A recent NPR article and clip from All Things Considered, entitled Ending Homeless: A Model That Just Might Work, got me thinking that this little monthly project of making backpacks of important supplies and getting them out to local homeless people has a great deal more possibility and potential that we are leaving unfulfilled. The article is about the non-profit, Common Ground, whose mission is, simply stated, to end homelessness. In the late 1980’s, Roseanne Haggerty, the founder of Common Ground, got the idea to renovate the Times Square Hotel and turn it into a low-cost, affordable housing for the homeless who inhabited that part of the city. Common Ground was the result, and with the help of some federal funding, Haggerty renovated the hotel and successfully worked to get many off of the streets.
What struck me most about the article was the non-profit’s use of a Vulnerability Index to track the need of a particular homeless individual. They have found that not only is it in the public’s best interest to get those people off the street into low-cost housing because it saves money spent on emergency services for said individuals, but taking care of the most serious cases has the ripple effect of causing less serious cases to take care of themselves. This reminds me of the Broken Window Theory first studied for an Atlantic Monthly article in 1982. The general idea is if a window is broken in a neighborhood and allowed to be there without taking care of it, crime increases (more broken windows, break-ins, etc). Apparently, and intuitively it makes sense, issues such as the homeless work the same way. If homeless are allowed to be in a neighborhood, the numbers will increase. If extreme cases of homelessness are allowed to be, the less serious cases won’t make much of a move to improve their lot. However, much like a neighborhood where windows are fixed quickly and eye-sores are tended to, if the more extreme cases of homeless are given a roof along with job training and health care to get them on their feet, the less extreme cases will work to get out of their current situation. This is a extremely positive possibility for anyone seeking to help.
As for our Home Sweet Home group …. in the short term, we will continue to do our monthly Backpacks events. However, long term, I’m going to push on those involved to begin reaching out to those working with the neediest. Project 25 is one such San Diego initiative that seeks to get the twenty-five neediest homeless off the streets. Our efforts may be much better spent if focused on helping those with the greatest risk.
Apathy Is The Biggest Problem
By: Kaylen Dornan
Homeless people scare us. They intimidate us. They uncover emotions in us that we would prefer not to experience. Although harsh, it is the sad truth. As a society, this is how most of us see the thousands of homeless people that live on our streets. It is undeniable that the homeless people of San Diego are not in the most envious of situations, and a few of them perhaps do give us reason to feel scared or uneasy, but the general disrespect and complete apathetic nature towards homeless people that is drilled into us at such a young age needs to change.
Less than three weeks ago, these feelings occurred in me. Without lying to yourself, can you honestly say that you are not familiar with feelings of resentment and anxiousness when you lay eyes on a homeless person? The homeless have made us feel nervous; they have been (and in some cases still are) linked with predominantly negative traits such as alcoholism or mental illness. That is why as a society, we have been raised to label these individuals, to avoid eye contact, stay far away from homeless communities in “bad areas,” and steer clear of any interaction with the homeless if we can avoid it. However, in this day and age, the homeless are breaking the stereotype. They are now families, elderly women, single mothers, twenty-something men; the list goes on and on. The everyday citizens of San Diego need to realize that the face of homelessness is changing right before our eyes.
Due to the recession, more and more people find themselves ending up on the streets of San Diego. Statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau have shown that 14.5 percent of San Diegans live below the poverty level, compared with 12.5 percent in the entire United States (Calbreath). Not only do we disrespect these people who are in a financially unstable state, but they also have no place to turn to for medical attention or a bed to sleep in for a few nights. The increasing number of people without basic necessities needs to be addressed before the problem escalates.
The San Diego City Council recognizes this, as talks for a permanent homeless shelter downtown took place on April 20th. The chair of the committee, Councilman Todd Gloria, said, “…the time to act is now.” The shelter would offer many different services within the same building, and has a price tag of about $19.5 million (Nixon). The building is far from construction, but talking about it is undoubtedly a step in the right direction.
