December 6, 2009

Homelessness Solutions Reform in San Diego?

In downtown San Diego, the conversation around solutions to homelessness is picking up steam. Last week there was a forum on "Homelessness Solutions" which I attended. I was excited to be going to such a forum that seemed to have no reservations around using the "R" word. Reform.

One thing was made very clear...the concern around the impacts of homelessness are reaching critical mass. People are tired of the same old, same old. But I must say that the same attitudes and beliefs that crafted the policies and practices which got us into this huge mess are still alive and well. And I see these attitudes prevalent amongst those we count on the most to execute our programs. It's an attitude based on reacting to the unmet needs of the homeless and containing homelessness versus solving it.

There is also finger pointing at how badly people in San Diego treat the homeless. Like this editorial written by a social worker published in the Union Tribune today. She points a finger at the people of San Diego who are treating the homeless badly. But are they really the people who created the problem?

From my front line perspective, the reactions from our community and the "despise" this writer and others speak of are the natural consequences resulting from two decades of using the wrong battle plan. The plan San Diego uses is largely one based on a “containment" plan, whereas the impacts of homelessness are essentially controlled and contained. Homelessness is a solvable condition, yet we continue to treat it as a disease by managing the symptoms of homelessness instead of treating the underlying causes.

There is talk of a reform effort in San Diego...but there can be no real reform until we know what went wrong and why it went wrong.

Reform means that we do not push the rug over the big crack in the foundation thinking we'll just modify practices around failed policies and build new walls around the crack. Reform means not getting on the same ship, setting a new "course" while we have the crews bailing water on the decks below. Reform means abandoning the failed battle plan totally and redesigning using the best social purpose entrepreneurial thinking this community has to offer. Or we can just keep using the same old "political" excuses, the same old general’s controlling the same old containment battle plan. That is how we got here and that is how we will stay locked into mediocrity as many more human beings suffer and die on our streets. Like in any battle, when it comes to the battle to defeat homelessness, using the wrong battle plan only increases the impacts of homelessness on human beings and on our community. Please look at the negative impacts! That is all the evidence you need. It’s worse now than ever before.

We must abandon this old failed battle plan, redesign around a new battle plan. And reimagine San Diego with no homeless on our streets.

It's not the business community’s job, the church's job, or the government’s job to solve homelessness. This is a social problem that deserves the involvement of every sector, both private and public, engaged in a winnable battle plan. Stop messing around. It’s time we deploy our community capital and resources in a way that will defeat homelessness.

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