Archive for San Diego

The Stand Down in San Diego: Three Days on “60 Minutes”

Homeless Man with Two Flags in NYCSan Diego’s yearly Stand Down event just passed recently, hosted by one of the oldest and most well-known programs to help homeless veterans. In case you’re not familiar with it, The Veterans Village of San Diego website describes the program as follows:

In times of war, exhausted combat units requiring time to rest and recover were removed from the battlefields to a place of relative security and safety. Today, Stand Down refers to a community-based intervention program designed to help the nation’s estimated 200,000 homeless veterans ‘combat’ life on the streets.

VVSD organized the nation’s first Stand Down in 1988. Since then, the program has been widely replicated nationwide. Today, more than 200 Stand Downs take place across the country every year. ‘The program has become recognized as the most valuable outreach tool to help homeless veterans in the nation today,’ according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.

This video report from The New York Times YouTube Channel provides an inside view of the 2009 Stand Down. Among other things, it looks at the growing and disturbing new demographic, homeless veteran women:

A stand down provides a number of basic services that are lacking in life on the streets: showers, haircuts, medical and dental attention, benefits assistance, counseling, 12-step meetings, and more. Some of these things, like the simple old-fashioned shower, we take for granted, yet having them makes all the difference in the world for those who lack them. How can you find a job and pull yourself up if you cannot even get clean enough for an interview?

While we cannot embed it in this post, the full 60 Minutes report is available online. You can watch it here.

When looking at social programs like this, we need to remember that many of these people simply need a hand up, not a handout. The investment in our community returns manyfold in both tangible and intangible ways. This is why we always talk about our stance on this subject being a bipartisan win-win scenario. From the conservative perspective, rehabilitating the homeless back into society makes sound financial sense — as it will reduce the overall cost to the system over the long term.

From the liberal perspective, the socially conscious angle is the one that is of most importance. The vital thing is to note that despite the differences in how they reach that conclusion, both sides of the political equation should find it easy to see that it is, indeed, more expensive to do nothing!

Source: “WATCH: Can Three Days Make A Difference For Homeless Veterans?,” The Huffington Post, 10/17/10
Source: “Homeless Vets: Does Anyone Care?,” CBS News, 10/17/10
Image by NYCUrbanscape, used under its Creative Commons license.

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Homelessness: Facebook Resources

HUMANE EXPOSURESHere at HUMANE EXPOSURES, we believe in the power of the Internet to inform and mobilize people. This is one of the reasons that this blog exists.

Since we have just launched our new Facebook pages, we thought this would be a good time to share some of the groups and organizations on Facebook that also champion the cause of those discarded by society.

So, here, in no particular order, is a list of Facebook pages that you may find informative. Please visit them. (And, if you like our work, we would really appreciate it if you “Like” our new pages and help them start off on the right foot.)

We’re going to list our own new pages first and move on from there:

  • Humane Exposures Publishing — The main Facebook Page for our company. Updates on new films and books as well as a variety of new  items and resources. The books of HUMANE EXPOSURES PUBLISHING take a penetrating look at society’s disenfranchised, questioning how long we can ignore the broken segments of our population, and at what cost. If you stop by, please tell us what kind of content you would like to see more of!
  • downTownUSA: A Personal Journey With the Homeless (book) — Author and photographer Susan Madden Lankford kept a journal during her daily encounters with the San Diego’s street people, observing how even the defeated, or seemingly so, share many of our hopes and dreams.
  • Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes: Women Doing Time (book) – Through thought-provoking photographs and interviews, the author explores the kaleidoscope of alienation, personal despair, and fragile hopes of women caught up in the state’s zeal for incarceration.
  • It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing (film) – Important documentary film questions how long society can ignore the broken segments of our population and advocates for public awareness, correcting the underlying social issues, and improving the essential parenting skills.

The following is a list of other resources. All descriptions are quoted directly:

