A homeless man and his dog sit on a street in downtown San Diego in 2017. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Toward the end of 2018, Adam Serwer wrote a piece for The Atlantic that has since become a definitive assessment of the Trump era: The Cruelty Is the Point.

In it, he argues that the human suffering that’s been inflicted as a result of Trump policies like family separations are not the unfortunate byproduct of Trump officials dutifully carrying out the law. They’re the entire objective.

“Somewhere on the wide spectrum between adolescent teasing and the smiling white men in the lynching photographs are the Trump supporters whose community is built by rejoicing in the anguish of those they see as unlike them, who have found in their shared cruelty an answer to the loneliness and atomization of modern life,” Serwer wrote. (Disclosure: Serwer is a friend.)

I was reminded of that piece many times over this week as local Republicans, one after the other, made the truly baffling argument that allowing police to ramp up enforcement against the homeless, and blocking programs like a parking lot in Encinitas that would allow residents living in their cars a safe place to stay overnight is the only truly compassionate response to homelessness.

Residents opposed to the Encinitas parking lot argued against the idea by saying that the lot “wasn’t compassionate.” When a resident at a forum to discuss the lot urged her neighbors to be more empathetic, Supervisor Kristin Gaspar shot back, “No one can say that my lack of support for one solution is my lack of support for humanity and for the people that we’re serving. I care about them deeply and that’s why I say we need to redefine passion as a society and genuinely love people.”

Mayor Kevin Faulconer, in his State of the City address this week, “To anyone who says it’s not compassionate to move a person off the street – Ladies and gentlemen, I say it’s not compassionate to let a person die on it!”

But Faulconer isn’t just arguing we should move people off the streets — something literally no one disagrees with. He’s specifically arguing that police should have the right to move them off the streets. Which means he’s arguing that giving someone a criminal record and the fines and stigmas that go with it, not to mention the trauma of the criminal justice system, are more compassionate than just … not doing those things.

Some sort of memo must have gone out this week. When I talked to state Sen. Brian Jones, a Republican who’s also running for Congress, he too said, as if on cue: “Living on the street is not compassionate.”

Let’s get on the same page. No one thinks homelessness is an ideal outcome. Everyone recognizes it as a dire humanitarian crisis that must be solved. There’s no universe in which the overarching question is: Should we do nothing?

Yet there are simple, straightforward things that can be done in the short term to ease people’s suffering while the thornier, more complicated long-term solutions are hashed out. One of those is giving them a secure place to park so that even if they’re cold and confined to just a vehicle, they know they can rest there safely. Another is declining to further compound their troubles by saddling them with criminal fines and a record on top of their homelessness.

Arresting them or denying them the safety of a place to park is plainly, obviously cruel. But then again, maybe that’s the point.

What VOSD Learned This Week

This week marked Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s final State of the City address, so Andy Keatts and Lisa Halverstadt assessed his progress on the promises he made in his first five speeches.

Councilwoman Barbara Bry, who’s running to replace Faulconer, praised the mayor following his speech for following her lead on homelessness. Her latest position on the “housing first” approach – which she chided Faulconer on – marks a big reversal.

Faulconer and other Republicans in San Diego County and beyond are advocating for police to be a much bigger part of the solution to the homelessness crisis. We talked about all of this on this week’s podcast.


Ashly McGlone uncovered an arrangement that lets Grossmont High’s basketball coach profit off tournaments the school hosts and plays in.

And McGlone also explained why the unionization effort at Gompers Preparatory Academy has hit a snag that has left the union without a contract one year after forming.

Will Huntsberry detailed how Ashford University could still rake in money for its parent company even if it becomes a nonprofit.

What I’m Reading

Line of the Week

“Legal experts inundated cable news this week with speculation that Weinstein’s attorneys should look out for ‘secret #MeToo activists,’ as if #MeToo were a radical ideology held by a small group of match-wielding saboteurs, rather than what it actually was: a blaring siren, made of the voices of stars and strangers and friends and family members, announcing that the flames are already everywhere around you. Can’t you smell the smoke?” – This stuck out to me because the same thing holds true for journalists: Our experiences in life don’t make us hopelessly biased, they make us better.

Sara Libby

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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