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Shipwrecks and Shamrocks: Who’s on the list that looks at homeless crisis

A prominent philanthropic group focused on helping San Diego’s homeless population has released its first “Shamrocks & Shipwrecks” list to praise local efforts to solve the crisis while calling attention to inaction and obstacles.

The city of Chula Vista had the distinction of receiving both a Shamrock and a Shipwreck recognition while La Mesa earned a Shamrock for a program to house youths. San Diego County also earned a Shamrock for offering $10 million to help local jurisdictions shelter homeless people.

The record-high homeless population in downtown San Diego received a Shipwreck designation, as did the drug-related deaths and criminal activity in the population, although the foundation did not blame any specific entity or person for the crisis.

“A record-high alone is a shipwreck,” the foundation wrote. “Record-high numbers in six of the last 10 months is a tragedy and catastrophe of epic proportions. This sharp increase in unsheltered homelessness and subsequent illegal and dangerous activity has created daily unsafe and harmful circumstances for those who work, live or visit downtown.”

Chula Vista received a Shipwreck recognition for failing to open a once-planned shelter, but also earned a Shamrock for a program that put homeless people to work.

Conspicuously missing from the list was San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria. When the Shamrocks and Shipwrecks initiative was announced in September, longtime San Diego resident and basketball legend Bill Walton attended the press conference with Lucky Duck Foundation officials and blasted Gloria, calling the mayor a shipwreck and labeling a Balboa Park encampment “Gloriaville.”

Gloria was not given a Shipwreck by the foundation, but was mentioned once in recognition of an executive order he signed to strengthen and prioritize enforcement of fentanyl sales-related crimes.

“While the executive order signed by San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria to provide stronger enforcement may help, the number of deaths and overdoses is heartbreaking and reinforces the need to provide significantly more immediate and lifesaving pathways off the streets,” the foundation wrote in the Shipwreck entry about homeless deaths, drug use and criminal activity.

The foundation noted that almost 500 homeless people died on the streets last year, including 113 who overdosed on fentanyl, which it said reinforced the need for a coordinated plan and effort across local, state and federal organizations to address homelessness.

“This includes meaningfully more shelter beds, compassionate but accountable intervention and enforcement along with urgently needed services,” the foundation wrote.

The foundation also took a shot at San Diego’s lack of winter shelter beds, saying the city can’t “nibble” at the need by adding just 25 or 30 more beds, as it plans to do at the old Central Library.

Coincidentally, the San Diego Housing Commission announced Wednesday that it was activating its inclement weather shelter program that night, which provides 28 beds at the Living Water Church of the Nazarene and 10 beds at the San Diego Rescue Mission.

One of the foundation’s three Shamrock recognitions went to the Work for Hope partnership between the McAlister Institute and the city of Chula Vista, which finds employment and job training for homeless people. Work crews in the program have done beautification projects at all 72 of the city’s parks, and 147 of the 168 people in the program have achieved long-term housing and employment.

Another Shamrock went to a collaborative effort in La Mesa that converted a rundown motel into a residential youth program for clients of Urban Street Angels, San Diego Youth Services and Home Start. The 60 renovated rooms provide a safe environment for up to 85 homeless youths and led to permanent housing for 35 young people, with 40 more employed or in school.

The third Shamrock went to the county for offering $10 million for shelter programs and to San Diego, Oceanside and Vista for pursuing the funds for programs in their cities. The foundation also recognized the county for allowing an underused parking lot it owns in the Midway District to be used for a 150-bed mental health shelter.

The foundation gave a Shipwreck recognition to the city of Chula Vista for failing to follow through with a plan to open a shelter. The city’s actions are a sore spot with the Lucky Duck Foundation, which in May 2020 lent Chula Vista a large tented structure that could shelter 150 to 200 people.

“Tragically, after taking possession of this very valuable asset, they stored the shelter for more than 14 months,” the foundation wrote. “Ultimately, the City of Chula Vista changed its mind and decided it did not want a bridge shelter, effectively preventing hundreds if not thousands of individuals from benefiting from the shelter while it was in storage.”

Chula Vista has plans to open 66 pallet homes next month to shelter homeless people.

“Although this will help, taking more than 2.5 years to add 66 pallet homes is nowhere near the urgency or speed required to meaningfully address the region’s homelessness crisis,” the foundation wrote.

Chula Vista City Manager Maria Kachadoorian said Wednesday that the situation with the tent was caused by circumstances beyond their control. The city planned to build the shelter on land owned by the state, but it took two years to get access to the property, she said.

Complicating things more, she said the city received the tent during the height of the pandemic, and there were concerns about using it as a shelter that could hold up to 200 people. The city also was looking at funding a shelter for just 50 people, she said.

Kachadoorian said everything worked out for the best in the end, because the city of Chula Vista stored the tent until the Lucky Duck Foundation could find a location where it could maximize its use. It now is used as the 150-bed shelter in the Midway District.

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