Stop Saying San Diego's Homelessness is Caused by Good Weather

SpeakEasy: The San Diego Sun's premium newsletter for June 28, 2022

I was recently at an informal lunch with a smart local businessman talking about San Diegans living unsheltered in the streets. Some business owners readily fume about people experiencing homelessness. They say it has a negative effect on businesses.

No doubt, it certainly can and does.

This corporate mover and shaker, however, was expressing empathy for people who are unhoused. He opined that everybody living on the street has a different origin story. Sudden illness. Loss of job. Addictions. Mental incapacity.

This man sitting across the lunch table from me had educated himself about our region’s inadequate supply of affordable housing. He remarked how politicians pay lip service to solutions. And how service providers are often silo-ed and don’t readily share ideas and resources.

I nodded.

Then he repeated a notion he took for granted to be true: People come to San Diego to be homeless because year-round the weather is so good.

I gulped and reached for my iced tea.

Though it makes a great deal of sense and can be logically deduced, San Diego’s sunny-and-72-degree weather is not a root cause of local homelessness.

85 Percent Become Homeless Here

This warmer pastures idea is a myth that surfaces time and again in our city.

The headline from a June 17, 2022, story by Gary Warth in The San Diego Union-Tribune: “Question persists: Are homeless people flocking to San Diego?

The piece notes:

The Regional Task Force on Homelessness has looked at the question for the past several years and found the majority of homeless people surveyed said they were living in San Diego when they became homeless. The survey conducted during this year’s point-in-time count found 85 percent of people who responded said they became homeless in San Diego.

Research shows that up and down the West Coast–from Oceanside to San Francisco and farther north from Portland and Seattle–local communities believe their own homeless population has arrived from elsewhere.

Anecdotally, that’s the assumption but surveys like the one from San Diego’s RTFH don’t support the myth.

Warth put the question to Sebastian Martinez, executive director of Community Through Hope in San Diego’s South Bay:

“[Martinez] believes that the notion that the local homeless population is composed of people from other places is a myth, and he wondered if it was created by folks who do not want to accept that the homeless individuals around them once may have been their local grocery clerk or neighbor.”

Homeless Vets Also Are Local

Voice of San Diego senior investigative reporter Lisa Halverstadt, along with the UT’s Warth, has broad experience covering local homelessness.

Back in 2016, she wrote “Three Myths About San Diego’s Homeless Population.

One of those myths: Most of San Diego’s homeless moved here from elsewhere.

Halverstadt’s story seven years ago specifically looked at the movement patterns of homeless veterans:

The [Veteran Affairs] think tank tracked more than 113,000 veterans who accessed the agency’s homeless services and found just 15 percent moved across large geographic areas during a two-year period.

“The converse of this is that over five-sixths of this study group were stationary or moved only in a local context,” the analysis says. “Even when looking only at those veterans who were homeless for extended episodes, migration is more the exception than the norm.”

There are always exceptions. Just like the general population of San Diego, there are plenty of people who do move to Southern California for the weather.

But the net result for the VA region that includes San Diego, other parts of Southern California and southern Nevada further drives home the insignificance of homeless migration. Halverstadt points out:

Researcher Stephen Metraux found 14 percent of those who utilized VA homeless services in the region moved out and 13 percent moved in – meaning there was actually a net loss of 107 veterans in the region.

Metraux also emphasized that there wasn’t a massive movement to warmer weather cities like San Diego during the winter months.

“There was a modest seasonal migration effect from colder climates to warmer regions,” he wrote.

Instead Focus on Solutions

Some outstanding observations about homelessness on a national level come in a recent podcast by The New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman.

In the June 26 episode of “The Daily,” Kimmelman says:

“Homelessness is, in a way, just the visible tip of the iceberg of problems in the country. The affordable housing crisis. Poverty. Racial inequities. Substance and drug abuse. Addictions. Mental health.

All of them are sort of manifested by when you see people living in the streets. Tackling homelessness is in fact a kind of triage that’s just dealing with a part of these larger problems.”

Kimmelman reports on the success that the city of Houston has had in decreasing homelessness. Over the last decade, city leaders focused on moving 25,000 people directly from the streets into apartments.

Homelessness in Houston has been cut by 63 percent since 2011. National studies show that the Texas city has been more than twice as effective at this effort than other large cities in the United States.

Houston does not see more or less transiency among its unsheltered population than San Diego or other cities grappling with this issue.

Rather, Houston’s city government found ways to get all interested parties working together to tackle the problem:

“Houston has gotten this far by teaming with county agencies and persuading scores of local service providers, corporations and charitable nonprofits–organizations that often bicker and compete with one another–to row in unison.

Together, they’ve gone all in on Housing First, a practice supported by decades of research that moves the most vulnerable people straight from the streets to apartments. Not into shelters and without first requiring them to wean themselves off drugs, or compete a 12-step program, or find God or find a job.

…Housing First involves a different logic: When you’re drowning it doesn’t help if your rescuer insists you learn to swim before returning you to shore.”