  • Feeding Pets of the Homeless — Feeding Pets of the Homeless is a nonprofit volunteer organization that provides pet food and veterinarian care to the homeless and less fortunate in local communities across the United States and Canada. How? Our volunteers collection sites receive donated pet food and deliver it to food banks and/or soups kitchens which have agreed to distribute the food to the homeless and impoverished.
  • PATH (People Assisting The Homeless) — In 2004, PATH reached its 20th year of existence. From a small program operating out of a church basement, PATH has now become a large regional agency serving over 1,800 people each month. The agency has developed a model of integrated services that communities from all over the state, the nation, and even internationally have looked to for replication.
  • InvisiblePeople.tv — Dedicated to capturing real stories by real people bringing visibility to the issues of homelessness. Our goal: for homeless people to no longer remain invisible. The stories are told by real people in their own very real words. They’re raw, uncensored and unedited. CAUTION: Some content may be offensive. Our hope is that you’ll get mad enough to do something. (Note: We’ve covered the InvisiblePeople.tv in an earlier post.)
  • Let’s get 1,500,000 people to support the 1,500,000 homeless kids in the US — This page was started by a small group of people committed to raising awareness and providing solutions around a problem we feel is not being properly addressed. It began with a question: “How is it that the wealthiest country in the world has well over a million of its children living on the street, not knowing where they will sleep tonight?”
  • The National Coalition for The Homeless — A national network of people who are currently experiencing or who have experienced homelessness, activists and advocates, community-based and faith-based service providers, and others committed to a single mission. That mission, our common bond, is to end homelessness. We are committed to creating the systemic and attitudinal changes necessary to prevent and end homelessness. At the same time, we work to meet the immediate needs of people who are currently experiencing homelessness or who are at risk of doing so. We take as our first principle of practice that people who are currently experiencing homelessness or have formerly experienced homelessness must be actively involved in all of our work. Toward this end, the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) engages in public education, policy advocacy, and grassroots organizing. We focus our work in the following four areas: housing justice, economic justice, health care justice, and civil rights.
  • Real Change Homelessness Empowerment Project — Real Change exists to create opportunity and a voice for low-income people while taking action to end homelessness and poverty.
  • National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) – A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization governed by a 17-member board of directors… is the resource and technical assistance center for a national network of community-based service providers and local, state and federal agencies that provide emergency and supportive housing, food, health services, job training and placement assistance, legal aid and case management support for hundreds of thousands of homeless veterans each year.
  • Breaking Night: My Journey From Homeless to Harvard (book) – In the vein of The Glass Castle, Breaking Night by Liz Murray is the stunning memoir of a young woman who at age 15 was living on the streets, and who eventually made it into Harvard.
  • Healthcare for The Homeless, Inc. — For 25 years, HCH has provided comprehensive health care, mental health services, case management, addiction treatment, and housing assistance for tens of thousands of Marylanders experiencing homelessness.
  • Horizons for Homeless Children — Horizons for Homeless Children strives to improve the lives of homeless children and their families by providing the nurturing, stimulation and opportunities for early education and play that all children need to learn and grow in a healthy way.

So there you have it, please let us know if you would like to see more roundups of this nature. If so, we could make it a regular feature.

Source: Facebook.
Image copyright Susan Madden Lankford, from the book “downTown USA: A Personal Journey with the Homeless.” Used with permission.

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Kelly Davis Hits Home on the Homeless Issues

RIP Homeless PersonIt was not all that long ago that we wrote about a census of the homeless being undertaken in downtown San Diego, a census that just might inspire a similar effort in the city’s Uptown area. Today, we would like to revisit that topic by calling your attention to a wonderful piece written by Kelly Davis in the San Diego City Beat.

It’s an excellent read that provides Davis’ both a firsthand account of participating in the survey and a thumbnail breakdown of the similar social justice initiatives over the recent years. The combination of history and narrative makes a great introduction to the issue as expressed in the San Diego’s culture. Unlike many efforts of this nature, Davis’ is not blindingly negative about everything — she points out little known but important successes. She writes:

It’s not like San Diego doesn’t know how to be innovative. In the late ’90s, three programs started here that are held up as models nationwide: homeless court, designed to deal with the unique problems of homelessness in the criminal justice system; Stand Down, the annual weekend-long event that provides shelter and services to homeless vets; and the San Diego Police Department’s Serial Inebriate Program, which offers the option of treatment rather than jail time to homeless chronic alcoholics. But when it comes to providing housing and shelter, San Diego has lagged.

While the survey that Common Ground helped organize here — and in roughly three-dozen other cities — has a goal of breaking down the problem into manageable sets of data (finding out, for instance, the number of homeless seniors who might qualify for housing vouchers), it’s also an attempt to put names, faces and stories to homelessness.

And that is really the key, is it not? To re-humanize the people who have been objectified and forgotten by society as a whole. Of course, that is only one aspect of the effort being undertaken both by that group, and the others.

Davis’ recounting of an encounter with a homeless woman known only as “Sonya” points out one large gap that even this approach has yet to close. Obviously mentally ill, Sonya had trouble answering even the most rudimentary questions and has declined to take part in the survey. Becky Kanis, director of innovations for the New York-based housing and social-services provider Common Ground, who was in San Diego for the survey, states that it is people like Sonya, who decline to participate in the census, are in jeopardy the most. We have yet to find a way to address that gap, but, as with all things, we must approach this one step at a time.

Source: “Action = good,” San Diego City Beat, 09/29/10
Image by Matt From London, used under its Creative Commons license
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Uptown San Diego Considering Homeless Survey

HomelessYesterday, we wrote about a survey of the homeless being conducted in Downtown San Diego. The Downtown Partnership and the Common Ground have teamed up to register the homeless in order to better identify and service their needs.

