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Commentary: Saying ‘yes’ to getting helped

By Richard Bailey

Previously, I stated that San Diego’s comeback to “America’s Finest” must begin by addressing the homeless issue. Across the country, the number of homeless is lower today than ten years ago; however, the number of homeless increased by 40% over that same period.

The claim that the lack of affordable housing and good weather explain this massive increase in homelessness is easily refuted by data from other states with good weather and high median home prices, with homeless rates three to four times lower than in California.

So, if housing affordability and weather do not explain the rise in homelessness, what does? It’s the policies.

Beginning in 2014 with the passage of Proposition 47, the state reduced penalties for many crimes, including reducing public drug use to a misdemeanor.

Before 2014, if someone was publicly using meth, heroin, or fentanyl, that individual could be arrested, taken off the streets, and referred to a rehabilitation facility – but not today.

Now, they are usually left on the streets, where they are preyed upon by drug dealers and other criminal elements that take advantage of their vulnerable state.

While it’s true that the vast majority of people that enter the homeless service system do not have substance abuse issues, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, over 80% of chronically homeless struggle with drug and alcohol abuse.

The chronically homeless are defined as those that have been on the street for more than a year and are who we commonly think of when we hear the term “homeless.”

When these policies enable a personally destructive lifestyle which is often financed through petty crime, combined with fewer police officers working patrols, the surrounding neighborhoods become unsafe and dirty for the general public.

And this is the main point that our region and state are missing — city leaders have a civic and moral responsibility to provide access to the resources necessary to help struggling community members get back on their feet. However, city leaders also have an obligation to the larger community to make sure public spaces, including sidewalks and parks, are safe and clean for all of us to enjoy.

The region and state have failed to achieve this dual responsibility.

We must make saying “yes” to getting help and off the streets the only acceptable answer through a coordinated, regionwide approach that connects those wanting help with available resources and a unified standard of enforcement, which must include prosecuting misdemeanors to protect the quality of life for the broader community.

The steps in this process should look like this:

  1. Create a dashboard that tracks the total number and type of shelter beds, their location, and availability in real-time so all government agencies in the county know precisely how many beds are available on any given night.
  2. The county should serve as the homeless shelter clearinghouse for the region, so all the cities can contract through a single source and have access to all available shelter beds.
  3. As long as help is offered to help people get off the streets, cities should collectively agree to enforce quality-of-life laws that help maintain safe and clean public spaces.

We can’t solve homelessness, but we can do a better job of connecting people that want help with help. And we can certainly do a better job maintaining clean and safe public spaces for the surrounding communities.

San Diego used to be America’s finest. Check out to learn more about this and other policy changes to help the San Diego region make a comeback.

Richard Bailey is the mayor of Coronado.

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