California State Assembly member Todd Gloria (D-San Diego) opened a La Jolla Town Council forum on homelessness Thursday, Feb. 8 by stating that “the vast majority of these individuals suffer from mental illness or substance abuse (and) addiction issues.”
Gloria’s remarks echo controversial comments made last October by El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells who, during an interview with Fox 5 News, caused a countywide stir by saying “almost all homelessness is linked to drugs or alcohol.”
The emotional forum, held at La Jolla Rec Center, saw Gloria and other City and community leaders — including former San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, San Diego Police Sgt. Bryan Brecht, Psychiatric Emergency Response Team community liaison Marla Kincaid, City Council member Barbara Bry policy advisor Vicky Jones, and Father Joe’s Villages chief development officer Bill Bolstad — dialog with members of the public about how to tackle one of the worst public crises in La Jolla’s 168-year history.
All other members of the panel, and most of the 60 audience members, vigorously applauded Gloria’s opening remarks. And, later in the forum, Brecht stunned the audience with a statistic that seemed to definitively support them: Of the 1,600 homeless people interacted with by the San Diego Police Department in 2017, Brecht announced, homeless services were accepted by exactly 15.
However, Gloria’s assertion is not backed up by the evidence he claims there is for it. At the meeting, Gloria claimed that “a database does exist.” Afterward, Gloria spokesperson Nick Serrano said that database is maintained by the Regional Task Force on the Homeless (RTFH).
But when the Light followed up with RTFH chief of operations Tamera Kohler — who attended the Town Council meeting — she identified that database as the organization’s 2017 WeAllCount annual report, which flags only 39 percent of its unsheltered clients as having a serious mental illness, and only 14 percent as being substance-abusers. (Kohler said those numbers are probably not accurate because the database did not consider alcohol an abused substance, and because “the majority is self-reported,” noting that mental illness and substance abuse are “historically under-represented” when self-reported.)
Gloria’s two-part solution
At the meeting, Gloria called homelessness “the most complex issue for which people want to create a simple solution,” yet he also laid out two directions in which he believes San Diego, and California, need to move.
One is toward permanent supportive housing, which he defined as “housing plus services — not just a roof but someone who comes in and keeps you housed, because if you go to a schizophrenic with a drug problem and ask to provide them services, they’re not in their right minds”; the second is lowering the current bar for public intervention.
According to Gloria — who served on the board of commissioners of the San Diego Housing Commission before getting elected to the City Council in 2008 — permanent housing for homeless people would cost taxpayers less in the long run than leaving them on the street, where they regularly keep police from dealing with priority calls and use emergency rooms as their health care.
“We are paying a tremendous amount of money to allow people to live outdoors,” Gloria said. “We can save money if we actually set them up with housing.”
Gloria also said that requiring homeless people to clearly demonstrate a danger to themselves or others is too restrictive. He echoed the belief, held by many, that the current homeless crisis is a direct result of the Lanterman Developmental Disabilities Act (AB 846), a California law passed in 1977 that gave people with developmental disabilities the right not to be institutionalized against their will.
“The idea being that institutionalizing people in inhumane situations was not the right way to go about doing it,” Gloria said. “I would argue that, in 2018, it’s inhumane to leave mentally ill people on street corners without food or water.”
Attempts to amend the Lanterman Act have failed, Gloria said, “but I think this housing crisis, this mental-health crisis and the Hepatitis A crisis are reasons to revisit it — not necessarily to re-establish an entire statewide system, although I would be very interested in considering that — but (to establish) one that would change the definition of when we can have compulsion of action.”
After Gloria spoke, he was lauded by Dumanis, who served as the City’s district attorney from 2003 to 2017 and is currently running for County Supervisor.
“Let me applaud Todd for saying what is not popular with a lot of people,” Dumanis said, “and that is that we need a system — whether it’s state or countywide — that deals with the mental-health issue and has some component that we have to be more humane by taking care of people rather than by leaving them on the street.”
She added: “And it does stem from the closing of the state hospitals.”
In other Town Council News
Crime Watch honored: Before the homelessness forum, La Jolla Town Council Crime Watch Committee co-chairs Cynthia Chasan and Catharine Douglass were honored by the San Diego Police Officers Association with a Leadership Award for community leadership and advocacy. “As a result of their efforts,” the certificate read, “the City implemented a competitive compensation package that will strengthen the department’s ability to recruit and retain the most qualified and experienced police officers.”
CPA items pulled: Two items were pulled from the La Jolla Community Planning Association’s consent agenda, which is in effect a request for a full presentation before a future Town Council meeting. Item 13 was described by Kerr-Bache as “ad-hoc procedures for how much time it takes to review a permit, which could causes homeowners a delay of several months.” The other item addressed traffic problems on Hillside Drive caused by construction projects.
Short-term rentals update: Kerr-Bache reported that the presidents of the town councils in La Jolla, Mission Beach, Ocean Beach and Clairemont, Point Loma and others remain united on the issue of short-term vacation rentals. Calling their umbrella organization “The San Diego Coalition of Town Councils,” Kerr-Bache said the group does not accept defeat in the face of the Dec. 12 City Council vote that failed to strike a compromise, and it has just finished another round of letters to Council members.
“But this time, instead of waiting to try to get an audience with them,” Kerr-Bache said, “we’re going out with a full-court press and asking any San Diego resident who has an interest in this issue to let their voices be heard.” Forms to fill out were available at the back of the room.
— La Jolla Town Council next meets 5:30 p.m. Thursday, March 8 at the Rec Center, 615 Prospect St. lajollatowncouncil.org