Meanwhile, Uptown, Todd Gloria, the chair of the City Council’s Land Use and Housing subcommittee, which studies homelessness, has his eye on the project. Here are some of the comments of Gloria’s, who also serves as the District 3 Councilmember, as reported by Christy Scannell of the San Diego News Room:

Gloria said he will be monitoring Registry Week as a possible solution for addressing homelessness in Uptown neighborhoods.

As downtown develops, the homeless are driven to Uptown and Balboa Park,’ he said. ‘As we find models that work in downtown I want to do what I can to bring those models [to Uptown] because we are the natural inheritors of those problems.’

That seems very forward thinking. Being aware of these sorts of factors is vital to finding solutions to them. The enthusiasm seems to wane though when it comes to the question of funding — should it be decided that a similar survey is required Uptown. Scannell reports:

When asked if he thought the Hillcrest Business Association, like Downtown Partnership, would fund a Registry Week for Uptown, its executive director Benjamin Nicholls was quick to say no.

‘It’s the role of business associations to help the businesses grow and that’s what we’re doing in Hillcrest,’ he said. ‘I don’t think it’s the role of business associations to become social service providers.’

Of course, this still comes down to a matter of implementation once the data is collected. Much like a dusty book in the back shelf of a library, if unseen, the information is useless. Proper coordination with treatment services and other resources is absolutely vital for success. We hope that as the possibility of a survey Uptown is considered, the spectrum of social services needed to effectively help those on the streets is also considered.

Source: “Homeless survey could become Uptown model,” San Diego News Room, 09/20/10
Image copyright Susan Madden Lankford, from the book “downTown USA: A Personal Journey with the Homeless.” Used with permission.

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New Homeless Census in Downtown San Diego

HomelessEarly morning last Monday had seen faces that you wouldn’t normally see at that hour fan out through downtown San Diego, as the volunteers had attempted to take a census of the society’s disenfranchised. The effort is part of a national initiative to get better data about the homeless population so that help can be given to those most in need. The goal is to reduce the number of homeless on the streets by 100,000 between now and the middle of 2013.

Steve Schmidt brings us a moment from that morning in his latest post on Sign On San Diego:

Many of the homeless didn’t mind being awakened for the questionnaire, which ranged from their level of education to whether they have a prison record.

‘I think more people like to be heard, and (the homeless) don’t get a lot of opportunities to be heard,’ said Mitchell Clark, a clinician and case worker with Heritage Clinic in San Diego.

That makes perfect sense. When was the last time that you’ve engaged a homeless person in conversation? The social urge is a vital one for people, especially when it is frustrated by the barriers of perception. Schmidt writes,

A few people found the questions overly intrusive. One man crawled out of his tent, pointed to an ailing woman he was with and yelled, ‘This survey you’re taking, what good is it going to do her?’

Long-range gains are often outside of the expectations of the homeless. The immediacy of life on the streets takes precedence. Fortunately, the census takers had this in mind and showed up prepared:

Others became more willing to talk when they learned they would each get a $5 gift certificate for Jack in the Box if they participated.

[Robin] Munro [an attorney and one of the organizers of the census] said the predawn hours are considered the best time to get an accurate read of a transient population. She and the project’s other coordinators plan to compile their registry by the end of the week.

As with all issues, accurate information is key to finding a solution. Campaigns like this one have already occurred in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, and New York. Of course, information is only worthwhile if you act upon it. Experts, including the National Alliance to End Homelessness and the federal Interagency on Homelessness, point this out as well. Several studies put forth by these groups show that registries are effective when they work together with the programs that dispense housing, substance abuse treatment, mental health services, and other programs designed to help these people effect a return to society.

Source: “Volunteers start count of city’s homeless,” Sign On San Diego, 09/20/10
Image copyright Susan Madden Lankford, from the book “downTown USA: A Personal Journey with the Homeless.” Used with permission.

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Teenage Prostitution: Not As Rare As You Think

PimpsThere are many paths taken by those on the streets. For an unfortunate number of pople, one of those paths is prostitution, and they get started at an earlier age than some of us would think.

In addition, there is another sad aspect to this situation, the human trafficking angle. While some of those turning tricks on the street came to that due to homelessness — the stereotypical runaway comes readily to mind — others are kidnapped from their homes and press-ganged into service.

Let’s take a look into that world for a moment, by looking at this video produced by the Press-Telegram of Long Beach, CA:

Sad and disturbing, like so many examples of the societal breakdown. Twelve years old? I don’t know about you, but I was shocked by that. In addition, I found the comparison of the pimp/prostitute relationship to the classic abusive household’s dynamic to be most interesting.

