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Homelessness top priority for Downtown Partnership

Combating homelessness will be top priority for the San Diego Downtown Partnership during the coming year, the group’s new chairman, Keith Jones, pledged at his installation dinner Wednesday night.

Previous chairmen at the partnership -- which consists of around 300 downtown business leaders -- have pledged themselves toward such goals as bringing more businesses downtown or raising money for pro-business political candidates.

In an interview before the gala, Jones -- the managing partner of Ace Parking -- said he too wants to push for “catalytic projects,” such as an expanded Convention Center, a downtown football stadium and a shuttle system connecting Balboa Park with the bay. But he adds that the problem of homelessness now looms over such initiatives.

In 2011, the homeless population jumped nearly 9 percent to around 9,800 people, according to the Regional Task Force on the Homeless. San Diego now ranks as having the 11th highest number of homeless in the nation and the 16th highest rate per capita, according to a study last year by the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

“Homelessness affects our businesses, merchants and residences,” Jones said. “It drives some away from downtown, and it discourages others -- locals and internationals -- from investing and expanding in our neighborhood. And admittedly, without the businesses around me flourishing, mine can’t succeed.”

Jones added that his 60-year-old business -- previously headed by his father and grandfather -- has been directly affected by the issue, since many of the homeless spend their nights sleeping in his parking lots.

“For me and for my Ace team members, this problem has a very human, very tragic face,” Jones said.

Jones said he will push to attract more federal and state funding for housing vouchers for the homeless to get them off the streets and into homes. At the same time, he wants to centralize social services to allow easier access for the homeless.

“The main thing we can do is provide a huge table for everyone to sit around and talk about how we can help resolve this,” he said, adding that he is impressed with the work that Mayor Bob Filner’s fiancee, Bronwyn Ingram, is already doing.

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