“For ye shall have the poor with you always….”
Jesus Christ, Matthew 26:11
We San Diegans cannot be proud of how we are handling the homeless population.
They importune us from traffic islands while we are waiting for left turns, on street corners and near grocery-store entrances. They hassle tourists along the streets of Old Town.
Homeless denizens live off handouts; abandoned Mexican food trays from the trash cans; and periodic forays into our back yards to harvest our garden vegetables or tree fruit.
Our Christian ethos predisposes us to be generous with both our personal dollars and our government programs.
And we are and that is the problem.
That living saint among us — Catholic priest and now Monsignor Joseph Carroll — spent the latter half of his life raising funds and providing transition living to the involuntarily homeless.
The Protestant Rescue Mission started doing the same for decades before Father Joe.
The Rotary Club and others sponsor the Monarch School for homeless children to transition them into successful adults.
Hundreds of other well-meaning individuals and organizations contribute sporadic help.
Still our homeless population grows ever faster.
Why are our riverbeds, vacant city streets, parks, freeway shoulders, and canyons so often and increasingly colonized by these ratty congregations?
The answer is that the generous programs above are for “the involuntary” homeless.
The majority are “voluntary homeless” and unwilling to change their status when offered many opportunities.
First we must answer the question: “Where do the homeless come from?”
While a small percentage are home-grown social dropouts, much of the homeless are dumped on us by three major public institution; the County Mental Health Department, our city and county jails, and nearby Donovan State Prison.
These agencies discharge inmates without enrolling them in available assistance programs.
The largest source is immigration from other communities.
They hear it is great in San Diego so they come.
This is a principle of public administration: What you subsidize you promote. What you tax, you deter.
Because of our unbridled (an ill-conceived) generosity, we are inviting impoverished travelers and wanderers from all over the nation to our streets.
We have yet to learn the lessons gained by both uber-liberal San Francisco and Oakland.
Those two communities long welcomed and even subsidized a huge flock of homeless, heedless that they were inviting in ever more homeless, resulting in community blight and a social millstone around their civic neck.
Wiser communities like Las Vegas are happy to provide bus tickets to San Francisco (and San Diego) for their discharged mental patients.
They also provide a comparison of their welfare benefits to ours to their applicants, hoping they will leave Nevada and head here. Apparently it is working.
To stem the wave of homeless immigration, the City Council must reconsider its current settlement with the self-appointed “Homeless Advocates.”
The current free-ride policy is a self-inflicted wound by an ill-informed City Council.
Based on an awful Federal District Court ruling, City Attorney Mike Aguirre convinced City Council members that they had no constitutional right to enforce their own vagrancy laws.
The federal judge said that doing so was “cruel and unusual punishment,” which goes to prove that there are liberal nut cases on the federal bench, too.
How could enforcing basic sanitation and property laws designed to stop urinating and defecating in our yards, sidewalks, streets and parks or blocking passage to public right of ways, littering and unwanted citizen harassment be “punishment”?
“Punishment” is what happens afterward.
And what is the punishment the judge objected to? A written citation and small fine. How awful!
That policy needs to go and the police should once again enforce those laws.
If that defendant sticks around and repeats, arrest him and put him in the city jail, which is mostly unused.
And while in the jail, a San Diego County social worker should triage the defendant for his particular condition and then enroll him in the appropriate county/state program, which costs us millions, so that the subject can get help.
This is “tough love,” but also the ultimate kindness.
Make complying with the program a condition of probation.
While in the jail, the homeless person gets medical attention, food and shelter. What exactly is wrong with that?
If that particular homeless person does not want to participate in the program and falls out of compliance, then back to jail for a longer stay, say another week or two.
Repeat the process until he complies and is benefited or until he gets tired of being arrested and leaves town, hopefully for Nevada.
We have the same problem with the state prison.
Inmates are being released every week without adequate preparation or enrollment in applicable assistance programs.
Under recent Supreme Court rulings, the rate of prison inmate releases is going to accelerate.
The result is that they are abandoned at the nearest trolley station to end up in Old Town and “under a bush,” as one welfare worker told me.
The same with the County Mental Health and county jail releasees.
Why does the county not enroll these people while they are “in hand,” instead of waiting until they are “in the wind”?
My experience in pursuing this issue with them is that the county does not want to enroll these people as they will cost the county money, money by the way which has already been appropriated for these purposes.
The county is proud of its fiscal conservatism and its reputedly sound financial condition.
Other than granting themselves a massive retroactive retirement raise that required their retirement system to borrow huge amounts of money to cover, they may be right.
But balancing the county budget by unconscionably turning a blind eye to the mass of homeless for which the county is financed by the state to help is the root cause of the majority of our homelessness.
When Jesus said “For ye have the poor always with you…” he must have been thinking of our various governments’ heartless and ill-considered public homeless policies.
Stirling, a former U.S. Army officer, has been elected to the San Diego City Council, state Assembly and state Senate. He also served as a municipal and superior court judge in San Diego. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments may be published as Letters to the Editor.