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A couple of days ago, I took a walk down the Vermont Street pedestrian bridge that connects the communities of Hillcrest and University Heights. I’ve been visiting the neighborhoods frequently to hear stories from residents and businesses owners about their public safety concerns.
On Friday, I met with University Heights resident Emad Mirgoli. As we crossed the bridge, people walked by with grocery bags. Some walked their dogs and others road their bicycles.
The walkability, proximity to stores and neighborhood diversity was what attracted Mirgoli to the neighborhood almost 20 years ago. But something has changed, in his eyes.
“You’re having folks who used to walk, who used to enjoy the neighborhood, not feel comfortable any longer because of the homelessness and crime,” he said, attributing that to people sleeping on the bridge and doing drugs. “It’s changing people’s behaviors. People are getting in their cars and driving to Ralphs where you could walk there in seven minutes.”
Mirgoli has had at least two experiences where police officers did not respond to his call for help, he said. One of those incidents happened while he was crossing that bridge when Mirgoli said a man threatened him with a knife. He said it seems pointless to call for help, so he has decided to stop all together.
These aren’t isolated events: As we reported last month, other residents have also had issues with police responding to calls. That reality is reflected in data we pulled that shows police response times have dramatically increased over the last couple of years. Police have said their challenges are closely tied to staffing issues.
I’m going to keep speaking to residents in the next couple of days. If you have a story you’d like to share, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Inside Voice: What Happens When Those Who Want Detox Can’t Access It
A couple days before publishing a story she’s been working on for weeks, senior investigative reporter Lisa Halverstadt couldn’t get a hold of her source. This was concerning.
Ryan had been desperately waiting for a bed for days. The 30-year-old La Mesa resident, whose full name we did not publish for privacy reasons, had been sober for years but recently relapsed with fentanyl. He wanted help. But when he tried to get into detox, there were no beds available.
He kept using fentanyl, he told Halverstadt, to just function.
As he got more desperate, he checked himself into a hospital. That stay only lasted two-and-a-half days.
“I feel like I’m like failing,” Ryan told Halverstadt a day after he was discharged. “Am I gonna make it through this moment?”
On Thursday, Halverstadt heard from him again as the story was being edited. He had made it into detox. In total, Ryan waited 21 days to get a bed at the McAlister Institute’s Lemon Grove detox facility. This story is all too common for those who want help.
What we found: In a new story, Halverstadt reports, “The limited number of detox beds, a lack of programs that can treat detox patients experiencing medical issues and intake processes have made rapidly obtaining a bed akin to winning the lottery.”
Lisa’s two cents: Many of us tell ourselves that people with substance use challenges could get clean if they’d just reach out for help and that few people want help. My story illustrates that many San Diegans are desperately seeking help and struggling to get it. Detox isn’t essential for everyone who wants to stop using, but for some, it’s a crucial starting point on their road to recovery. And right now, many vulnerable residents can’t access detox in the moments they are determined to change their lives, which for many translates into never accessing that resource.
Reporting on this subject hasn’t been easy. I often felt as if I had a front row seat to failure as I heard anecdote after anecdote of people raising their hands, saying they were ready to get help, and then being forced to wait. Given the lethal threat of fentanyl, I was left pondering how many lives may have been lost because a detox bed or other treatment option wasn’t available on demand.
VOSD Podcast: Halverstadt joined me and Andrew Keatts on the podcast this week to discuss her story. Listen to the latest episode here.
Chisme to Start Your Week
- Our 2023 Parent’s Guide to San Deigo Schools is out. The magazine is a one-stop resource for parents. We have data from most schools in the county to help parents make the best choice for their child. You can download a free copy here.
- Education reporter Jakob McWhinney this week broke down what a change in state data doesn’t tell us about teachers. Read his story here.
- Assemblyman David Alvarez recently introduced a bill that would create new protections for residents living in recreational vehicles at mobile home parks in two South Bay cities. Voice of San Diego associate editor Jesse Marx has been following this topic and now he writes that the dispute is moving to Sacramento. Read his latest post here.