Grand jury report supports year-round homeless shelter in San Diego

The county grand jury, calling homelessness a “blight on our humanity,” on Monday supported a proposed year-round homeless shelter in San Diego and recommended that a regional agency oversee it and other assistance programs.

The grand jury said it studied the costs of providing emergency police, paramedic and hospital services and treatment programs to an estimated 4,000 chronically homeless people, and concluded in a 17-page report that a permanent, year-round shelter would be cheaper.

“Homelessness in San Diego County has reached the tipping point,” said Victoria Stubblefield, the grand jury foreperson. “Not only is the problem a blight on our community, it is a blight on our humanity.”

The cost of providing emergency services to the homeless, based on figures supplied by a small sampling of hospitals, police and fire agencies around the county, came to nearly $23 million in 2009, the grand jury report said. The sheriff’s and San Diego police departments provided incomplete data.

The grand jury report said 774 homeless people died on the streets of San Diego over the past 10 years.

The 2009 Regional Task Force on the Homeless counted 7,892 homeless people, excluding children, around the county. About 4,000 are considered chronically homeless, defined in part as living on the streets for more than one year.

“The (jury) understands homelessness is a complex issue further complicated by the current economic climate, returning military veterans and early release of prisoners,” Stubblefield said.

“We believe that the citizens of San Diego have the capacity and the heart to correct this problem. If the residents of San Diego County expect to have decent animal shelters, then let’s expect decent shelters for homeless people.”

The grand jury recommended creation of a city-county joint powers authority, or designation of an agency such as the San Diego Association of Governments, to develop, manage and fund programs to address chronic homelessness.

Other recommendations included:

  • creating a consortium of medical, legal and social service agencies to work with the regional agency;
  • keeping temporary shelters open year-round until a permanent year-round facility is built;
  • sanitizing sidewalks and placing more public toilets in downtown San Diego and East Village;
  • extending hours at the Neil Good Day Care Center in East Village, and adding more showers there; and
  • directing San Diego police to develop and follow a policy for removing personal property of the homeless.

The last recommendation sprang from a Sept. 22, 2009, incident in which police and trash collectors destroyed personal property left outside God’s Extended Hand ministry in East Village while homeless people were attending a worship service, according to the grand jury report.
A City Council committee last month supported some aspects of a proposed 225-bed homeless shelter, medical clinic and job assistance center in downtown San Diego. Some council members objected to the Sixth Avenue location in the heart of the financial district. The issue has not gone before the full council.