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Advocates call for more compassion, understanding when dealing with county's homeless population

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Posted at 3:43 PM, Jun 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-17 11:38:29-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Advocates called for city and county leaders, and the community to be more compassionate when it comes to the homelessness crisis San Diego continues to face.

“Is this a problem of funding? I say ‘no’. Is this a problem of facilities? I also say ‘no’. Is the problem of processes? I say ‘no’. The heart of the problem is our soul. The heart of the problem is our compassion,” said Yusef Miller with the North County Equity and Justice Coalition and the CA Poor People's Campaign.

19 tents were set up on the lawn of the county administration building spelling out the messages “end criminalization” and “housing, not handcuffs”.

Earlier this month Mayor Todd Gloria said in one week, the city received about 1,200 reports from residents complaining about homeless encampments, and in response, the city would be stepping up enforcement.

“We are enforcing our laws of encroachment on the public sidewalks,” said Gloria at a press conference in early June. “Now, to be clear every enforcement operation follows days if not weeks of outreach teams repeatedly offering assistance and shelter.”

While some may be thrilled to hear some sidewalks are being cleared, the process is not something everyone is happy about.

As homelessness continues to be a pressing issue, a group of advocates said they want the community and leaders, to better understand how these individuals landed in their situations and help, instead of relying on citations and arrests.

“The crisis we are facing is a moral one,” said Rev. Beth Johnson with the CA Poor People's Campaign. “We know it’s the inability to see the humanity of our siblings who are living in the community on our streets.

The group also points out the disproportionately higher number of Black people homeless in the county.

According to census data, about 5.5 percent of county residents are Black, but the latest Point-in-Time count revealed that about 29 percent of the homeless population was Black.

“We need to move the needle forward, and change our perspective, change our approach, to dealing with our homeless siblings,” said Miller.

Coleen Cusack is an attorney and said she represents homeless people cited by the police, when asked what she thinks should be done when people on the streets refuse the services and shelter offered, she said, “We need to have non-congregant shelters for people because a lot of our homeless population have anxiety, they have social anxiety and can't be around large numbers of people and if we want to help them get off the streets, we need to meet them where they're at.”

A spokesperson for the mayor’s office said the city’s homeless shelters are typically at more than 90 percent occupancy and keep more than 1,200 people from sleeping on the streets.

“There is space available every night. The Mayor has repeatedly encouraged our homeless population to avail themselves of the shelter we have available -- not only for their safety but to connect them to services that can change their circumstances and end their homelessness,” said Dave Rolland in an email, the Deputy Director of Communications for the mayor’s office.

“Mayor Gloria has expanded shelter capacity by 25% and continues to expand the types of shelter to ensure more suitable options, including non-congregate shelter, mental and behavioral health shelter, substance abuse shelter, women’s shelter, family shelter, and Safe Parking locations for people living in their cars. We are on track to bring approximately 450 more shelter beds online this year.”