As the recession starts to die down, the true number of homeless people will become more evident. There is a certain “lag time” for the people that are unlikely candidates for homelessness (Jensen). First, it begins with losing a job, then losing a house or apartment, and then crashing on a family member or friend’s couch for as long as possible. Once the support runs out after a year or two, many will join the thousands that already call the streets home. This unavoidable increase will hopefully be seen as even more of a reason to push these permanent shelters that our City Council is contemplating past bureaucratic government “talks.”
All of the above, including my change in attitude, is admittedly new for me. A few weeks ago, for my U.S. History class, I spent a couple of days reading about, analyzing, and forming an opinion about the homeless people of San Diego. On a printed piece of paper, the thousands of suffering people are just that: statistics on a page. The personal connection just was not there. After feeling like I was hitting a dead end, I received a text message that took my simple history project to a much more personal and meaningful level. All it said was “lunches for the homeless tomorrow?” This could not have been better timing. Armed with a notebook and a camera (and about 50 lunches), a group of students, a teacher and I set out to hand out lunches to homeless living all around the downtown area. I will admit, I was nervous, but that changed as soon as I decided to make the most of the experience. What I thought I knew about homeless people was instantaneously contradicted. I met really “normal” people, just trying to make it from day to day. People that were in school, people that held part time jobs, and a woman that was primarily concerned with the health and safety of a baby duck that thought she was its mother. These people were grounded, healthy, interesting individuals who just found themselves in the unfortunate situation of losing a source of income. It could happen to any of us, which makes it even more unfortunate is that our society is not willing explore the real people behind the statistics- the true victims of the epidemic that is occurring in our own backyards.
The apathetic and nervous nature that I had about homeless people was reversed in just three short hours. I admittedly went from being almost completely close-minded to having a greater understanding and empathy to the current plight of the homeless. I hope that we will all see a desperately needed change in ourselves. As a society, we need to see this social change. We need to see the homeless shelter turn from talks to real physical action. We need to see any type of change in the way the homeless are viewed or addressed. Change- especially for this topic- can come in many personal forms. Whether this is advocating for the new shelter, volunteering time at a food bank or relief center, or even simply handing out lunches one Saturday a month, the effort can- and will- make a difference. The important thing to recognize is this change can only come from within ourselves, because we have spent too long waiting for someone to change this for us.
Calbreath, Dean. “Census Shows More People Living Below Poverty Level.” union tribune [san diego] 27 Aug. 2004: n. pag. Signonsandiego.com. Web. 21 Apr. 2010.
Jensen, Rachel. Phone interview. 21 Apr. 2010.
Nixon, Chris. “Downtown Homeless Center Draws Praise, Raises Concerns.” San Diego News Network 21 Apr. 2010: n. pag. San Diego News Network Online. Web. 21 Apr. 2010.
Powell, Ronald. “Tally of ’05-’07 Homeless in Region Likely Outdated.” San Diego Union Tribune 14 Jan. 2009: n. pag. Sign On San Diego. Web. 17 Apr. 2010.
Toti, Nancy. “Time To See The Homeless As People.” San Diego Union Tribune 6 Dec. 2009, sec. Opinion: n. pag. Sign On San Diego. Web. 19 Apr. 2010.
Westlin, Martin. “Put the Homeless Shelter Downtown, and Do It Quickly.” San Diego News Networks 9 Oct. 2010, sec. Opinion: n. pag. San Diego News Network Online. Web. 20 Apr. 2010.
Yesterday, I walked downtown to get a few errands taken care of. It is nice living so close to the center of a large urban area like San Diego. I’ve always lived on the outskirts of the city (Philadelphia) or by the beach. At this point I’m a five minute walk from the center of it all.
