different ideas and plans,” Shea said. “If we’re going to wait for everyone to get on board 100 percent we’re not ever gonna do anything so we’re trying to remove the obstacles to get down to the most common denominator to quickly take people off (the street).”