We Need a Permanent Committee on Homelessness

6 March 2018

To the Honorable Members of the San Diego City Council,

We have an ongoing emergency in San Diego for the homeless, and the problem is especially acute in the winter. Mild though our winters may be, the nights are much colder than is comfortable or humane for unsheltered men, women, and children; even those who are healthy and able bodied. Given the severity of the flu season, the cold night temperatures may even contribute to additional deaths.

Yet, the Select Committee on Homelessness is planning to meet, not “once or twice a week” as planned when the committee was formed, but only five times for the whole of 2018. It is not enough to update the City’s homeless policy and call it a day. It is not enough to put up three tents to temporarily shelter a few hundred of the many thousands of unsheltered persons living on our streets.

San Diego’s residents, housed and unhoused alike, deserve a sustained, focused effort from its council on the single greatest problem facing our city. San Diego’s residents deserve to have their chosen representatives watching the actions of non-elected staff and contractors. The lives of our most vulnerable residents, and the moral standing of us all, depend on your continued attention to this humanitarian crisis.

We call on you to revise the legislative calendar, and see that the Select Committee on Homelessness meet not five times, not even “once or twice” a month, but fully twice per month. Let these council members put their time and attention on the issue that will define the moral character of our city for years to come. There is more than enough work to do.

We have attached a detailed response to the committee’s draft work plan for 2018. We were able to discover many parts of that plan that would benefit from continued engagement from our fine, honorable, and compassionate Council Members.

Thank you,

Dr André J. Branch
President
NAACP San Diego Branch

Response to the Proposed Homelessness Work Plan

6 March 2018

To the Honorable Members of the San Diego City Council,

We have an ongoing emergency in San Diego for the homeless, and the problem is especially acute in the winter. Mild though our winters may be, the nights are much colder than is comfortable or humane for unsheltered men, women, and children; even those who are healthy and able bodied.  Given the severity of the flu season, the cold night temperatures may even contribute to additional deaths.

Yet, the Select Committee on Homelessness is planning to meet, not “once or twice a week” as planned when the committee was formed, but only five times for the whole of 2018.  It is not enough to update the City’s homeless policy and call it a day.  It is not enough to put up three tents to temporarily shelter a few hundred of the many thousands of unsheltered persons living on our streets.

San Diego’s residents, housed and unhoused alike, deserve a sustained, focused effort from its council on the single greatest problem facing our city.  San Diego’s residents deserve to have their chosen representatives watching the actions of non-elected staff and contractors. The lives of our most vulnerable residents, and the moral standing of us all, depend on your continued attention to this humanitarian crisis.

We call on you to revise the legislative calendar, and see that the Select Committee on Homelessness meet not five times, not even “once or twice” a month, but fully twice per month.  Let these council members put their time and attention on the issue that will define the moral character of our city for years to come. There is more than enough work to do.

We have attached a detailed response to the committee’s draft work plan for 2018.  We were able to discover many parts of that plan that would benefit from continued engagement from our fine, honorable, and compassionate Council Members.

Thank you,


Dr André J. Branch
President
NAACP San Diego Branch

The NAACP San Diego’s Response to the January 31st, 2018 Draft Work Plan for the San Diego City Council Select Committee on Homelessness.

Our comments follow page by page and section by section of the draft work plan.  The work plan itself contains so much that has been left undone by the Committee that we feel it alone justifies much more of the Members’ attention than has been allotted to the Committee by the Legislative Calendar.

We apologize for the length of this document; however, so much work remains to be done by the Committee that we cannot be brief.  This alone should indicate that the San Diego City Council Select Committee on Homelessness should be meeting twice per month, not four times per year.

Land Use

1.a. We applaud the committee for requesting a formal review of properties.  Requesting a review does not ensure that review will happen in a timely or appropriate manner, and we ask that you meet frequently to ensure that review does not languish in the hands of the Mayor, Civic San Diego, and the San Diego Housing Commission.

1.b.-1.d. The work plan lists no status on engaging other governmental entities, expanding adaptive reuse, or exploring property abatement.  Here is substantial work yet to be done.

Housing and Public Facilities

Regarding low-barrier programs

1.a. There is no status listed on committee and public education on lowering the barriers to housing.  While we fully believe the Chair and Assistant Chair are now well-educated, there are new Committee members, and the attitude of the public on the issue has neither been ascertained nor seriously addressed.  Here is work the Committee can do.

1.b. We are pleased that the City is required to use low-barrier entry protocols.  The status does not, however, list any areas that remain a challenge, and seems to rely on other agencies to oversee the proper implementation of these protocols.  As our elected representatives, we believe the Committee should be identifying and publishing areas of challenge, as well as ensuring that reviews and remedial action occur in a timely fashion.

1.c We are pleased to see that the City is required to support the Toolkit and Written standards.  Discovering a requirement is not at all the same thing as “supporting implementation.” Again, we call on our elected Members to hold the machinery of city government accountable for fulfilling these requirements.