Kimmelman points out that other cities in the country have not coalesced resources to rise to the homelessness challenge:

“San Diego, for example…created a Continuum…but unlike Houston, which cut its homeless count by nearly two-thirds, San Diego was able to reduce the number by only 19 percent. A 2020 city audit concluded, [it was] because of a piecemeal approach to housing-first and ‘ineffective strategic planning.'”

That ineffectiveness includes the response to all people experiencing homelessness here–both the large percentage of indigenous people and the representative minority of those who moved here from somewhere else.

In Other Attributed News…

Protesters Rally Over Roe v. Wade Decision

A downtown rally near Waterfront Park. (Photo courtesy of Planned Parenthood of Pacific South)

Protestors took to the downtown streets of San Diego days after the Supreme Court voted to overturn the 50-year-old Roe v. Wade decision to legalize abortion in the United States. A sizeable group rallied near Waterfront Park. Another estimated group of 1,000 gathered at the Hall of Justice before marching through downtown streets. More to come. (Times of San Diego)

New Street Vendor Rules In Effect

Regulations went into effect on June 24 to ensure Balboa Park, The Gaslamp Quarter, the Embarcadero and other high-traffic areas have fewer street vendors selling their wares. “There are regulations now for the vendors, so they know how much space they have,” San Diego City Councilmember Jennifer Campbell says. “If they sell food they have to have a permit for that through the county health department.” Campbell said the street vendors will be required to have a permit and business license, and pay taxes. (Fox5)

Going Back to Callie

East Village’s Callie is raking in national kudos.

East Village newbie restaurant Callie is drawing local and national praise. It’s named in Robb Report’s “10 Best New Restaurants in America.” The upscale mag raves: “Great chefs get pretty excited by high-quality ingredients. No surprise there. But Travis Swikard’s enthusiasm for Southern California’s bounty—especially around San Diego—is hard to match. At his debut restaurant, the native San Diegan is practically an ambassador for the food grown and raised nearby. The uni that’s perched atop house-made bread and Ibérico ham is sourced not from Hokkaido or Santa Barbara but nearby Point Loma.” (Robb Report)

Marvel-lous News for Comic-Con

Despite contrary reports, Marvel Studios will come back to San Diego for this summer’s Comic-Con. Studio president Kevin Feige broke the news during a recent press conference for Thor: Love and Thunder (slated for release on July 8, starring Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman). Comic-Con takes place at the San Diego Convention Center July 21-24. (Deadline)

Padres Pitcher Gets National Kudos

San Diego Padres ace Joe Musgrove. (Getty image)

It’s easy for the national sports media to bypass San Diego’s sports teams, but Padres ace and homegrown talent Joe Musgrove recently got a glowing writeup in The New York Times. The piece focuses on the pitcher’s ability to focus: “Even while standing at the sink, doing the most mundane of chores, Musgrove transforms it into a challenge by forcing his mind to stay in the moment — like a form of self-taught meditation. He tries to focus only on scrubbing and rinsing, despite the brain’s impulse to wander, and the skill is transferable. Even an elite pitcher’s brain can veer to outside thoughts, sometimes in the middle of a key at-bat.” (The New York Times)

Little Italy’s Newest Residential Tower

The 37-story Lindley residential high-rise has broken ground at the intersection of Columbia and Ash streets near Little Italy. Included with 363 apartments are 59 extended-stay hotel rooms. It’s expected to be completed in 2025. Good news, despite a trend to limit parking in new buildings, the Lindley is slated to have 561 parking spaces. (Union-Tribune)

Rep Apologizes for Racism, Misogyny

In early June, the San Diego Repertory Theater announced a financial crisis was causing it to shut it’s door and cancel productions. Subsequently, leaders of the downtown theater group that utilized the Lyceum Theatre at the former Horton Plaza offered a public apology following allegations of racism and misogyny from the cast of the recent show “The Great Khan.” (KPBS)

Half Million Pounds of Food Rescued

A homeless employment collaboration between the Lucky Duck Foundation, The Salvation Army and Feeding San Diego has reached a milestone: More than 500,000 pounds of food has been rescued. In addition, all graduates of this unique partnership have secured full-time employment and are currently housed. (Lucky Duck)

Bye-Bye Birds?

Bird Scooters try to hold on to San Diego market share. (Getty image)

In an effort to reduce the number of electric scooters in downtown San Diego, the city decided to reduce the number of operating companies to four: Lime, Link, Lyft and Spin. Bird came in fifth, but is legally challenging the city’s decision to push them out of the nest. The company claims the city has not been transparent in its process. (Union-Tribune)

Celebrating Bulletin Writing

The San Diego Sun is a part of the national Bulletin group. It’s a news source funded by the Meta (Facebook) Independent Journalism Project. The Sun is coming up on a one-year anniversary. Some Bulletin writers around the country kicked off a few months earlier, including “Wells $treet” by CNBC special correspondent Jane Wells. (Fun fact: Wells was cast as a reporter in the final episode of Seinfeld.) Check out Wells’ ode to one year of writing Bulletins: Wells $treet.

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