Although those in attendance at the new Safe, Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative (SHNI) meeting Sept. 4 in the La Jolla Library were seeking local solutions to the homelessness they’ve observed in their neighborhoods, they were met instead with broader City- and County-wide resources that address the varied facets of this very complex issue.
The meeting agenda was trifold: discuss the SHNI, introduce those in attendance to the regional agencies involved, and explain the group’s next steps.
SHNI co-founder Joanne Standlee, who holds a degree in social work from Columbia University and works with Social IMPACT Consulting, told the audience: “Part of our mission is to coordinate all the great services and efforts of the organizations that work in the field, because it can be difficult to know who does what.”
She added that SHNI covers the area between Mission Beach to La Jolla Shores because there is a homeless population that moves up and down the coast.
The speakers explained what their organizations do to combat homelessness. They included Karen Brailean (vice president of San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless), “John” (director of advocacy/operations for the Voices of Our City Choir), Carlos Quervo (outreach coordinator, McAllister Institute), Betsy Knight (behavioral program manager, San Diego County Health & Human Services), and Hannah Reyes (eligibility team member, Family Health Centers).
Missing were reps from the San Diego Police Department, Alpha Project and housing facilities, such as Father Joe’s Villages.
Standlee explained that SHNI started in March 2018 as the La Jolla Mental Health and Homelessness Initiative to address some “really intense rhetoric” on the neighborhood-based social media platform nextdoor.com
“There was a lot of fear expressed by residents, such as fear of property prices falling or that someone might be dangerous, or how to approach someone coming toward you in an aggressive way,” Standlee said.
So a meeting was held and then the group’s efforts lapsed. After the La Jolla Town Council held a forum on homelessness in April, SHNI was “re-inspired” to keep meeting.
Standless explained: “The main question we kept getting is, ‘How do we help our unhoused neighbors move from homelessness to a safe environment to get the services they need?’ — whether it be temporary services to get back on their feet after a personal tragedy or new permanent housing because they have a chronic mental health diagnoses, physical health issue or addiction issue. There are hundreds of organizations in San Diego County that help, but there is a lack of communication between them.”
As part of her presentation, Standlee delved into the causes of homelessness, some of the pitfalls with emergency and short-term shelters, and the importance of outreach.
The latter was echoed by Brailean, who explained: “The first step is really good outreach with trained coordinators who are able to gain the person’s trust and get them into short-term services, and then determine what long-term services might be needed.”
The McAllister Institute, with its drug and alcohol programs, just started doing homeless outreach. “We go out, we gain their trust, we collect their data … but there are only two of us for this area,” Quervo said. “And sometimes gaining trust requires multiple visits to the same people.”
Plan for La Jolla
Standlee said La Jolla volunteers are needed to conduct research, support advocacy, administer a survey of homeless people, assist with regular outreach, and donate time and resources.
“We want to start with a survey of our unhoused neighbors and what they need, and what would help them start climbing out of homelessness and into housing,” she said.
“By mid-October, we want to begin regular outreach, so those homeless can start to get to know the volunteers.” The survey would go to about 200 homeless people living between La Jolla and Mariners Point in Mission Beach to see their needs and where to best direct them.
Phase 2, based on the results of the survey, would begin in 2020, and would involve outreach to direct those contacted to “overcome the barriers they’ve encountered.”
However, some residents in the audience questioned whether citizen volunteers should be ones to do this outreach.
One attendee noted: “A quarter of these folks have mental health issues, another percentage have addiction issues and cannot take care of themselves … what are the options for those who cannot take care of themselves? Are we supposed to get to know them, as untrained citizens?”
Another attendee said he has his real-world observations of a homeless person that “lives” at a nearby park and another that has reportedly hit people. “I have dozens of stories like this, and photos and reports of these people being dangerous,” he said.
Standlee explained there are professionals who can be called, and that SHNI can train people to be outreach coordinators at future sessions.
Another meeting is planned, but has not been scheduled. Standlee can be reached at (619) 992-9152 or firstname.lastname@example.org