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Tallying homeless presents challenge

Survey results just released by the Regional Task Force on the Homeless indicate there were only 12 homeless people in La Jolla on the designated survey date. For many local residents and business owners, the problem is much more significant.

“Keep in mind this is a point-in-time count,” said Walter Sandford, executive director for the task force. “It happens one day a year for a four-hour period.”

Conducted by trained enumerators, the majority of whom are homeless service providers, the HUD-mandated count was performed in January of this year. The count revealed 12 urban homeless and 0 rural homeless, working transients who usually camp in the canyons outside of La Jolla.

The count for 2007 was nine urban homeless. A number was not available for the rural population, as rainy weather kept the enumerators from entering the canyons.

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In 2006, the count was dramatically higher. The April 2006 point-in-time count indicated there were one urban homeless person in La Jolla and 100 rural homeless in the canyons near Mount Soledad. Of the 1,169 homeless people in San Diego, 101 were placed in District 1.

The number one reason given for being homeless was not having a job, followed by lack of affordable housing.

Whether or not these tallies accurately reflect the homeless population in La Jolla, both residents and visitor are aware of the presence of a notable street population.

Last March, the national spotlight was on La Jolla when a local activist suggested recruiting volunteers for three-hour bench-sitting stints to keep the homeless from parking themselves in the business district.

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The plan was never implemented, but it shows the frustration business owners face when trying to draw in shoppers and tourists.

Lt. Marvin Shaw of the San Diego Police Department Northern Division said they routinely receive complaints about vagrants. The most frequently cited concerns are intoxication and/or use of narcotics and trespassing.

The Homeless Outreach Team (HOT), comprised of both officers and clinicians, works the streets of San Diego, including La Jolla, assessing the needs of street people and directing them to support services.

“Many of the homeless refuse the services they are offered,” Shaw said.

Another common complaint is the growing number of panhandlers who set themselves up at the intersection of La Jolla Parkway and Torrey Pines Road. This is not the first sight business owners want visitors to see upon entering the Jewel.

A city ordinance prohibiting panhandling was overturned, cited as an infringe ment of First Amendment rights.

“As long as they are not threatening the persons they are soliciting from, there is no enforcement code,” Shaw said.

Begging for donations along the side of the road doesn’t necessarily mean that a person is without resources.

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“Our general belief,” said Sandford, “is that panhandlers are not equivalent to homeless. That is not a good indicator that they are homeless; it’s a separate matter.

“If all the powers that be got all the homeless people into shelters, there would still be panhandling.”

Some La Jollans remain sympathetic to the plight of the homeless.

Cathy Webster, chair of the Homeless Ministry Team at La Jolla Community Church, started the program a year and a half ago. She works with the Salvation Army Homeless Outreach Ministry.

Webster has done everything from hand out coffee and healthy snacks to recruit donations.

“We also gave a big Christmas luncheon in December for them,” Webster said. “We not only gave them a big meal, we gave them blankets and Jack-in-the-Box cards and Christmas candy and Christmas cards.

“They’re nothing like you would think. I had preconceived ideas before the first time I went down (to work with them). They’re the greatest people. It’s a wonderful, gratifying experience.”