As wonderful as it is to be close to the center of culture and business in a large metropolitan city, it also has exposed me to issues that I normally would look past most of my life. I give most of the credit for this new lens on life to Home Sweet Home founder, Elika Dadsetan. She had the brilliant idea to take a group of students and make lunches for the homeless as part of a school volunteer project. That day long mission has now blossomed into a monthly event called Backpacks for the Homeless. From the small group of fifteen students with Elika, it has now grown into a group of thirty to forty five people who meet once a month, bring food, lunches, candy, bananas, clothes, toiletries, and, of course, backpacks to hand out to the homeless in downtown San Diego.
For me, this event started as a way to spend time with people I love doing a project that I knew was good, but that I ultimately did not connect to. A curious thing happened along the way though … the people that we passed lunches out to once a month transformed before me. Or maybe it’s more correct to say I transformed in the face of them. Instead of my normal desensitized demeanor complete with the casting of an invisibility cloak around the entire homeless community, they became actual human beings that I interact with, get to know, and want to understand better.
All of this brings me to my walk downtown. As I strolled down F street toward Horton Plaza, I looked over and saw a homeless man in his mid-40′s sitting on a sleeping bag, reading a book, and attempting to shade himself under a small tree as the hot May sun beat down on us. Prior to my experience in Backpacks, I would have meandered on by not noticing a thing. Now, however, I looked over, and he smiled back. I offered a, ‘hello, how are you?’ And he shot to attention saying, ‘I am doing great. How are you?’ I sensed immediately that he would trade the book for some real human interaction in a New York second. ‘What are you reading?’ I asked. And as he began to explain the complicated plot of a post-nuclear, futuristic world where the U.S. President caused this horrible disaster, leaving the world to be saved by a heroic time traveler, I simply knelt down to his level and listened. This guy was a nice person who loved books.
When he finished, I asked, ‘What’s your name?’
‘Jeff,’ he responded.
‘Jeff, I’m Brian,’ as we shook hands, ‘I have some books similar to this sitting around the house. Would you like it if I brought them down here so you had a few more to read?’
His face lit up as he explained that he was normally only there in the evenings because he had part time work in the day cleaning houses. But he definitely wanted the books.
We said our goodbyes, and I went off to to finish my errands. Two hours later as I walked up the same street, I saw Jeff again, and he yelled, ‘Hi, Brian,’ and smiled as I went by. He remembered my name …
The world is so full of fascinating and amazing moments. Our assumptions (well, mine at least) are so often shown to be dreadfully out of step with reality. This interaction was but one small account of such a moment. It pains me to think how the homeless segment of our society are treated. I realize that they all must have some sort of personal responsibility for their situation. We all do at the end of the day. But they are still humans and as such share the experience of being here on this round rock with us. It is my hope that I can continue to learn to treat all people I encounter with an equal measure of respect and love because we are all fallible yet all deserving of respect and love. Whether it’s Jeff on the side of the street, the CEO of my work, or my best friend, I want to navigate those interactions gracefully and with love.
It is my hope that this page can be used as a medium for educating a bit about a very misunderstood segment of our society. In the future, look for more updates on our work with the homeless as well as video documenting the stories of the Homeless Homies we make while doing our backpacks project each month. And in the meantime, say hi to a homeless person. Offer a smile. They are our neighbors too.
We have had three successful events downtown, and we are so excited to see these continue to grow!
If you would like to donate any clothes, hygienic supplies, non-perishable foods, etc., please free to contact us!
Also, if you would like to join us, please check in for upcoming dates!
There are many everyday items we take for granted, and there are many people living in poverty who don’t have such items.
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT
We are creating backpacks full of necessary items, like soap, deodorant, antibacterial soap, toothbrushes, chapstick, socks, gloves, old blankets, sweatshirts, books, band aids, packaged food, and tissues. Think about all the half-used hotel/travel sized samples you have cluttering your house. ;)
These individuals are often considered “invisible” to others. Let’s show them that they are seen, and definitely not forgotten!
THE PLAN OF ACTION
Once a month, we will be heading downtown to pass out backpacks (or even just packed sandwiches, depending on supplies) to those who need it most.
