In early 2016, the San Diego City Council — due to a wave of community pushback — reversed course and removed the last of downtown’s two portable public toilets. A year later, San Diegans watched in horror as we faced the largest person-to-person hepatitis A epidemic on record in U.S. history.
No one should have been surprised. Since 2000, four grand jury reports had tried to raise awareness of the likelihood of such a crisis, pointing to the shortage of toilets for use by the city’s growing homeless population and the related serious health risks.
As Voice of San Diego reported, San Diego public officials have been warned repeatedly about the potential impacts, including a disease outbreak, the lack of restrooms could cause.
Until that crisis came to light, homelessness in San Diego had been regarded as a downtown issue. Suddenly, or so it seemed, it became an urgent civic concern for those living near downtown in “nice” neighborhoods — think Bankers Hill, Hillcrest, Mission Hills and elsewhere.
Today, nearly a full two years after the hep A epidemic, there are still no concrete plans to help house our homeless population.
The growing lineup of mayoral, City Council and supervisorial hopefuls are promising yet again to “fix” the problem. But how do voters judge their commitment and the effectiveness of their proposals?
Here’s our bottom line: Affordable housing is not going to finance itself. The only way to build enough homes for all the region’s homeless men, women and children is to pay for it publicly. With the private financial market unable to provide all the funding needed to build those homes — in the form of permanent, fully sustainable projects — it is imperative for city and county officials to take a strong leadership role.
Last year, the San Diego Housing Federation released a proposal encouraging local politicians to approve a $900 million bond to build new affordable housing. According to SDHF, the bond, if approved, would provide approximately 7,500 affordable housing units.
For perspective, there are currently 4,990 homeless individuals living on the streets in San Diego. If our collective goal is to reduce and eventually end homelessness, our target for new funding should start at $900 million. Absent a large local subsidy to fill the financial gap, there is simply no way to build enough housing for the homeless at the scale needed to solve the problem.
If City Council and mayoral candidates truly seek to help end the homelessness crisis, they need to commit to paying for it by fully supporting the $900 million bond. Otherwise, the shame of homelessness will continue — unfunded, unsolved and unabated.
I urge elected officials and candidates to get behind this measure.
Ricardo Flores is executive director of LISC San Diego, a national non-profit “bank” that has financed affordable and homeless housing in San Diego County for the last 27 years. He lives in San Diego.