San Diego Nonprofit Calls Out Political Inaction on Homelessness

The Lucky Duck Foundation’s new “Shamrocks & Shipwrecks” list cuts hardest on the City of San Diego
Homeless tents line C Street between Ninth and Tenth avenues in downtown San Diego. (December 7, 2022)

The Lucky Duck Foundation has released its first-ever list of political entities it says demonstrate both “progress” and “ineffectiveness/inaction” when addressing homelessness in the San Diego area.

This bold new initiative by the nonprofit organization is called “Shamrocks & Shipwrecks.” 

“The current trajectory of homelessness and deaths on the streets in San Diego County is nothing short of a humanitarian, public health and public safety crisis,” says Lucky Duck Foundation executive director Drew Moser. “While some positive initiatives are happening, our elected officials must be more swift and decisive in their approach in addressing unsheltered homelessness.” 

The inaugural list of Shamrocks (positive progress) includes: the City of Chula Vista; the City of La Mesa; and one shared by San Diego County and the cities of San Diego, Oceanside and Vista.  

Three Shipwreck (ineffectiveness/inaction) designations were given to: The City of Chula Vista; the City of San Diego; and one shared by the City and the County of San Diego. 

Weighing positive and negative designations, the City of San Diego fares worst on the list.

“It’s fair to say the City of San Diego is the 800-pound gorilla–with the most homelessness and the most growth of homelessness,” Moser says.

In the past, the foundation and San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria’s interactions in the press and on social media have been heated.

A war of words erupted this past September after a Lucky Duck press conference was held to announce the creation of Shamrocks & Shipwrecks. 

NBA legend and San Diego native Bill Walton participated in the press conference and called the mayor “less than useless.”

The mayor subsequently accused Walton and Lucky Duck of disseminating false statements. Gloria has continuously pointed to a list of efforts and programs his administration has initiated to address homelessness.

Lucky Duck’s September press conference included, from left: Bill Walton, Dan Shea and Drew Moser. (Photo by Sal Giametta)

The Shamrocks & Shipwrecks list went public on December 8, 2022, after feedback from the general public and a consensus vote by members of The Tuesday Group, an ad hoc group of high-powered local business executives closely connected to The Lucky Duck Foundation, Moser says.

The Tuesday Group was founded by San Diego Padres owner Peter Seidler and Feeding San Diego CEO Dan Shea.

The Shamrocks & Shipwrecks moniker is loosely modeled on the “Orchids & Onions” program run by the San Diego Architectural Foundation. That nonprofit annually selects good and bad examples of recently designed buildings and public spaces. 

Moser is not aware of any other foundation in the country that calls out positive and negative political action regarding homelessness.

“This is something our group has talked about doing for some time,” Moser says. “Our intent is to help reduce homelessness.”

Along with the new Shamrocks & Shipwrecks list, The Lucky Duck Foundation website also lays out ongoing actions and programs of its own aimed at helping abate homelessness.

Moser says the foundation is willing to support any and all politicians or political entities on what it sees as progress–including those who have received Shipwrecks.

“We want this list to be a catalyst for action,” he says.

Here’s the inaugural list of Shamrocks & Shipwrecks, with descriptions provided by the Lucky Duck Foundation (and condensed for space):

A small homeless encampment on B Street between Ninth and Tenth avenues in downtown San Diego. (December 7, 2022)


1. Work for Hope partnership between the McAlister Institute and City of Chula Vista

Work for Hope (WFH) is a partnership between the McAlister Institute, Chula Vista Police Department, and Chula Vista Public Works Department to help individuals experiencing homelessness secure employment and housing. WFH also offers: on-the-job training; work-training stipends to beautify city parks; wraparound services and case management to help link participants to addiction treatment, housing and other critical services. 

It is the only collaboration of its kind in the country that pairs a nonprofit organization with both law enforcement and public works to provide individuals trying to overcome homelessness and addiction with hands-on training in specialized, transferable employment skills. 

In the four years since its launch, 168 individuals have participated in the program and 147 have achieved long-term housing and employment. 

