Local residents packed the Point Loma/Hervey Branch Library community room to hear from public officials and then give their own takes on the homeless situation, which some feel has gotten out of hand.
One woman said she felt like a prisoner in her own home, claiming she’s virtually had to lock herself in to keep out homeless vagrants.
Another angry resident half-jokingly suggested the homeless ought to be removed from the area and taken somewhere where their appetites for alcohol and drugs could be appeased without disturbing the community.
A local restaurant owner said he might have reconsidered locating his business into the area if he’d known the homeless problem there was so severe.
A panel of service providers on hand for the homeless discussion included Kalie Standish, PATH-Connections Housing; Piedad Garcia, county Department of Mental Health; Tom Theisen, Regional Task Force on the Homeless; Milissa Peterman, San Diego Housing Commission; and Sgt. Teresa Clark of the SDPD Homeless Outreach Team (H.O.T.).
Standish, associate director of community engagement of People Assisting The Homeless — or PATH — a group of agencies working cooperatively to end homelessness, said putting a roof over street people’s heads is the first step to getting them stabilized and headed back toward leading productive lives.
“We’re able to redirect folks,” said Standish of the program, which she said provides an array of services.
Standish said there’s been a 70-percent reduction in homelessness in surrounding communities when a comprehensive approach involving wrap-around social services is offered.
Meanwhile, Garcia said, “The main challenge for us is to coordinate the efforts of multiple agencies linking the individual with needed services.”
Garcia said it’s very difficult to house the homeless because they need to acquire the necessary identification to get the paperwork accomplished, as well as to clean up any legal warrants or financial black marks from their past.
Theisen talked about a new homeless pilot program under way currently in downtown San Diego, which he said involves a “coordinated assessment and housing placement program.”
That program, Theisen said, involves volunteers who actively count and assess the homeless to categorize them and their needs. Those homeless people can then be dealt with in a much more individualized and focused way once they’re housed and off the streets.
Details of the available programs drew responses from community members and local representatives.
“You need to take those pilot programs and bring them to our coast,” said Gretchen Kinney Newsom, president of the Ocean Beach Town Council. “We need them right now.”
Cathy Kenton, a business owner in the Midway area, said their coastal neighborhood “has become the dumping ground” for homeless people displaced from elsewhere in the city.
“Our employees do not feel safe coming and going to work in our neighborhood,” Kenton said.
Melanie Nickel, chairwoman of the Midway-Pacific Highway Planning Group, said there are four separate types of homeless in the area: people sleeping on the streets in tents, those living in vehicles, those who take to panhandling on medians and others who lounge in business parking lots.
Clark, of the police department’s H.O.T. team, said the key is not only to identify resources for the homeless, but to get the homeless matched up with the appropriate resources.
Theisen urged residents to be patient regarding the homeless situation, saying, “There is no magic solution. If you want to solve the problem, you have to put the resources behind it.”