Reflections on 2010 and Challenges for 2011
In 2010, members of Think Dignity, men and women, opened the year with our annual
tradition of assembling backpacks for the homeless and delivering them to the winter
shelter. We stood, talked, and embraced persons struggling to survive on the streets and
thus strengthened the bridge built between core members and the homeless community.
We convened a committee of people both with housing and without and asked – what are
the biggest needs? It was unanimous — restrooms and clean drinking water. David “the
Waterman” Ross has helped provide port-a-potties with his retirement checks, but these
cannot possibly meet the need of thousands of persons on our city’s streets.
So we formed a coalition for basic dignity and gathered 5,000 signatures toward a
petition for downtown bathrooms. Shortly after launch of the campaign, City Council
unanimously set aside $700,000 to install downtown restrooms, open to the public 24/7.
We did not stop there, but went into the local communities and neighborhoods speaking
to business and neighborhood associations to get community buy in and support for
specific locations. Think Dignity’s research team worked with Portland, the city that implemented
the most cost-efficient successful toilet in a major city in the country – the Portland Loo
– and also worked with our local police department to have a “safe” toilet approved.
Think Dignity saw success for the homeless, and for the entire city of San Diego, as in November
the plan to implement the bathrooms downtown was approved by City Council and
four locations were sited, including two in East Village and two in Little Italy. City
Councilmembers expressed the need to go further and put more bathrooms in downtown.
Not only do these facilities provide basic dignity to people who do not have homes, but it
also improves our city, as most major cities in the United States have public restrooms for
pedestrians, cyclists, city employees, tourists and visitors.
In gaining approval in the community, Think Dignity learned more about the problem of
homelessness in San Diego. More intrinsic, deep-founded issues were exposed and
considered to be creating a horrible perpetual cycle of homelessness. This cycle is not
one that can be ignored, as it is now costing San Diego more to not help the homeless, in
hospital and law enforcement costs, and moneys being spent with no true solution.
Such an approach to homelessness is epitomized by the question: “Do you need a fifth
hat?” That’s the question that Think Dignity Secretary Noor Kazmi asked Bill rhetorically at the
vet shelter during our holiday visit on December 21st. Bill is a homeless veteran who
is trying to stay warm and dry at the VVSD tent this winter. He has already received
4 hats as charitable donations but no means for a job or stable housing. This sparked a
discussion about what our role should be when it comes to the homeless in San Diego.
In 2011, Think Dignity is excited to bridge humanitarian efforts of giving and the efforts of true
policy change. If we as a city continue to give the homeless gifts and donations, these
meet real needs, but if we ignore the flaws in our system in truly helping the homeless not
be homeless, then our donations every year will increase with the number of homeless,
our taxes will be more, and those gifts and donations will eventually run out or cease.
True humanitarian efforts are not founded solely on gifts and intangible concepts of
giving – all that is fleeting – true care and dignity for all humans is a necessary push
for solid change and a foundation of empowerment found only in basic rights, chance
for opportunity, and fundamental healing! Moving toward policy, strategy, and service
change in SD for the homeless is crucial, otherwise they keep getting donations every year
to stack in their tent and no change in circumstances.
We are working to organize our community including those who are currently or
previously homeless to make these real changes in San Diego. Please join us in 2011!
-by Alana Liles