Homeless expert: ‘Understanding, resources and leadership is needed’
Published - 08/11/16 - 04:57 PM | 35024 views | 0 0 comments | 25 25 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A passed-out homeless man sleeps in the dirt of a restaurant’s landscaping at the intersection of Garnet Avenue and Mission Boulevard in Pacific Beach. / PHOTO BY THOMAS MELVILLE
A passed-out homeless man sleeps in the dirt of a restaurant’s landscaping at the intersection of Garnet Avenue and Mission Boulevard in Pacific Beach. / PHOTO BY THOMAS MELVILLE
Michael McConnell, a San Diego business owner and long-time philanthropist, is determined to solve homelessness in San Diego. The founder of the Facebook page Homelessness News San Diego says, the city is full of different kinds of homelessness and the solution lies in leadership and the community.

McConnell has been a businessman for more than 35 years and was the vice president of the board of directors for the Regional Task Force on Homelessness for nearly two years. The Regional Task Force on Homelessness is a nonprofit that provides data and analysis to communities that will allow them to identify and alleviate issues within their homeless communities.

In 2014, McConnell became a San Diego affiliate member for Funders Together to End Homelessness, which is the only national network of philanthropists working to strategically develop solutions for homelessness.

The Beach & Bay Press spoke with McConnell about homelessness in the beach communities.

BBP: Where does your passion to end homelessness in San Diego come from?

MM: I am a long-time San Diego business owner. I did that for more than 35 years and I decided I wanted to do something different so I chose to help the homeless. I had a brother who was mentally ill and while he was never really homeless he struggled, and I see my brother in the people who are sick and on the streets.

This helps me understand them and understand that they don’t want to be there. So my brother was a big factor for me but the big big factor is the beautiful ripple effect that solving homelessness has on a community. The effect on businesses, on tourism and on housing. As “America’s Finest City,” we need to be treating all of our citizens, both those on and off the streets, like they deserve, especially in “America’s Finest City.”

BBP: Do the kinds of people who are homeless vary depending on where they settle?

MM: The beaches are home to a lot more young people. Definitely more young people, both unaccompanied minors and those in the transitioning age and a few older. I definitely don’t see a lot of families along the beach that’s for sure. There are definitely fewer services, which creates a different dynamic than other places in the city. People say there are so many homeless downtown because the services and agencies are down there and they are, but that just isn’t the case for the beaches.

There are a lot less agencies, housing options and shelters in the beach communities. Because of this lack of services, a lot of these people became homeless in the beach communities, or they just want to remain close to the coast for one reason or another. This is totally different from say homeless in downtown.

BBP: Do you know of any initiatives, programs or agencies that work to specifically help the beach communities and/or the homeless youth?

MM: A great agency helping the situation in a beach community is the Pacific Beach Homeless Coalition. They have a Facebook page you should definitely look at and they have meetings.

I went to one and there they offer services like meal sharing and laundry programs. Ocean Beach has always been a hotspot for the homeless, and I’m not sure about the agencies at work there, but I know the churches out there do their part. There is also San Diego Youth Services. They do great street outreach.

BBP: How is homelessness in communities across San Diego being addressed?

MM: There is something called the Regional Continuum of Care or the RCC as I’ll refer to it. It is designed to promote community-wide commitment to end homelessness. It is part of a regional response to homelessness. Communities get funds to assist this regional response. This money is then put into initiatives.

BBP: Have you seen other cities deal with homelessness successfully or use models that you think we should follow here in San Diego?

MM: Yes, definitely in central Orlando, Fla. They have made dramatic progress. Houston as well. Philadelphia is another place with dramatic progress. They created additions to their resources rather than just displacing the homeless there.

They added more outreach people and put out more beds. It was about increasing the available resources for them not about displacing these people. But Orlando did great work, so did Houston.

BBP: What are the different initiatives, projects and programs you know about in San Diego, and in your opinion, how successful are they?

MM: For veterans, who in large part settle in areas like downtown, the Opening Doors Committee is a federal initiative trying to end veteran homelessness. The Opening Doors Committee has big goals but have put in great effort recently. Housing for Heroes is another that deals with the landlords and others involved in placing homeless veterans directly into housing. These provide assistance to the regional effort of ending homelessness throughout the county.

Project One for All is a great initiative working for people who have serious mental illnesses across San Diego County. The goal is to provide 24-hour access to necessary services. They have already placed more than 1,250 people with a housing agency and instilling a systematic placement process. There is an assessment done to determine what kind of housing someone needs and where they should be placed.

The issue is that people tend to get into multiple programs and on multiple waitlists in an attempt to get help, but this creates a duplication of services. One for All helps coordinate the assessments and is overseen by the Continuance of Care to match the homeless with the right services and care. This streamlines the duplication of work and services.

This helps more people more effectively while using the same amount of money. There is a shift happening from an older ineffective and inefficient method. The shift puts housing first and services second, and this is a major transformation and a big funding shift.

BBP: Where do you think the city is going wrong, why are these initiatives not making the progress they want to be?

MM: I am an advocate for these programs but the city is working against the good things that are being done. Their actions are driven by downtown businesses and residents and is even seen in Hillcrest where they hired security. The city and the communities are anti-homeless.

This is seen in the rocks downtown, which were not installed for safety or design, the constant sweeps and the increase in encroachment tickets. This is all making it harder for the initiatives to take effect and work. This creates instability and tension for people who are very vulnerable and unstable and I am not blaming the police for this, but they are the face of it. They are criminalizing the homeless. These encroachment tickets are out of control and create criminal records and it’s so much harder to house a criminal and all of this is very costly for the city.

BBP: Do you feel the way homelessness was addressed surrounding the All-Star Game and Comic-Con was displacement rather than developing resources?

MM: The thing is, especially during these events, the homeless do not want to be in your way. They don’t want to be a bother. They are on the street because there is no where else for them to be and they are on the streets downtown because it is close to many of their services. We should have invested in resources is what we should have done. We do not need to hide these people but help them.

BBP: What do you think are San Diego’s next steps?

MM: It is all about the leadership. We have a mayor who won’t step up, he is holding us back here. He has put this on the police, and yes, the law enforcement need to be involved. There are criminals everywhere but they are not sleeping on the street. We have criminalized homelessness and it is a waste of money when there are real crimes occurring elsewhere.

If these are homeless in downtown, Hillcrest, or the beach, the solutions are the same. The solutions for the beach communities remain the same as elsewhere in the city. We need to get a better understanding of the youth in the community and that can help us understand homelessness along the coast. Across the country there needs to be a push to solving youth homelessness.

BBP: What are your thoughts on the recent violence and action taken against the homeless community?

MM: Criminals are preying on the homeless. Some are other homeless and some are just criminals preying on the homeless. The mayor is all about climate change, he’s going to solve the climate crisis. If the mayor would tackle this like he wants to tackle climate change, we would make changes. Really, I mean, I have news for him, homelessness is easier to solve than climate change. Other cities have learned this and he should learn from them.

BBP: What would you like to see the mayor do?

MM: We need to rally the faith community and the businesses and the people. We have to get in the sandbox together, but we also have to go in the right direction.
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