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Homeless Lives Matter

By | Jul 19, 2016
These images were taken on the Momenta Project Los Angeles 2016 workshop in Los Angeles, California. Photo © Jim D'Aquilia/Momenta Workshops 2016.

Photo © Jim D’Aquilia/Momenta Workshops 2016.

Alex has been sleeping on a sidewalk in San Diego for a handful of years. He used to worry about where his next meal would be, if he could find a shelter bed, or whether he would get sick.

Recently, however, Alex’s worries have been more severe. He fears he might be beaten and set on fire by some crazed person who has been preying on the homeless population, attacking and killing a handful of homeless men.

Sadly, these brutal assaults against San Diego’s homeless population are not an exception. Eight years ago, I wrote an opinion piece for a California newspaper describing the dismal fact that people who are homeless in this country are vulnerable, especially to hate crimes.

In 2008, John Robert Graham was doused with gasoline, set on fire, and died on a major Los Angeles street. Other murders have been documented in Florida, Colorado, Wisconsin, and other states. Just last month, a homeless man was tortured, murdered, and dumped in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

Six years ago, I worked with then-Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, to promote her AB2706 bill that would have deemed attacks against the homeless as a hate crime. Although the State Assembly and Senate passed the legislation, then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it.

Here in “America’s Finest City,” San Diego’s homeless population has endured vicious hate crimes. These are crimes against our most vulnerable population.

In the past few years, the homeless services community has prioritized people on the streets who are most susceptible to sickness, people who without our help would have a strong chance of dying.

That is why a couple of years ago the City and the County of San Diego implemented “Project 25” that identified the most vulnerable homeless individuals who had been using a significant amount of public services, including medical assistance. In fact, one study discovered that 15 people who were homeless used more than $1.5 million of medical assistance.

San Diego’s recent experience with these brutal attacks against people on our streets is actually redefining vulnerability among the homeless population. We can no longer simply define vulnerability with a stethoscope approach where street people with the most severe illness or disability are the most vulnerable.

Now, we are seeing that anyone who is sleeping under a blanket on our sidewalks is also vulnerable to a life-threatening hate crime of beatings and perhaps death.

Death by a chronic illness or death by a beating. The end result is still the same.The remedy to these threats is simple. People on our streets need a home.

San Diego is leading the way in a responsible approach to this generation’s most dire social issue of the day by investing significant resources into housing its homeless population.

In 2010, the business leaders of San Diego Downtown Partnership chaired a campaign to end homelessness in the heart of downtown. That effort has housed thousands of people who were homeless.

Two years ago, the San Diego Housing Commission, supported by the City’s Mayor and Council, implemented its plan to house 1,500 homeless individuals. And, earlier this year, they joined efforts again to invest $12.5 million to house 1,000 homeless veterans.

Last month, the County of San Diego committed to providing permanent housing and care for 1,250 people who struggle with homelessness and mental illness.

San Diego’s initiatives to rapidly house its homeless population are the proper responses to prevent the devastating threats that our homeless population encounter, whether it be sickness or criminal attacks.

In fact, our community desperately needs to double-down on getting more people off our streets by permanently housing them. The perils of life on the streets would end if we simply housed every person who is currently homeless.

Alex, who has been homeless for years, should not be worried about being set on fire while he sleeps on the streets. And, he should not be worried about his next meal or where he will sleep tonight.

Help Alex secure an apartment, and provide support while he is housed, and Alex will be more worried about what meal he will be cooking tonight, and what television show he will watch.

Our community’s priority to house its homeless population is the most effective approach to protecting our people who sleep on the streets. Because homeless lives matter.

This is an op-ed piece that appeared in the San Diego Union-Tribune on July 15, 2016.

One Comment

  1. Posted Oct 22, 2016 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    the story is very interesting