I lived in San Diego for 20 years and had two restaurants before I moved to Las Vegas. It has always been a beautiful city. Robyn Spencer is one of my dear friends that I have also known for 20 years. We worked together on numerous Las Vegas Shows, Conventions, and Restaurant Events and then Robyn moved to San Diego. She wrote this piece which was published in the San Diego paper last week. I totally agree with all she has to say, as I have been so horrified every time I have traveled there in the last few years. Read and believe, this could be coming to your town.
Opinion: As a downtown San Diego business owner, I’m losing faith that solutions for homelessness are coming
Diners grab a bite to eat along 5th Avenue in the Gaslamp Quarter in downtown San Diego on Thursday, November 19, 2020. (Sandy Huffaker/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)
Spencer is director of sales for the Rise and Shine restaurants and part owner and director of sales for Tavern+Bowl East Village. She lives in Downtown San Diego.
Downtown San Diego — one of the most beautiful downtown city landscapes in the United States of America — is hiding its biggest issue in plain sight: the widespread unsheltered community that call our streets home. I knew what I was getting into when I decided to start my business in the East Village neighborhood of Downtown. I knew the promise of new shiny high-rise buildings, the allure of the historic Gaslamp Quarter, the addition of tech company giants, and the global, diverse population of residents to match would be accompanied by the challenges that come with East Village’s large population of unsheltered residents.
However, I quickly came to realize the extent of the homeless crisis in East Village when one person with severe behavioral health challenges started calling the sidewalk near my business his home. For him, blatant drug use and optional clothing were his everyday routine. When he began hanging out by my car, I reported it. When I saw him inject drugs with needles, I reported it. When he exposed himself to my 11-year-old, I reported it. After 10 months of instances, calls, emails, letters, meetings and worry, an arrest was made. He was issued a court order to make it clear his behavior was no longer welcome and he could not return to our street corners and parking lots when he was released.
It wasn’t long after his release that this individual returned to our storefront, where he continued to harass me, my family and my customers. When I noticed his absence sometime later, I learned it was because his ongoing substance abuse had taken his life.
This is a normal occurrence for business owners in Downtown. We keep hearing that solutions are coming. We keep hearing about ideas to help those who can no longer help themselves and are left to die on our streets, like this person.
But when I cannot leave our parking lot because my car is blocked in with tents, debris and people in similar states of crisis, I’ve started losing faith that those solutions are ever coming. It has become difficult to remember a time when I did not have to navigate a neighborhood strewn with pop-up tents, overloaded stolen grocery carts, and people who are mentally incapable of being aware of their surroundings — a time when someone yelling at my child and I as we try to walk the short six blocks from my apartment to the venue I love working for wasn’t commonplace.
Now is the time to activate the plan we hear about so often and place these individuals in an appropriate space that can nurture their specific needs.
I do not want to hear “it’s not that simple” any longer. I, my family and my business, which has been ravaged by the pandemic and only further challenged by the perception that our streets are unsafe, need results.
We must prioritize resources and policies that will make a real difference, not just place people in crisis in the revolving one- to three-day door of our correctional system, have them turned away from shelter locations because “they won’t follow the rules,” or put them in an apartment expecting them to thrive without supportive services.
The status quo is not enough. We need to improve our “rehoming” programs, including additional shelter and safe camping locations outside of Downtown, to improve the response to individuals in crisis and under the influence of drugs and alcohol, to allocate additional staff, equipment and resources for the Homeless Outreach Team, and to ramp up the neighborhood policing division to enforce laws against open drug sales and use, illegal lodging and vehicle habitation.
Most importantly, I think it is time for our officials to hold themselves accountable. To stop pointing fingers and take action now.
We have a plan. I’ve heard all about it. Let’s get to acting on it.