Contrary to what some politicians and civic leaders in San Diego and elsewhere claim, homelessness is a problem without end. Mental illness and substance abuse are just two complex reasons why. So it’s smart to make progress on the issue strategically, to help those who will accept a roof and support.
San Diego’s opening of a year-round shelter in 2015 is a step in the right direction; Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s focus on getting 1,000 veterans off the streets this year is another. But the city’s recent decision to install jagged rocks below a freeway overpass to deter homeless encampments is a big step backward in a metro area that ranks as the fourth-largest homeless population in the country, up from 12th in 2007.
Yes, some Sherman Heights residents celebrated the so-called safety improvement along Imperial Avenue below Interstate 5; they say it lets them walk safely on a major thoroughfare. But treating the homeless as pests only moves the problem, pushing it toward other neighborhoods. Is San Diego going to put rocks under every overpass the way spikes repel birds on billboards or Skatestoppers deter skateboards on benches, curbs and handrails?
Spending $57,000 to shuffle the homeless around a corner seems a shortsighted solution to a long-term problem. And what message does it send? We asked the Mayor’s Office, which installed the rocks in Sherman Heights after residents complained.
“That the city is responsive to concerns it hears from its residents,” a mayoral spokesman said.
But homelessness plagues many neighborhoods: from Mission Valley to the Midway District and beyond, where residents similarly complain. Should one set be helped but not others? Isn’t it better to have a more ambitious, concerted effort as Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has proposed in quadrupling that city’s homeless spending? Was another approach possible if the mayor sought input from council members who represent Sherman Heights and downtown, David Alvarez and Todd Gloria? Shouldn’t communities address homelessness together instead of being pitted against one other?
Alvarez told San Diego CityBeat that the project “was a surprise.” He added that he understands the concerns of residents being able to use their sidewalks, but that the money spent on this project would have been better “used on fixing our deteriorated sidewalks.” Gloria succinctly told CityBeat that the project “does not address the larger issue of getting people off the streets.”
Less diplomacy and more disdain peppers posts about this on the Homelessness News San Diego Facebook page, which has more than 15,000 followers and broke news of the rock project last week.
The Mayor’s Office told an editorial writer it has no plans to remove the rocks along Imperial Avenue in the wake of criticism or to install similar rock piles in other parts of the city. It said one goal of the office is to “treat everyone with dignity and respect.”
Mission unaccomplished. People aren’t pests.
We’ve outlined why this project was a bad move, but the simplest reason is that it just moves the homeless. San Diego has a rocky relationship with its homeless population already. We hope the mayor views it systematically and doesn’t make it rockier.
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