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The sunny identity of San Diego threatened by the crisis of the homeless



SAN DIEGO (AP) – For Christine Wade, the store she shared with six children, parked in an asphalt parking lot, was much better than her previous home: a shelter where rats ate the family's bags of clothing. [19659002] "Here is peaceful," said Wade, 31 and eight months pregnant, in an October interview at the camp.

A tent, of course, is not a home. But for these residents of San Diego, it's a blessing.


Like other major cities along the West Coast, San Diego is struggling with a crisis of homeless people. In a place that calls itself "the best city in the United States," spiraling real estate values ​​have contributed to the spiral of homeless people, leaving more than 3,200 people living on the streets or in their cars.

The most alarming thing is that the deplorable health conditions virus that damages the liver and lives in the feces, contributing to the deadliest epidemic of hepatitis A in the last 20 years.

"Some of the most vulnerable die on the streets in one of the most desirable and livable regions of America," wrote a county grand jury of San Diego in its June report – reiterating the recommendations it gave the city during the last decade to address homelessness.

San Diego has had problems to achieve it. Two years ago, Mayor Kevin Faulconer closed a tent in the downtown area that ran for 29 years during the winter months. He promised a "game change": a new permanent installation with services to channel people to the house.

But it was not enough.

The result? Legions of Californians without shelter. A growing contagion. And an extraordinary challenge to the sunny identity of the city that threatens its key tourism industry.

For now, San Diego is again turning to tents. The camp where the Wades lived served 200 residents, but it was only temporary; This month, officials are opening three industrial-size tents that will house a total of 700 people.

There are plans to build homes. But to face the immediate emergency, the city had to take $ 6.5 million that had been budgeted for permanent housing to operate the giant stores.

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"The people of San Diego need to decide what they want the city to look like," said Gordon Walker, head of the San Diego Regional Task Force for the Homeless. "San Francisco has essentially given its streets to homeless people, it could go in any direction, the real problem is that we do not have enough homes."

Last year, the number of people living outdoors in San Diego increased 18 percent from the previous year, according to an annual count taken in January. More than 400 makeshift shelters covered the sidewalks of the center next to the tall buildings of new apartments.

In October, Faulconer partnered with the homeless service provider, Alpha Project, to open the Balboa Park camp where the Wades found refuge. The city installed public washing stations, opened bathrooms 24 hours a day and cleaned the streets with a chlorine solution.

The police also cited people. In a few weeks, the almost 400 stores and canvases in the center disappeared.

Meanwhile, the number of camps along the banks of the San Diego River doubled.

The San Diego River Park Foundation – whose mission is to preserve the river that feeds the Pacific – spent $ 115,000 by removing 250,000 pounds of trash left by the homeless camps this year.

Director Rob Hutsel said potential donors ask him when he talks about plans for a 52-mile long trail and waterway system: "What about homeless people, do not build a park, they will simply bring more . "

" There should not be any thoughts on building a park, "he said. "That is so unfortunate."

The mayor has allocated more than $ 80 million to reduce homelessness in the next three years.

"In short, the goal is to put everyone in a home that wants to be," said Faulconer. [19659003] But the units must be built, and the temporary solution is expensive. At a cost of $ 1,700 per person per month, $ 6.5 million will cover seven months, but tents should remain open for up to two years, according to Rick Gentry, head of the San Diego Housing Commission.

Meanwhile, San Diego The county has spent $ 4 million to contain the outbreak of hepatitis that has killed 20 people and sickened more than 560 in the past year.

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At Perkins Elementary School, the student body is more than a quarter homeless, compared to 4 percent three years ago.

Shawnni Wade was a straight third grade student. But when her family's problems intensified, she left school; Now, she came back as a seventh grade student.

"It's weird to be back," said the girl with bright green eyes and a sly smile.

But then, little about the life of this normal 12-year-old girl.

Christine Wade blames her ex-husband's drug addiction. After they divorced, he let Wade worry about his two daughters. She rented a kitchen. But then she lost her job, and Wade found out she was pregnant.

He could only find space in the rat-infested shelter where the family lived before landing in the camp.

Then, a few weeks ago, Wade was hospitalized with an infection. He could not return to the camp, so the family moved to another shelter.

A social worker is now helping her find a home. She hopes to have one before next month, when she expects to give birth to a child.

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Follow the full AP coverage of the West Coast homeless crisis here: https://apnews.com/tag/HomelessCrisis [19659082]
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