In case you haven’t heard, there’s a war going on in America’s Finest City (AKA San Diego, CA). Mayor Kevin Faulconer would like you to visit our beaches, mountains and deserts. The only trouble is that you might return home with a parting gift of hepatitis A like these guys who came down for a Metallica concert. One minute you’re having some beers with your buds in a Pacific Beach bar and the next your eyes and skin are yellow, and your liver is failing.
The mayors that make up the San Diego county area would like you to think it’s because there are so many homeless people in our fine city. While it is true that the disease started in the homeless community and has hit it especially hard, the blame cannot be laid at their feet alone.
Hepatitis A Outbreak
If you’ve ever visited San Diego, then you are aware that our homeless brothers and sisters tend to gather around the downtown area. You would also know that this area is the predominate location for tourists to visit as that is where Petco Park, the convention center, large hotels and restaurants are located. The Padres play at the park and Comicon is held downtown, just to name a few big events, which means that there is a great deal of money and special interests tied up in the area.
This is also where homeless shelters and services can be found and therefore, where many homeless people congregate to obtain those services. As you can imagine, the big developers in real estate and such are not fond of this and since they are the Mayor’s biggest donors…well, you get the idea.
As more businesses and people bought up properties downtown, the areas in which the homeless might rest became smaller and smaller. Some were able to stay in shelters, but many more either chose not to or could not for various reasons such as the shelters do not allow pets. As Mayor Faulconer instructed his police force to herd them into a smaller area, it would seem neither he nor his staff where aware that having so many people in a small confined area without toilets or hand washing stations was asking for a health crisis.
In other words, the hepatitis A outbreak was entirely caused by the ineptitude of the San Diego mayor and his staff. It was made worse by the fact that the mayor first tried to ignore it, then he responded by arresting as many homeless people as possible. This only spread the disease in the jails and throughout the county. Now Los Angeles and even cities further north are seeing outbreaks that can be traced back to San Diego.
In the eastern part of the county, you will find the city of El Cajon. Wells Park is home for many of East County’s homeless. Cars packed with belongings fill the parking lot and streets; or least they did until the El Cajon police came in the middle of the night and ticketed everyone and then towed their cars. As Dawn, a homeless woman I met at park explained, “We had no choice but to put what we could take into shopping carts and such.” Not to be outdone, the cops then showed up with trailers and took their shopping carts and belongings leaving them with only their backpacks.
“Then they said we couldn’t use the toilets here because we would spread hep A,” Dawn says. “If we sit down, they ticket us for illegal camping or illegal lodging. Now we have all these tickets, and we don’t know when our court dates are. Which means we will get failure to appear fines and then warrants. How am I supposed to find a home when I can’t even get my car out of the impound and I have hundreds if not thousands of dollars in fines to pay because I don’t have a place to sleep or go to the bathroom?”
The mayor of El Cajon, Bill Wells, seems to have figured it all out. According to Voice of San Diego, Wells stated, “Almost all homelessness is linked to drugs or alcohol.” It is this assumed drug use that the mayor blames for El Cajon having the second largest hepatitis A count. It would seem the mayor thinks those with addiction problems don’t deserve housing.
Mayor Wells created his very own task force on homelessness consisting of residents and business owners but not of anyone who is actually homeless or who may represent them. Their plan of action is more of a “how to get the homeless to move on” program. Parts of the program liken the homeless to animals with sentences such as, “Work to reduce attractive nuisances like trash dumpsters and recycling available to homeless,” as if they were rodents.
The mayor has also made it illegal to feed the bears, I mean homeless. Yes, you read that correctly. It is illegal to hand a homeless person a piece of food in El Cajon. It would seem that the mayor read that hepatitis A could also be transferred through contaminated food. If food could transmit the virus, he reasoned, he would make it illegal to feed the homeless. While he was at it, he also decided to throw in making it illegal to panhandle. Even churches have stopped offering food to the homeless and the trend is spreading to other San Diego cities like La Jolla.
What Should Be Done
Michael McConnell is a local homeless advocate with years of training and study of various programs used throughout the nation. He believes while there are many overlapping services and programs with well-intended members in San Diego county, the fact that they cannot seem to get on the same page is what is contributing to the problem of homelessness in San Diego. Money is not being spent on infrastructure to solve the lack of affordable housing.
In essence, the various programs and cities are throwing money at problems without any thought given to what the actual causes and solutions are. The hepatitis A outbreak is a perfect example of this. Southern California cities are desperately spending money on moving the homeless from place to place in order to get rid of the virus, but they are not trying to solve the problems that started the outbreak in the first place.
In regard to the El Cajon Mayor’s response of criminalizing the homeless he stated, “They are foregoing their humanity. We’re going to look back at what we did to homeless people and ask how did we turn a blind eye and allow ourselves to become so uncaring. Doing the right thing for the homeless person will in turn do the right thing for the elected officials, businesses and residents.”
Maybe one day they will come to that same conclusion.