Change can only happen within relationships. That, and the need for hope, were two messages delivered by Pacific Beach social activist Caryn Blanton on July 2 at a community “conversation” on homelessness and crime held at St. Andrew’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church.
Blanton, who is relaunching nonprofit Shoreline Community Services providing resources to the unsheltered, spoke to guests and community volunteers about combating homelessness and crime while they ate chocolate and roasted marshmallows.
“We’re going to address some of the realities in our neighborhood and learn more about Shoreline Community Services, what we do, and how we can move together to make our community the kind of place we’re all happy and proud to be a part of,” Blanton said.
“The most consistent cause of homelessness is the loss of human relationships,” Blanton continued. “Homelessness occurs when someone has disengaged from society, family, friends, church, their neighbors, etc. These are people who don’t have a connection anymore. Those who become homeless are those who have no relationships.”
Pointing out “there is a lack of service providers in our central beach area,” Blanton added, “These are often the places where unhoused people go to form relationships.”
Blanton introduced Joseph Besser, a formerly unhoused person whose rehabilitation began when he joined the PB Street Guardians, an organization hiring the homeless to do community beautification, which disbanded a year ago.
Besser was depressed and living out of his car before joining PB Street Guardians, which began his journey back to employment and renewed self-respect after he was hired part-time as a groundskeeper at St. Andrew’s.
“I’m still here,” joked Besser adding, “I committed myself, during my days living out of my car that, if I ever got out of this, that I was going to help others. Since I took this job here I now oversee our Tuesday night (homeless) meals. I have been doing that for a year and a half. That’s my baby.”
Now a member of the Shoreline Community Services board of directors, Besser said, “It’s an honor just to be asked. Since I’ve been working at St. Andrew’s, I’ve met hundreds of unsheltered neighbors from all walks of life. I’m just happy being involved in connecting them with more resources to help people take a step forward.”
“And [Besser] is now permanently housed,” noted Blanton.
Blanton spoke of numerous new programs being introduced by Shoreline to stem PB homelessness and crime.
“We’ve been busy since March reinvigorating this nonprofit,” she said. “Shoreline is the nexus, the central point of connection, in our community. We can access existing resources, be sure people who need them find them. We determine the most pressing challenges. We find solutions to these challenges.”
There is no shortage of challenges right now.
“We need to find safe places for unhoused people during this time when libraries and other places they used to go are not now open,” Blanton said, adding, “There is an invisible community now being put out into the public where it hasn’t been.”
Speaking of new Shoreline Community Services initiatives, Blanton said the group has started tagging abandoned items and removing them for safe storage, giving information to their owners as to how they can be retrieved.
Pointing out “we need to find ways to make our neighborhood safer,” Blanton added, “We’re going to work on getting every bike at the beach registered. We want to connect with every bike shop between Ocean Beach and Bird Rock to develop an online bike registry for every bike sold connected to the police. We think that would be a great way to begin addressing bike theft crime that is rampant in PB.”
Blanton offered an upbeat message for the future.
“I’ve met more people who want to help, and that gives me hope, and it should give you hope too,” she said. “When we pull this off together, we’ll be an example to the rest of the City, the rest of the country.
“Change takes a long time,” concluded Blanton. “Like you, we’ve been frustrated with the system, frustrated with the results. But we know that all the issues can be solved if we’re strategic. We realize this is a journey we need to be committed to, walking together to make the changes because change doesn’t happen unless it’s within relationships.”
For more information, visit shorelinecs.org.