The Rise and Fall of San Diego Homelessness

A+homeless+community+sets+up+camp+on+the+side+of+a+busy+San+Diego+road.+Downtown+areas+are+often+overrun+with+full+shopping+carts+and+tents+as+many+of+these+people+have+nowhere+else+to+go.+

Photo from Homeless Veterans of San Diego

A homeless community sets up camp on the side of a busy San Diego road. Downtown areas are often overrun with full shopping carts and tents as many of these people have nowhere else to go.

Jacob Fletcher, Staff Reporter

A city’s homeless population often reflects its community’s capacity to help those who are less fortunate. Certain areas of San Diego are infamous for having a dense homeless population, attracting the criticism of its neighbors. Over the years, however,  this has sparked action from local governments and charities but COVID-19 has created more problems. 

The pandemic has put millions out of jobs and led to demanding times for people who could not afford to support themselves while unemployed. The Carlsbad city government has recognized the growing problem and made the decision to create and expand a Homeless Outreach division of the local police force. 

“Carlsbad is the second city in the county of San Diego to develop and implement a focused Homeless Outreach Team,” City Councilwoman Cori Schumacher said. 

City officials and citizens alike are proud of the program, which responds to reports of homelessness with assistance rather than force. 

The Carlsbad Police Department’s Homeless Outreach equipment such as specialized trucks grab attention. The team intends to use its budget to offer resources to those in need while maintaining the law. (Photo from Carlsbad Police Department)

“A homeless outreach team in the Police Department made up of specially trained police officers who make regular contact with people experiencing homelessness to form relationships, offer referrals to services and ensure they are complying with the law and contract with licensed clinicians to work with individuals experiencing homelessness and link them to services and support,” the team’s website read. 

Government efforts like these have been effective, but controversially draw resources from other city programs. A popular alternative locally has been charity organizations. The San Diego Food Bank, an organization dedicated to accumulating and distributing food for the homeless, has been successful in gathering volunteers and warehouses-worth of goods. 

“What a year it has been!” CEO James Floros said. “One year and 59 million pounds of food and nine million diapers later we’re still on the front lines doing what we signed up for.” 

 The San Diego Food Bank has received praise for maintaining incredible success during the pandemic. The organization has overcome social distancing restrictions and public safety concerns to continue to provide for the county-wide community.

The San Diego Food Bank distributes food in a small neighborhood community with volunteers. The organization sources food from donations and sets up distribution events in areas of need. (Photo from San Diego Food Bank)

Another problem that COVID-19 has directly caused is the challenge of vaccinating the homeless. Even in late stages, the pandemic threatens the community because of large, consistent gatherings like those hosted by charities.

Cathy Larsen, a registered nurse, and North County mother provides a vaccinator’s insight. 

 “I am seeing some homeless people come in to get vaccinated, often with family or volunteers that help them get an appointment,” Larsen said. “I do get the impression, on the other hand, that many don’t understand the process or don’t care about getting vaccinated… I am worried for the populations that group together and put each other at risk.” 

Local homeless outreach teams, like Carlsbad’s newly expanded one, intend to assist homeless people in getting the vaccine and staying safe. The CDC recommends that those who attend charitable gatherings receive vaccinations, so food organizations also see the benefit in helping immunize the community. 

Volunteers feel that San Diego can be proud of the fact that it treats the homeless with care and understanding. Demanding times have forced thousands into hard times and it is reassuring that to know in difficult times like these, even strangers will have your back.