The problem is not going away, nor are any of its aspects. Only recently, three men were sent to jail for sexual exploitation of a child and sex trafficking of children right here in San Diego, as reported on San Diego 6:

According to evidence presented at trial, they picked up the 14-year-old at a restaurant on El Cajon Boulevard in San Diego and drove her to Oceanside, where she was forced to pose for explicit photographs so ‘johns’ could be solicited to engage in commercial sex acts with the child.

The teen was able to escape from the motel room and run to a nearby convenience store to call 911.

Many, many more do not escape. Whether it’s a victim of trafficking or simply someone trying to get off the street, the plight of these poor girls is one that is most certainly worthy of examination. So many of the social ills we examine are intertwined. Violence, homelessness, poor education, people preying on other people, the broken prison system, etc., all demonstrate the interconnected nature of societal problems.

Source: “Man Sentenced for Abducting Teen in Prostitution Scheme,” San Diego 6, 09/13/10
Source: “Human trafficking’s misery hits home,” Press- Telegram, Long Beach, CA, 09/04/10
Image by CommandZed, used under its Creative Commons license.

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Get My School Bucks: An Innovative Web Effort Supporting Education

Get My School Bucks

Did you know that you can help a struggling school simply by shopping? Chad and Melinda Reist of San Diego have created a way for you to do just that, on a website called GetMySchoolBucks.com.

Back in April, KFMB TV Channel 8 ran a story about their efforts, which explains how it all works:

‘We don’t want our younger ones to not have the education they should have,’ Melinda said.

Their solution: a web site that offers discounted gift certificates. Any company interested offers its services on getmyschoolbucks.com at 20 percent off, and any customer interested purchases it at five percent off. The web site takes its cut and the rest goes back to the schools.

‘Essentially it’s money you are already going to spend, so before you head out to dinner with the family, might as well save five percent and give five percent to the schools,’ Chad said.

Sounds like the Reists are on to something. Everybody likes to save money, particularly when the economy is such a mess, so offering coupons is a great way to get people to participate. Adding in the socially conscious element that so many Internet-based efforts are exhibiting these days should really give it legs.

The Reists are not the only parents concerned for their children’s educational future, especially in San Diego, where the state of the school board is continually chaotic. As we’ve stated on numerous occassions, many of the social ills we face are directly related to poor education. There is a plethora of studies linking it to both crime and homelessness, and, while not the sole cause of either, it is still cause for grave concern.

Source: “San Diego couple’s web business to help schools,” KFMD TV Channel 8, 04/01/10
Image of GetMySchoolBucks logo, used under Fair Use: Reporting.

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San Diego’s School Board: A Long and Winding Road to Change

Old schoolSo many of our societal ills can be traced back to failures in the American educational system. Thus it is vitally important that we take an interest in that system and how it’s functioning.

In San Diego, one of the obvious problems is the continuing changes in the school superintendent’s office. The electoral process for the school board in San Diego is both archaic and unusual, and, in addition, it is unlike any other electoral process in the city.

Emily Alpert, a blogger for Voices of San Diego, recently presented an in-depth analysis of that odd system as well as the critiques it has drawn from both sides of the political aisle. Here is a small sample:

Here is how the unusual system works: Candidates like Rosen and his opponents have to survive two elections. In the June primary, they battle in one of five smaller subdistricts. The top two candidates then advance to the November election, where the entire school district votes.

The system might seem strange: No other K-12 school district in San Diego County is elected this way. It is a hybrid of district elections — in which voters in a small slice of a city or school district elect their own representative — and at-large elections in which the whole area votes.

But it was actually the same way that San Diego used to elect its City Council. Even though the city has no power over the school district, schools’ election rules have been laid out in the city charter since 1939.

Voters scrapped that system for City Council 22 years ago, replacing it with district-only elections to ensure that minorities had a better shot at being heard.

But the system stayed the same for the school board — and attracts the same criticisms.

Alpert then goes into a detailed examination of views on all sides of the equation. Here are a few that  she shares in her article:

San Diegans 4 Great Schools, a group that includes philanthropists, business leaders and parents, argues that the existing school board system is outdated and blames it for the revolving door of superintendents that San Diego Unified has suffered in recent years.

Organizer Scott Himelstein says a small school board with five members can swing too easily in a single election, changing the whole direction of the school district in a snap. His group has quietly discussed the idea of adding four new, appointed members to the board.

This would bring it more in line with the rest of the state:

Most school boards in California have five members, but almost all of the large school districts elsewhere in the country have larger boards with seven or nine trustees.

Anyone interested in social issues should take a look at Alpert’s article (link below under “Sources”). Most social ills seem to be rooted in childhood, and education is a vastly important part of that. Issues at that level all too often blossom later in life into homlessness, criminal activity, and substance abuse. As a result, examination of the system and exploration of the methods that can improve it are vital.

Source: “The Unusual Road to the San Diego School Board,” Voice of San Diego, 09/06/10
Image by Adam Pieniazek, used under its Creative Commons license.

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