2. La Mesa’s youth homelessness collaboration

 A once decrepit hotel in the city of La Mesa was generating more than two complaint calls per day to law enforcement about illegal and questionable activities, including drugs and prostitution. New ownership renovated and then leased all 60 rooms to three youth homeless service providers so that as many as 85 young people suffering from homelessness could have a safe place to stay. 

The service providers (Urban Street Angels, San Diego Youth Services, and Home Start) closely collaborate to manage the (unnamed) property and aid the youth. The effort has helped 105 young people and led to permanent housing for 35, with an additional 40 currently employed or in school.

The City of La Mesa is committed to supporting this model and looking to replicate it. 

3. County of San Diego’s funding for shelters & the cities who pursued it

San Diego County’s commitment to make $10 million available to all 18 cities throughout San Diego County to increase shelters provided much-needed funds to add urgently-needed beds. 

The cities of San Diego, Oceanside and Vista pursued and secured these funds because of plans to add immediately available beds. Additionally, because the County of San Diego made an underutilized parking lot available in the Midway District, a 150-bed mental health bridge shelter was opened in September. 

Similarly, the city of Oceanside is converting a shuttered high school into a shelter. 

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria says homelessness is his number-one priority. (Photo by Sal Giametta)


1. Chula Vista’s failure to add much-needed shelter

In May of 2020, the City of Chula Vista publicly announced its plans to add a shelter by using one of the Lucky Duck Foundation’s sprung structures, which can urgently provide temporary housing for 150 to 200 people experiencing homelessness. 

After taking possession of this asset, the city stored the shelter for more than 14 months. Ultimately the City of Chula Vista changed its mind and decided it did not want a bridge shelter, effectively preventing hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals from benefiting from the shelter. 

It wasn’t until more than two years later that the city actually broke ground on its shelter site. While a bridge shelter could have provided nearly 200 beds nightly, the City indicates it will open 66 pallet homes in January of 2023. Although this will help, taking more than 2.5 years to add 66 pallet homes is nowhere near the urgency or speed required to meaningfully address the region’s homelessness crisis. 

2. City of San Diego’s record-setting unsheltered homelessness 

Since 2012, the Downtown San Diego Partnership has conducted a monthly count of unsheltered homeless individuals. During six of the last 10 months, the count has reached new record highs, including an all-time high of 1,704 in November 2022.

Additionally, the count of homeless individuals on the streets of downtown has exceeded 1,000 people for 18 out of the last 19 months. The last time the count exceeded 1,000 people in a month was December of 2017, just ahead of a Hepatitis-A outbreak and crisis, which resulted in the deaths of 20 San Diegans. 

The sharp and ongoing increases in unsheltered homelessness is entirely unacceptable and has resulted in a public health and public safety crisis. Downtown is arguably the epicenter of tourism, business, conventions, civic events and other activities and reducing homelessness and criminal behavior in this area is imperative for a myriad of reasons. 

3. Homeless deaths, drug & fentanyl use, and persistent criminal activity 

Nearly 500 unsheltered people died on the streets in the last year, including 113 unsheltered people who died in the City of San Diego due to fentanyl overdose. Five years ago, the number of homeless fentanyl deaths was two. 

While the executive order signed by San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria to provide stronger enforcement may help, the number of deaths and overdoses is heartbreaking and reinforces the need to provide significantly more immediate and lifesaving pathways off the streets. 

It also reinforces the critical need to have a coordinated plan and effort across local, state and federal organizations to dramatically improve our region’s efforts to reduce homelessness. This includes meaningfully more shelter beds, compassionate but accountable intervention and enforcement along with urgently needed services. 

Although the City of San Diego has said it intends to use the old public library to add 25-30 beds, the city can’t “nibble” at the issue by adding only 25 to 30 beds when the old library can easily handle significantly more. Bureaucratic delays due to environmental reviews and other factors is akin to stating people are better off living on the streets. 

(For more information about providing feedback on the Shamrocks & Shipwrecks program, go to: Lucky Duck’s website.)



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