By Ken Williams | Editor
With a large tattoo creeping up his neck, Jonathan Herrera is not your typical city bureaucrat dressed up in a suit and tie. He readily acknowledges that he is a former gang member who knows the mean streets of San Diego.
These days, Herrera is better known as the senior advisor on homelessness coordination for Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer. He became the “homeless czar” on July 3, when Stacie Spector quit after only seven months on the job. Herrera previously held the position as the mayor’s director of public safety and neighborhood services.
Herrera spoke about homelessness and the hepatitis A crisis during the public portion of the North Park Community Association board meeting on Oct. 25 at the Lafayette Hotel, Swim Club & Bungalows.
Regarding hepatitis A, Herrera said the first case in the local crisis was identified in November 2016 in El Cajon. Since then, the virus has spread rapidly, sickening more than 500 people and killing 19 in San Diego County.
This is the worst outbreak of hepatitis A this year in the United States, according to federal health officials.
The city issued a directive to combat hepatitis A on Aug. 31, Herrera said, and declared a local public health emergency on Sept. 1.
Vaccination, sanitation and education are the declared strategies to get the epidemic under control, Herrera said.
Almost 70,000 people have already been vaccinated, of which 54,000 are from the “at risk” population that includes homeless people and drug users, he said. Firefighters and paramedics recently have been trained and authorized to administer vaccination shots.
“Most likely this crisis will continue for some time before it gets better,” Herrera said.
Sanitation efforts include sidewalk cleaning in the Downtown, Uptown, Mid-City, Midway and beach neighborhoods, as well as clean-up efforts of the San Diego River, where homeless encampments are common and on the rise. Herrera promised that street sanitation would be the new norm, not a temporary effort.
Dozens of handwashing stations and portable restrooms have been opened, mostly Downtown.
Education efforts are underway, Herrera said, including outreaches to the street population, local businesses, and via the press and social media.
Regarding San Diego’s homeless problem, one of the worst crises in America, Herrera said the city is sincere about wanting to reduce the numbers. On an average day, there are 5,600 people sleeping on the streets, he added.
Homelessness initiatives, he said, include a transitional campground area, safe parking zone, temporary bridge shelters, transitional property storage and a proposed Housing Navigation Center to match homeless people with core supportive services.
San Diego has embraced the “Housing First” movement, which encourages finding permanent housing for the homeless that is tied to getting people the services they need to thrive. Visit sdhc.org for more information about the program.
Herrera said the San Diego Housing Commission and the city in July launched a three-year, $80 million “Housing First — San Diego” plan for the creation of new permanent supportive housing units plus programming funds to focus on improving homelessness outreach. Other efforts include creating incentives for developers to construct affordable housing and the loosening of regulations to allow homeowners to construct granny flats to add to the pool of affordable housing.
In other news
Kathryn Durant, the Point in Time project coordinator for the Regional Task Force on Homelessness, announced at the meeting that the next count of the homeless population would be 4-7 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 26, 2018, followed by in-person interviews Jan. 26-31. Volunteers can sign up now at rtfh.volunteerhub.com.