Regarding Temporary Approaches

2.a. Seven hundred beds in the same unlivable undifferentiated shelter spaces is not an acceptable solution to compassionately housing San Diego’s more than THREE THOUSAND unsheltered homeless persons.  The Committee did much interesting investigation into alternate solutions, and it is very sad to see all that fall by the wayside. We call for the Committee’s continued attention to solutions that offer a true path forward for the homeless, not just unsafe and demeaning mass dormitories.

2.b. We welcome the increased handwashing stations and restrooms.  We call on the Committee to ensure that these efforts are maintained.

2.c Again, we are gratified to see progress toward Safe Parking Solutions.  This is one area where the Committee acted promptly and with practical effect.  More can be done. We are ready to assist the City and the Committee in engaging with the faith community and others to much more dramatically expand Safe Parking solutions.

2.d. We are puzzled that a transitional camp was CLOSED upon the opening of the tents.  We again call the Committee’s attention to the numbers; seven hundred beds in three tents, more than three thousand unsheltered homeless in the city.  We call on the Committee to work with the City to expand the Care Zone program, not end it.

Regarding Supply and Diversity of Long-Term Approaches for Addressing Homelessness

3.a. This item suggested that the Committee would understand SDHC’s prevention and diversion model, and possibly increase resources.  The result seems to be that SDHC hired a consultant; we do not see how that means the Committee’s work on understanding, evaluating, and possibly increasing resources is any nearer its completion.

3.b. We applaud $37M in spending for Permanent Supportive Housing and Rapid-Rehousing.  Does the Committee believe this is funding sufficient to address the problem? The NAACP does not, and believes the Committee needs to continue to exert pressure in this area.

3.c. While we are happy to see that a property has been acquired for the Navigation Center, there are questions as to this property’s suitability and cost-effectiveness.  We believe the Committee should provide oversight for the continued implementation of the Navigation Center.

3.d. No status is listed for Conditional Use Permit review.  Ergo, work remains.

3.e. We are proud of the work the Committee has done to support innovative solutions, and are entirely dismayed to see other governmental bodies returned to a tired old system of mass shelters in tents the size (and tenor) of warehouses.  Without the Committee’s continued pressure to innovate, we fear stagnation and reversion to the old, failed methods will rule the day.

3.f. No status is listed on investigating youth housing models.  Here is work for the Committee that will benefit some of the most vulnerable, and yield some of the most lasting effects.  Lives will be fundamentally changed if the Committee makes progress in this area.

Programs and Protocols

Regarding Street Outreach

1.a While we are pleased to hear that additional outreach workers are being hired, the Committee well knows that too much “outreach” is currently being done by the SDPD.  The Committee has yet to address the City’s outrageous, unconstitutional, liability-inducing practice of arresting the homeless simply for being homeless, and confiscating their possessions.  True city outreach will never be possible until this punitive and counter-productive approach is abandoned. The Committee could conceivably do some good in this regard, should it wish to do so.  Change in leadership at the SDPD is a chance to make change in SDPD practice and policy, and the Committee needs to be involved.

1.b There is no status on expanding health related outreach.  Surely this is good work for the Committee to do.

1.c. We assume the lack of status indicates that the exploration of a homeless mitigation team is work waiting for the time and talents of our esteemed Members.

Regarding Workforce Development

This entire section is left blank!  Surely, especially with the vast influx of road resurfacing money represented by SB-1, the Committee could work to see that the homeless and soon-to-be-homeless are given a fighting chance at remunerative work that will truly establish them for the future.

Regarding Volunteer Opportunities

Again, an entirely blank section, simply aching to be filled by the efforts of Mr Ward, Ms Gómez and their compatriots.

Regarding Transparent Process

5.a. Again, no status listed.  We can fill in part of that status for the Committee; the new head of the RTFH has actually removed data from the public view, decreasing transparency.  The Committee might spend a productive meeting discussing just that issue with Mr Walker.

5.b. We tire of the answer to so many questions being three large tents.  Surely this one project and its one method are not the the only mechanisms to be considered.  The Committee could provide oversight and investigate alternative solutions.

Legislative Policies

Regarding Policy Update

We are happy to see the policy updated and this work item disposed of.  We encourage the Committee to spend its time on practical matters.

Regarding State and Federal Legislation

The successes in this area present a puzzle us as difficult as any piece of this plan.  The City sees that there is an ongoing shelter crisis, the State suspends building standards for three years to address it, and the San Diego City Council decides the Select Committee on Homelessness’ workload has decreased to the point it need only meet quarterly?  How is this possible? One does not rest on one’s laurels in an emergency! Specifically, the Work Plan calls for the Committee to make recommendations for local ordinances; where are these?

Regarding New Revenue Sources

Words fail us.  Whatever the merits of the industrial tents might be (and we do not think those merits very considerable), they hardly represent new revenue sources for permanent housing of the homeless.  We reject any reference to the tents, and call on the Committee to actually work on new sources of revenue for permanent housing for the homeless.

Regarding Final Recommendations and Closeout

Here, we are gratified to see there is no status.  The San Diego City Council Select Committee on Homelessness should not be closed out until the vast majority of the thousands of San Diego residents currently homeless are housed, housed well, and housed permanently.  The issue of homelessness facing San Diego requires the utmost from all of us.