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Grand Jury weighs in on homelessness

May 17, 2010 - 4:40 pm

A certain San Diego journalist and I have been going back and forth over the relevance of reports that the San Diego County Civil Grand Jury has issued lately. He’s winning, but I score a point for “Homeless in San Diego Report,” issued today. Want to get my attention? Release a study on sex offenders or homelessness.

Among the findings:

* The report estimates that San Diego County—both local governments and county government—spent at least $2.5 million in 2008 and 2009 (or at least $5.2 million total) policing the homeless.

* Fire department costs were close to $4.5 million total for both years.

* Of the two hospitals that responded to the Grand Jury’s inquiry (Tri-City and Sharp), homeless people ran up a $35.1 million tab.

Bottom line: It’s more costly to not house the homeless. As the report puts it, “Cities that provide service-enriched housing to the homeless show an annual cost savings and improved use of services when housing is provided.”

The report recommends that a regional homeless authority be established to streamline planning and help coordinate the region’s various services providers. Los Angeles, for instance, has the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. The same’s been proposed, informally, for San Diego County but as we reported last year, getting the county’s elected officials to participate in such an entity likely ain’t going to happen.

Other recommendations in the report:

* Find additional funding sources for homeless services, such as an increase in hotel-room taxes (since, it’s argued, homelessness impedes tourism) or create special assessment districts where homeowners would pay a tax or fee that would go toward providing shelter beds in that area. There’s been muttering about something like this happening Downtown.

* Provide funding for portable toilets in East Village (right now, David Ross, a retired former car salesman, is using his own money to pay for four toilets, two in East Village and two near Eighth and C streets).

* Keep the Neil Good Day Center open longer (from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week as opposed to current operating hours of 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday) and consider it as a site for a year-round shelter. And, as we’ve reported, the day center’s in need of repairs—the showers, for instance, aren’t in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

So what happens with all these recommendations? Any public agency mentioned in the report must respond within 90 days from today and address the findings and recommendations in the report. Those responses will be published on the Grand Jury’s website.

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