Steph Johnson, surrounded by members of the Voices of Our City Choir
Advocates for San Diego's homeless population gathered downtown Tuesday morning (January 3) to rally and present mayor Kevin Faulconer's office with a petition calling on police to cease ticketing and arresting individuals living on the street until a comprehensive housing solution is implemented. At the time of the event, the petition had garnered over 1100 signatures.
"We need to treat homelessness as the manmade disaster that it is, not as a crime," said Martha Sullivan of Women Occupy San Diego, the group circulating the petition.
"Six years ago, there were 10,000 more affordable housing units in San Diego than there are currently," added John Brady, a homeless member of the Voices of Our City Choir, which opened the rally by singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." "We designed this crisis, and we've continued to perpetrate it upon the people of this city."
Steph Johnson, cofounder of the choir, called homeless shelters a "temporary solution" unfit for many people living on the streets who have formed communities to protect one another.
"It's wrong — the ticketing of people who don't have a home," Johnson continued. "This is not the job of a police officer.
"Mayor Faulconer has the authority to suspend the ticketing, the arrest, and the stay-away orders for homeless people in San Diego. We request that he do so as an emergency humanitarian action until permanent and safe housing is provided to every San Diegan who is in desperate, desperate need of shelter."
Former state assemblywoman and mayoral candidate Lori Saldaña acknowledged Faulconer's efforts to find housing for homeless veterans but said more needed to be done.
"Shelters are not the solution, housing is," insisted Saldaña. "When our housing policies actually displace thousands of people, as they have for years, we're going in the wrong direction.
"What has this mayor done? He's put rocks under shelters, taken away tents and tarps. We can do better than that. People on the streets are neighbors, they're people we work with, they are my students."
A recent report suggests the downtown homeless population has nearly doubled in the past four years, though the 1073 counted recently include only a small portion of an estimated 8692 homeless throughout the county, according to an early 2016 estimate. Advocates say even this number is low, as it fails to account for individuals taking temporary shelter from friends and family members.