Looks like San Diego has a compassion deficit

When you try to save taxpayers’ money by tearing down the facilities supposed to care for those unable to care for themselves (particularly the mentally deficient or incompetent) and force them out on to the streets, that’s bad enough . . . but when you deny them the streets as well, what does that make you?

In late April, after jagged rocks were installed along a freeway underpass to drive out homeless encampments, a city spokesman told reporters the project was at the request of residents of Sherman Heights, a working-class neighborhood just east of the 5 Freeway, who felt unsafe walking down Imperial Avenue.

Turns out, it had more to do with San Diego’s upcoming time in the spotlight as the host of baseball’s All Star Game at Petco Park on July 12.

. . .

John Casey, who up until March was the city’s ballpark administrator and liaison with the Padres … included the rocks in a checklist of work to be done before the All-Star Game. Emails also show that initial plans called for rocks along the base of a wall at Tailgate Park, between 12th and 14th streets and outside the New Central Library — which overlooks the ballpark — to keep away homeless people.

. . .

In a later email, Casey emphasized that the rocks needed to be of different heights so that no one could put down a plank of wood to try to sleep.

The city ultimately went with Casey’s choice of rocks, the records show.

There’s more at the link.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at this.  I’ve worked with and in homeless shelters on two continents, over a period spanning four decades.  It’s always the same.  If you try to help alleviate the plight of the homeless, the local authorities will be happy to help you – provided that your help includes moving them away from their area, preferably never to return.  If you try to help them where they actually are, there will be all sorts of official obstacles placed in your way, up to and including ordinances declaring some types of assistance an offense.  “We want them out of sight so they can be out of mind” just about sums up the attitude of most authorities.

There’s also the NIMBY syndrome, of course.  Home-owners and businesses might consider themselves to be compassionate, but only to the extent that it doesn’t impose any inconvenience on them (let alone any actual burden).  They don’t want to see the homeless anywhere near their homes, shops or offices.  They’ll actively support the authorities’ efforts to move them on – and the authorities know this.  (Some unscrupulous businesses will even welcome the homeless, for as long as it takes them to buy rubbing alcohol or any other form of temporary intoxicant.)

Meanwhile, those who truly need help are denied it by officialdom, and those who try to provide it privately through charitable resources are at best frowned upon, at worst actively discouraged.

For those of you who want to tell me how unpleasant it is to have homeless people urinating and defecating on the sidewalks, or panhandling from passersby . . . I agree with you.  It’s unpleasant, and it can be dangerous in many ways.  However, when the authorities provide no other place for them to go, and officially discourage any means of assistance, what else are the homeless supposed to do?  Kindly answer that question before you sound off about them being shiftless, lazy and bone idle.  Most of them have serious personal problems and ‘issues’ that put them on the streets.  Society’s answer, increasingly, is to put them in jail rather than allow them to stay there – which does nothing to improve the situation.

The spread of quality-of-life policing, which targets low-level offenses like aggressive panhandling, public urination, and littering, has brought a more mentally unstable, troubled population into jails—one that mental hospitals would have treated before the deinstitutionalization movement of the 1960s and ’70s shuttered most state mental hospitals. In fact, jails have become society’s primary mental institutions, though few have the funding or expertise to carry out that role properly. Mental illness is much more common in jails than in prisons; at Rikers, 28 percent of the inmates require mental health services, a number that rises each year.

More at the link.  I have all too much personal experience of this aspect of the problem.

Dealing with homelessness and its associated issues is a huge problem, to which there are no easy answers.  The ‘rock solution’ implemented in San Diego will do nothing whatsoever to help.



  1. Right now, there is no better answer than the jails, since the insane asylums were done away with. It's quite possible that prison is better overall than those insane asylums were, which is pretty sad. As of now, human psychology is more of an art than a science – I'd bet that you were able to help more people as a man of God than the average psychologist did, and you charged a lot less!

    Government uses the homeless in rather nefarious ways. They'll allow soup kitchens and the like in areas that they want to expand into, wait while the property values drop, then condemn the land, kick the homeless and charities out and put up office buildings and such. This is actually taught in city planning.

    A few years ago, the town I live in was completing that cycle, and pushing the homeless out. A bunch found a place half a mile away by the railroad tracks. Then my mom got mugged. I had a chat with the police. They didn't want to do anything except threaten me, until I pointed out to the lieutenant that his parents lived three houses down from mine. The homeless were gone that day.

  2. I find it interesting that the cities that are least hospitable to the homeless are the ones whose politician talk the most loudly about representing and helping the poor. I suspect it is not coincidental that these cities are tough on the poor with higher taxes and tougher ordinances leading to more fines and higher incarceration rates.

