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Would San Diego ever approve a plan to place a homeless storage facility serving 1,000 individuals next to La Jolla Country Day School?
I don’t think so, and neither did Father Neal José Wilkinson of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, one of many community members who appealed to the San Diego Housing Commission at its board meeting on March 9. Only in this case, the proposal is to put a storage facility east of downtown — one block away from a school and steps from residential homes at 116 S. 20th St.
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced this plan during his January state of the city address, but residents of the surrounding communities of Logan Heights, Sherman Heights and Barrio Logan were not informed ahead of time. As a local business owner and resident, I fear the facility will only increase the waste, drug use and unsafe streets that many have been battling for years to overcome.
While the facility’s proximity to the school is by far the most compelling reason for contesting the plan, it’s also important to note the city has made promises to the areas east of downtown to decentralize homeless services for decades, but it has done little to keep those promises. In 1995, the City Council approved a comprehensive homeless policy that called for decentralization and community involvement in the site decision process for homeless services.
Faulconer, who at the time was a council member representing the downtown neighborhoods, agreed with the policy, stating, “It has to be every neighborhood helping out and that’s our commitment.”
The new 22,000-square foot facility will serve 1,000 homeless individuals, far greater than the current facility in East Village that serves more than 300 and is close to homeless encampments. Rather than decentralize homeless services, the communities east of downtown are disproportionately hosting the city’s homeless population.
Additionally, local officials spearheaded an effort for these neighborhoods to become a federal “promise zone” in 2016 under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. A rare and highly coveted designation, there are only 22 “promise zones” nationwide. Under the initiative, the area is set to get funds from the federal government to create jobs, improve economic activity, reduce violent crime, expand educational opportunities, gain access to top-quality affordable housing, and promote health and access to healthcare.
Instead, some of these same officials are now proposing a facility that will bring 1,000 more homeless into the neighborhood and likely comprise the success gained through the federal program.
The comments of those in favor of the facility at the Housing Commission meeting did not go unheard. They came from representatives of various organizations who work with the homeless, many of whom said a storage facility would help these individuals safely store their personal belongings as they search for jobs, attend classes or meet with county service providers.
According to the city, the current storage location has helped free the streets of almost 30,000 pounds of personal belongings. One woman who spoke at the meeting claimed that a place for more homeless to store their belongings will help keep needles out of the canyons near her neighborhood’s school.
The idea of a storage facility was backed by the San Diego ACLU as part of a legal settlement that stemmed from a 2009 lawsuit accusing the city of seizing and destroying homeless property.
While there are valid arguments in support of a storage facility — and there is clearly legal pressure on the city and the mayor to act — the location of the proposed site remains a problem. Many of the opponents of the facility work or volunteer for homeless outreach organizations and no one at the commission meeting spoke against the facility on principle.
In the end, the housing commission board voted three in favor, one opposed and one abstained, which means the plan will move forward to the City Council without an official recommendation. City Councilman David Alvarez, who represents Sherman Heights and other neighborhoods, responded by asking Council President Myrtle Cole to postpone the final vote — scheduled Tuesday — so that the Southeastern Planning Group and San Diego’s Smart Growth and Land Use Committee have time to really consider it.
While it seems that most all agree that a facility is needed and is a move in the right direction for San Diego’s homeless crisis, the location next to a school, in a residential neighborhood, and in an area that has been promised protection from the city and the federal government is unacceptable.
Some are likely to respond to my argument by saying homeless services are concentrated near downtown because that’s where the homeless live. But to keep dumping these facilities in the same couple neighborhoods — and so close to a school that primarily serves lower-income students — is excessive. There are plenty of industrial areas in San Diego to consider.
There must be a better location.
Brittany Kaszas is a resident of Logan Heights and co-founder of San Diego Made, a coalition of local artists and craftsmen. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.