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Advocates & Bill Walton weigh in on homelessness at Balboa Park amid debate over solutions to crisis

Posted at 6:19 AM, Sep 28, 2022

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Brian Grueters is the Associate Director of Outreach Services for PATH San Diego, a homeless advocacy group.

On Tuesday afternoon, he went by to check in on some of the unhoused at Balboa Park.

“But, I’d say, as an observer, we’re seeing more encampments around the city. I think that’s also true in Balboa. And I guess I would say we expect that,” said Grueters.

Balboa Park and the unhoused in the area are becoming a big topic of conversation after a big San Diego name is raising concerns.

"Paradise Lost: This is the city of San Diego, a once great city. Sadly, and with a broken heart, I can no longer claim San Diego is the greatest place on Earth," said Bill Walton a basketball legend and San Diego native.

Walton, along with those from the Lucky Duck Foundation, held a press conference to address how local entities and elected officials handling the homelessness crisis and to unveil an initiative that Lucky Duck has created.

For Walton, his focus was direct.

“Todd Gloria campaigned for his job on the promise that he would fix the homeless humanitarian and public heath crisis in our once great city. Todd Gloria has made it worse,” Walton said.

Gloria's director of communications Rachel Laing fired back with some heated rhetoric of her own.

"Today's `news conference' was simply a tantrum full of self- aggrandizing hyperbole and outright lies," Laing said. "San Diegans are frustrated with the worsening homelessness crisis, and Mayor Gloria shares that frustration. But unlike Mr. Walton, Mayor Gloria is translating that frustration into decisive, sustained action to improve the situation. To say that he has done nothing on homelessness is objectively false."

She went on to tout Gloria's accomplishments in the arena of homelessness, including increasing the city's network of shelter beds, launching and expanding a street outreach program, initiated 18 different policy reforms to make it faster and easier to build affordable housing, invested city funds into 10 affordable housing projects, championed efforts at the state level to enhance access to mental health care, and stepped-up sidewalk cleanups and law enforcement to protect health and safety in public spaces.

Walton first sent an email to Gloria regarding the issue on Aug. 8, which read, in part, "I'm begging and pleading for your help. This permanent homeless encampment in our neighborhood is a travesty, with endless trash, urine, and feces, that goes unabated, forever. This makes our public Balboa Park unusable. It is not healthy, safe, or desirable to do so."

Laing described combating homelessness as an uphill battle and expressed disappointment in the manner in which Walton and the Lucky Duck Foundation were making their complaints heard.

The mayor has spoken about his successes in getting people off the street in recent weeks, including last Tuesday when he announced that the city has taken possession of a 34-room hotel on Pacific Highway that will be transformed into a non-congregate shelter for seniors experiencing homelessness.

When it comes to these latest concerns about Balboa Park, Grueters said there are similar concerns that they’ve heard about other parks across the county.

While Grueters and PATH San Diego find ways to help those unhoused in Balboa Park and beyond, he said there’s an end game solution to homelessness.

“There’s a housing crisis on top of the homeless crisis or, really, undergirding the homeless crisis. So, you need to fix that if you want to make a dent in the homeless population. If that issues going to resolve, you need homes,” Grueters said.

Grueters said he is supportive of the work that the city and housing commission is doing to provide resources to the unhoused.

The latest quarter numbers from PATH San Diego show they were able to get at least 7 people out of balboa park and into permanent housing.