The Morning Report
Get the news and information you need to take on the day.
A couple weeks ago, Voice of San Diego’s multimedia journalist Ariana Drehsler came to one of our editorial meetings with an idea and a question. She wanted to know what people experiencing homelessness thought was missing from the region’s response.
This week, after months of speaking to people, she published a powerful portrait series on nine unhoused San Diegans. The biggest takeaway for me was how many are on waiting lists for housing.
We’ve written before about how homelessness is a housing problem. But what also stood out to me, as city officials ramp up shelter offerings and enforcement proposals, is how many opt to camp on city streets and other areas over shelters. And that’s for many reasons: safety, fear of theft, pets and wanting to have control over their own lives and decisions.
As Drehsler writes, “Some have struggled with substance abuse and others are down on their luck. And because securing housing can take years, they’ve instead created their own homes and communities on San Diego’s sidewalks, riverbanks, freeways underpasses, shelters and shopping centers.”
Take, for example, Silvia Ibarra’s story. She stays in an RV in San Ysidro because of her dog. She used to stay at a shelter, but her dog caused problems, so she left. She also values the freedom she has living in her RV over a shelter. Ibarra has been on a waiting list for housing for more than five years, she told Drehsler.
Behind Voice: Drehsler spent months getting to know those featured in the series. She witnessed moments of sadness and despair, but also happiness and joy. Here’s what she had to say about the experience, edited for clarity.
“When I started this photo essay, I had a clear idea of how I wanted to approach it. First, I wanted to get to know them. And then, I had questions about what their family life was like, what caused their homelessness, what do they struggle with, and hope would change. What are they not getting from the city? I also thought it was important to ask about their future.
“Aside from many moments of sadness and watching some people cry as they told their stories, there were funny moments, too. Such as Silvia Ibarra’s dog getting into mischief during our interview, barking and running around, and her yelling at him to calm down. Or when I interviewed Rachel Hayes, as an ice cream van drove through Commercial Street. The colorful truck playing music and driving past the encampments was so bizarre we both just laughed. These might not seem as funny now, but when you’re speaking with someone about the most heartbreaking moments in their lives, and little things like these happen, sometimes it sparks a laugh and smile.”
Drehsler also joined our editors on the VOSD Podcast to talk about the series and what she learned during the experience. Listen to that episode here or wherever you get your podcasts.
Click here to view the complete photo essay.
Related: One of the individuals Drehsler featured in the series vocalized her opposition to a proposal that would ban camping on public property during a City Council committee meeting Thursday.
Danielle Patrice Draeving and her son are staying at a city shelter. She wanted the Land Use and Housing Committee to know that while there are drug issues at some encampments, many people on the street have also taken care of her and her son.
“There is some good,” Draeving said. “I think the solution is housing. I am not for the handcuffs.”
The news: The city’s Land Use and Housing Committee voted to forward Councilman Stephen Whitburn’s proposal to the full City Council. In case you don’t remember, this is the proposal to ban camping on public property when shelter is available. It would also ban camping at all times within two blocks of schools and shelters, and in parks and some trolley tracks.
Lisa Halverstadt summed up what happened at the meeting and the requests and questions that Whitburn and Mayor Todd Gloria will come up against as they continue to push the proposal. Read that here.
Trouble Moving Homeless Residents Into Homes
On the subject of housing homeless residents, Halverstadt reported this week that the city’s existing shelters are struggling to get their current clients into permanent homes.
This revelation comes at a time when the city is working to supply more homeless shelter options.
The numbers: Halverstadt reports, “From July through February, just 11 percent of the 2,385 people and families who departed city shelters overseen by the San Diego Housing Commission moved into permanent homes, according to agency data. Another 9 percent found other long-term housing in places such as a family member’s home or a transitional program.”
San Diego has long proved to be a tight housing market for these shelter providers.
Why the challenge is greater now: Shelter providers are up against surging housing costs, a drop in new supportive housing projects and staffing shortages within their own organizations that have complicated their operations.
An expert told Halverstadt that the city’s shelters are dealing with a “resource desert.”
The Other MTS Lawsuit
ICYMI: The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to declare no confidence in their colleague Nathan Fletcher and to urge him to resign immediately. Fletcher had said he would resign on May 15. (Catch up on the vote here.)
The calls for his immediate resignation have piled on since the news broke that Grecia Figueroa, a former employee of the Metropolitan Transit System, was suing him and the agency. The date he said he would resign brought up a lot of questions about whether he would participate in a key upcoming vote. Scott Lewis unpacked some of that here.
But the Supes are pausing their search for the county’s next boss. The day after that vote, Chairwoman Nora Vargas and Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer announced that they were pausing the county’s hiring process for a new county administrative officer.
Also in a new story, Jesse Marx reports on a different case against MTS.
A former employee sued MTS in 2018 alleging retaliation by the agency. The agency settled the case for $200,000. But as Marx found, there are some similarities between that one and Figueroa’s. Read about those here.
More Chisme to Start Your Week
- Jakob McWhinney had a good scoop this week. He reported that San Deigo Unified is vacating all its area superintendent positions and opening them up for recruitment. This also includes leadership roles in the department of human resources and special education. A district spokeswoman told McWhinney that this move is part of a larger effort by Superintendent Lamont Jackson to shape the district’s future. The people vacating the positions are encouraged to reapply for the jobs. Read the story here.
- McWhinney also had a story this week that detailed the challenges a single father faced to get his son into San Diego Unified’s free after-school program. The district recently opened more spots, which allowed the child featured in McWhinney’s story to get a spot. But that was a year after his father started searching. And many more families are still waiting. Read the family’s story here.