    I don't think you need me to tell you which party the politicians belong to …Pot, meet Kettle!

  3. The Big City closest to where I live – San Antonio, TX – has a public/private partnership called Haven for Hope. It provides housing for the homeless, along with social services to help address the causes of their problems.

    It's a carrot-and-stick approach. The center provides shelter and assistance, but on the other hand there is what amounts to a zero tolerance policy in the tourist and upper scale residential areas.

    It's not perfect, but it at least provides a helping hand to those who want one, while at the same time protecting property values (campaign donors are grateful for this) – and more importantly, property tax values (politicians are grateful for this).

    It seems to be a reasonable approach to a difficult problem. And it seems to be working, more or less, in that city.

  4. Is anyone familiar with why mental institutions where shutdown? If many homeless have mental issues shouldn't some form of institutionalization be part of the solution?

  5. It's ironic that you can't see the connection between the false compassion you evince here for the "homeless" and the evidence in your earlier post about the rising crime statistics and general lawlessness in major cities like Chicago.

    Compassion for criminals and the majority of the "homeless", who are actually mostly mentally ill drug and alcohol addicts your compassion enables to destroy their own lives and surrounding communities is what got us where we are, today. Don't like it? Well, too bad–It's like wanting socialism, and being outraged when the inevitable denouement happens in countries like Venezuela. It's all of a piece, and what amuses me is that most of the "compassionate class" can't see the actual effect of all their enablement. They wanted the mental institutions shut down, because of all those horribly abused people kept warehoused therein, but damn… I guess it's better they freeze to death under some underpass, drunk off their asses on Sterno, or something. After they've done a number on turning our public spaces into uninhabitable wastelands. There was a time, believe it or not, when you could go to many public parks, the ones we pay for with our tax dollars, and not be treated to a display of human dysfunction, or need to worry about your kids being exposed to some mentally ill vagrant.

    I laugh my ass off every time you lot encounter reality; two years ago, the local "good folk" around here got up in arms about the Sheriff harassing the homeless camp here near the highway. The homeless promptly rewarded them by setting fire to the hillside behind their homes with their illegal out-of-season open fires, and now the "good folk" are the ones calling the Sheriff every time they see someone making camp at that location. Funny how that works…

  6. Anonymous,

    The institutions were shutdown for both "due process reasons, many were held even though they had neither committed a crime nor were a threat to others, and some serious abuse at the hands of the institutional employees. From the dawn of psychology to the mid-1960s, some doctors and others at these institutions proved that such "educated" people should not be given control over the body and mind of others.

    It was said that once released as free people, there would be out patient care, but that wasn't really funded. In any case, many do not wish to be "cured" and do not wish to live under the rules of the carers. Unfortunately, what they do wish is to be near the services even if sleeping rough. Long ago, they would simply be living in the wild, but now they live rough in the urban areas.

    As you can see, even our host who has direct personal experience working with these individuals does not have a ready solution, even one that might strain a city budget.

  7. I remember Houston cracking down on the prostitution on South Main during the 92 Republican convention.

    There was some pushback on that, so the homeless were given free reign. I was walking downtown a few years later, and the urine smell was overwhelming! I mean it was a solid wall like a force field.

    Misplaced compassion isn't helpful:
    feeding the homeless, keeps them homeless.
    Allowing them to sleep in the weather is no treat.
    Catering to their excesses eventually kills them.

    Same song on border jumpers:
    35 dead so far in south Texas, untold suffering on the trip up from central America to include rape, murder, robbery, torture. And if you encourage illegal immigration you are part of the cycle and bear some responsibility for the rape, murder, etc.

    Doing what's right is NEVER the easy road.

  8. Having lived in SD for many years, the homeless issue was bad a decade ago and exponentially worse now.

    Because of the temperate climate, and fairly generous 'beach bum' culture, it's a haven for homeless. Homeless who regularly migrate from region to region with the seasons. Homeless who engage in prostitution, public drunkeness/defecation/abuse and assault and a host of other crimes.

    In their individuality they may elicit compassionate responses, but in their aggregate, they destroy areas physically and economically.

    Most that I've had direct or mediated experience with DO NOT WANT "help" THEY WANT MONEY to continue their current lifestyle. There are ALWAYS good reasons why they are living like they do. The few who ended up there through misfortune NOT of their own making, and who are motivated and capable of change, can get help and will accept it, and benefit from it. The rest reaffirm their desire to stay there EVERY day.


    (mainly I'm talking about the 'public' homeless, living in tent cities, squats, and vehicles, not single mom's in shelters)

  9. Father Joe's Villages in San Diego do a great job helping the homeless. They are seriously awesome. One of their facilities is right between Petco and this underpass, so the city is pushing people further away from that help.

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