We are also open to receiving donations to help us because, along with the backpacks, we will be supplying a packed lunch for individuals. This will basically consist of a sandwich, drink, peanuts, dried fruit and/or a granola bar. Any food donations would be put toward the lunches.
Last time, we realized what a great hit CANDY was!!! Lollipops, candy bars, etc…although I would love to provide healthy options, it would be fun to pass out fun snacks, as well!
Let me know if you are interested! Feel free to pass this on to all your friends!
If you have any questions, feel free to email me firstname.lastname@example.org
Also, please free to check out our blog for pictures and dates of future events…
Check out Jamie Oliver discuss the importance of teaching kids about food in this TED Talk!
San Diego does not have a city-wide composting system. Although we are considered one of the “greenest” cities in America, we have not yet implemented this simple service for our residents. Our valuable food waste is thrown in landfills along with other types of trash that generally take much longer to decompose, such as non-recyclable plastics. This system was implemented (and successfully) in several cities, such as San Francisco and Seattle, among others.
There are many benefits to implementing such a system. The city could gain a profit from selling the compost to local farmers. Although there could be a hefty price to pay initially (educational materials, composting bins, transportation, etc.), it would absolutely pay off environmentally in the long run.
However, more importantly, San Diego would reduce emissions produced in the landfills. Supposedly, San Diego’s Miramar Landfill will reach its capacity in 2012, unless expanded. However, approximately 25-50% of household trash is compostable, while restaurants can compost closer to 50% of their trash. Thus, it would take care of the issues we have seen arise in Miramar.
Some people are concerned about the rats and insects it would attract, while others are worried about the smell it could cause if kept in an enclosed space. However, if done correctly, none of these worries would come to fruition.
Please see “Composting Resources” for more information about how you can create your own composting system.
Click here for Allison Ferrini’s research paper on composting in San Diego.
Please also sign our petition: A Composting System for San Diego Petition
Although I have frequented Urban Solace several dozen times, I had never been there for brunch…until this morning. As always, I excitedly opened my menu to see what delightful treats I was in for. AND, as always, I immediately picked out five dishes I wanted. My fellow food-junkie, Brian, ordered the Portabello Mushroom Benedict (house biscuit, poached fresh eggs, and smoked ancho chili hollandaise), while I ordered the Kitchen Sink Skits n’Gravy (house biscuits and gravy topped with two fried eggs). My dish usually comes with sausage and bacon, but being the vegetarian, I held off on those additions. But you’ve really got to love a neighborhood restaurant that tries to bring in the most sustainably raised meats.
We usually take a seat at the bar and pass the time with smalltalk with the bartenders, but today we sat at a table like grown-ups. The gentleman who sat us was funny and had a warm smile. He told us our server would be with us in a minute, but that minute turned into closer to ten. It was fine since Brian and I seem to have a million and one things to discuss at all times. When our server finally came over and greeted us, we ordered our meals with a mimosa each. Our drinks came out very quickly (thankfully), and our breakfasts were served not much later.
Both the eggs benedict and the biscuits and gravy were divine. The benedict had the perfect chili hollandaise – not too thick where you were over it within a couple bites, and not too spicy where your tastebuds are too numb to appreciate the rest of the delectable dish! It felt light, but didn’t leave you starving for more (although more would have been happily appreciated). The biscuits and gravy were also great, but much more hearty. The gravy was not too thick where you felt like you added several lbs after one bite. I will note, however, that usually when someone asks to hold the meat in a dish, it may signal “vegetarian”. Our server, Dylan, did not clarify this point, and so I discovered little meat bits I picked out of my gravy. Nevertheless, it was worth every bite! I definitely found the solace I came here looking for…
It was too cold to sit outside for the live bluegrass band, but the inside atmosphere was just as good.
We will definitely be coming back to sample the few dishes we didn’t get to admire this time…and will obviously be back for the evening choices, as well!