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Homeless advocate Michael McConnell / Photo courtesy of Michael McConnell

For years, businessman Michael McConnell was a largely behind-the-scenes influencer devoted to reducing homelessness in San Diego.

Then McConnell decided he could make a greater impact speaking out to the public. He took to Facebook and Twitter, where he’s collectively amassed more than 30,000 followers. He’s since helped frame the conversation about San Diego’s homeless crisis and police enforcement affecting those living on the street.

McConnell’s shared countless photos and videos of homeless San Diegans’ police interactions and of city workers confiscating their tents and other belongings.

McConnell, who spends many early mornings on downtown streets, has seized on moments and provocative images that drive home the power police officers have over the already chaotic lives of some of San Diego’s most vulnerable. One post featuring a petite senior, head bowed, being handcuffed by an officer early one Saturday morning went viral. McConnell’s camera has also rolled as groups of officers and police vehicles surround homeless camps. And he’s introduced his followers to homeless San Diegans like Richard, a man arrested for settling in a tent who later made an emotional decision to give up his dog so he could enter a city-funded shelter. Those posts have drawn attention from city officials, reporters and lawyers. Attorney Scott Dreher, who’s sued the city over enforcement involving homeless San Diegans, believes McConnell may have documented violations of settlement agreements dictating rules for police interactions with homeless San Diegans.

McConnell’s used his social media megaphone to highlight other local strategies he finds questionable too.

Among the issues he’s elevated and publicly questioned this year: a City Council-approved plan to sink $6.5 million into three new homeless tents and the region’s sluggish response to the deadly hepatitis A outbreak that’s hammered the homeless population.

McConnell’s also been a key voice in discussions about potential homelessness ballot measures, even commissioning his own poll this summer to assess San Diegans’ appetite for a future initiative.

This is part of our Voice of the Year package, profiling the people who drove the biggest conversations in San Diego in 2017.

Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

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