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Hillcrest Town Council update on homelessness, hepatitis A crisis

By Benny Cartwright

The Hillcrest Town Council meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 12, saw one of its largest crowds in recent years, with over 145 people in attendance to hear District 3 Councilmember Chris Ward speak about his strategies to address homelessness in San Diego.

With the homeless situation particularly visible in urban areas like Hillcrest, many residents spoke up demanding immediate solutions.

(l to r) Councilmember Chris Ward talks about homelessness as Hillcrest Town Council chair Kath Rogers, board member David Vance and former HTC chair Luke Terpstra listen. (Photo by William Pontius)

After the normal announcements, public comment, and updates from elected official representatives and community organizations, Ward began a prepared presentation that included information about the demographics of the region’s unhoused population; roles, resources and constraints; new programs and services available in 2017; future opportunities to serve the region’s homeless population; and tips on things that everyone can do.

Ward also addressed the region’s hepatitis A crisis, warning that it’s the worst such outbreak in a developed nation in modern history. To help address the epidemic — which has killed 16 people and sickened more than 400 individuals in San Diego County — 40 hand-washing stations have recently been installed, with the majority of them in District 3. An additional six locations have been requested for the Hillcrest area.

The city has begun cleaning sidewalks in impacted outbreak areas per a directive by the county, and Ward’s office will match $5,000 in funding for the Hillcrest Business Association’s Sidewalk Cleanliness Program.

While HTC leaders asked members to use the time with Ward productively, listening to his solutions and sharing other ideas, some members did want to share their concerns. Some noted the continued unsanitary conditions left behind in areas where homeless individuals congregate and sleep, while others said they feel unsafe walking in the neighborhood. Some members described their disappointment at community leaders’ response to the situation, and others said they’re not even sure if Hillcrest or San Diego were places they want to live in anymore.

The HTC as a body has agreed to seek passionate solutions to the homelessness crisis, recognizing that homeless people are just that — people. They are our friends, family members and neighbors, and the majority of homeless people are unhoused by no fault of their own. While we understand and agree with our neighbors who are frustrated by the trash, health and safety concerns that come along with homelessness, we want our civic leaders to take immediate steps to address the overall homeless problem so people aren’t forced to live on the streets.

Ward did share several things that everyone can do to help:

  • Express support for the city’s Select Committee on Homelessness’ Work Plan.
  • Contact your elected officials: Mayor’s Office: John Ly, 619-236-7740 or jly@sandiego.gov; Supervisor Ron Roberts: 619-531-5544 or ron-roberts@sdcounty.ca.gov.
  • Encourage homeless individuals to go to shelters and centers for resources.
  • Call 211 to be connected to available services.
  • Report to emergencies (911) or non-emergencies (619-531-2000).
  • Use your Community Relations Officers as a resource: Officer Surwilo: dsurwilo@pd.sandiego.gov; Officer Pinon: rpinon@pd.sandiego.gov.
  • Attend meetings of the Select Committee on Homelessness and Regional Task Force on the Homeless.
  • Encourage local business owners to participate in sidewalk cleanliness program.
  • Become educated on best practices and solutions.
  • National Alliance to End Homelessness (endhomelessness.org).
  • U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (usich.gov).

While there are no quick fixes to the homelessness problem, and the meeting was not intended to solve the crisis, many residents left having a greater understanding of the steps being taken and how they can get involved.

If you have additional feedback you would like us to share with Ward’s office, email it to me at benny.bc.cartwright@gmail.com.

The next HTV meeting will be on Tuesday, Oct. 10, from 6:30-8 p.m. at the Joyce Beers Community Center in The HUB shopping center in Hillcrest. Check out our Facebook page for more details to be posted soon.

—Benny Cartwright is vice chair of Hillcrest Town Council.

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