San Diego Has the Fourth Highest Number of Homeless in the US and That Doesn’t Even Count Most Homeless Families
By John Lawrence
I met a homeless woman at a coffee shop in downtown San Diego. She had emailed me to correct a few points in a previous article I had written about the homeless. Her name is Jingles, not her real name, of course. That’s the name she goes by downtown. She’s tough, savvy, intelligent, resourceful, wise to the ways of the street. She is 55 years old with several health related problems and three small dogs. One of them is 20 years old and won’t be with her much longer. The three dogs prevent her from being taken in by a shelter, but she won’t give them up, and I don’t blame her. They are the best friends she has.
Her cell phone is her lifeline to the outside world and is what lets her know what’s going on out there. That’s how she was able to read the San Diego Free Press and then email me. It’s also a lifeline to 911 in case of a heart attack or other severe medical problems. Several of her cell phones have been stolen; then she has to start all over again spending money she doesn’t have.
She suffers from a variety of ailments including fibromyalgia, arthritis, manic depression, COPD, anxiety disorders and PTSD from living on the streets. She had a heart attack three years ago. She gets General Relief (GR). She has three GR workers who deal with various aspects of her case.
In addition to her cart, she has a storage locker which she pays $113. a month for. After paying for her cell phone and storage locker each month, there’s not much left. I told her about Think Dignity, a group that provides free lockers for the homeless. There are 304 lockers and 130 bins. Over 100 people have been able to gain employment/housing and move off the streets due to the service the Transitional Storage Center (TSC) provides.
TSC is located at 252 16th Street at a lot owned by the San Diego Housing Commission and graciously provided for TSC use. She was very knowledgeable about the available resources, but she hadn’t heard of Think Dignity. I gave her the newspaper article about them.
She grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts and graduated from high school there. She was taken away from her abusive birth parents by the state and adopted by a military family when she was two. After graduating from high school, she lived in Vermont for awhile with a hippie commune, the Rainbow Family. The Rainbow Family is still around. They have national gatherings in national forests every year. As many as 25,000 can get together. She was a big follower of the Grateful Dead in her teen age years. She was a hippie then and she’s still a hippie now.
Regional Rainbow Gatherings are held throughout the year in the United States, as are national and regional gatherings in dozens of other countries. These Gatherings are non-commercial, and all who wish to attend peacefully are welcome to participate. There are no leaders, and traditionally the Gatherings last for a week, with the primary focus being on gathering on public land on the Fourth of July in the U.S., when attendees pray, meditate, and/or observe silence in a group effort to focus on World Peace. Most gatherings elsewhere in the world last a month from new moon to new moon, with the full moon being the peak celebration. Rainbow Gatherings emphasize a spiritual focus towards peace, love, and unity.
Jingles was married twice. Her first husband died. Her second husband was abusive. She’s been single for 20 years. She has no biological children, but raised several children of her two sister-in-laws. She’s still in touch with them. There have been no significant male others in her life since her divorce, but she has a lot of male friends for protection. A woman needs that especially when sleeping at night on the streets.
She’s traveled around – Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee. She’s been in San Diego for about two years. She’s been homeless since 2009 when she lost her job as a cook because “my health went in the toilet.” She worked in many restaurants since she was 19 and was certified as a chef in Michigan. When she lost her last job, she bought an RV and took to the road.
She was living in Tennessee on Hippie Hill. The hippies there took in a lot of homeless people for periods of time. There’s a tenuous link between hippieness and homelessness. Hippies are at odds with the present day competitive, acquisitive, materialistic, capitalistic society that values money above all else, the Wall Street values that separate the 1% from the 99%.
Jingles had to leave the commune due to a misunderstanding with a man who had first befriended her after her heart attack and then later accused her of stealing. She had to exit suddenly leaving behind several thousands of dollars in tattoo and jewelry making equipment and her RV. At this point she had no transportation or residence. She was on the road and homeless.
The Job That Never Materialized
She teamed up with another woman and helped her drive to California where she had the promise of a job as a nanny. After she got here, the job never materialized. Her friend was at Vantage Pointe apartments in San Diego, but the daughter that needed nannying turned out not to be there. So she was on the street again.
She doesn’t use drugs or alcohol. Some housing has opened up, but the rules are too restrictive. She says that Alpha Square has room inspections. “Why are you making grown adults go through room inspections, like you’re in a reformatory or a prison system? It’s not going to integrate people back into society,” she said.
She can’t use the library resources because she can’t take her dogs in there except if she has someone to watch the dogs outside. Her credentials for the dogs saying they were service dogs got stolen. If she had those credentials, she would be able to go in a lot more places. The last dog she acquired, she rescued last summer. The dogs all get along pretty well. Has anyone ever considered pet sitting services for the homeless?
She can’t work any more due to her health problems. Her purse with all her ID got stolen so she has to go about the process of reacquiring all her ID and important papers. She has tried to start a disability case several times, but she’s not been able to get anywhere with it. Despite her health problems, the disability Board says she still has the capability to work. Her former attorney let her down. She needs a strong advocate to get her benefits. The fact that a person is homeless should qualify them for disability in and of itself. But she says, “The government doesn’t look at it that way.” Every homeless person needs an advocate basically, or they’re up shit creek without a paddle. And there are too few of those – advocates that is.
Disability Benefits Down the Tube
I handed her a printout that lists all the things you need to even apply for disability. Name of current spouse and prior spouse, spouses’ dates of birth and social security numbers, beginning and ending dates of marriages, place of marriages etc etc. What if you don’t know all that stuff or have the relevant paperwork? It’s a bureaucratic nightmare. Jingles doesn’t remember when her first spouse was born, and he’s dead. She needs a committed advocate to fight the system for her. Without that help from a lawyer or social worker, the task of climbing out of the deep hole she’s in is too daunting. Too many people are dying on the streets for lack of paperwork.
I told her about the Tiny Homes project that is proceeding downtown. They are lockable and a safe place to sleep at night. One of her friends overslept recently and was woken up by police who made her throw out her tent because it supposedly was illegal to have a tent in downtown. Jingles makes it a point to get up early and go to bed late, and to make sure she’s with friends she trusts to protect her at night.
Jeeni Criscenzo of Amikas: Housing for Homeless Women and Children and the San Diego Free Press estimates there are 20,000 homeless families in San Diego County. This can be computed from school records since schools are required to report the number of homeless children in their systems. This is far more actually homeless people than the official reports indicate.
WeALLCount is a group of 1700 volunteers who were up before dawn last Friday, January 29th, to count the homeless in San Diego. HUD money comes to the city based on this count. Problem is the count is flawed. Many homeless are hidden away, not sleeping on the streets where they can be identified. A true count would add Jeeni’s figures of 20,000 additional families or at least 40,000 additional people.
Lisa Kogan had donated a tiny home to Michael Clark in San Diego only to have the police show up, arrest the man and haul the tiny home away. But she’s not giving up. She and others along with Jeeni and Bryan Kim have teamed up to build more tiny homes on a vacant lot in downtown. This time they have the required permissions and permits to do it. The group is called Homeless to Housed.
Rob Greenfield is trying to raise $10,000 so 10 tiny shelters for our homeless brothers and sisters can be built. He is auctioning off his own Tiny House to make the money to build 10 more.
Think Dignity is taking on the project of portable showers and port-a-potties are in the works to be provided at theHomeless to Housed Tiny Homes site. Until Housing First can provide enough apartments for all the homeless, the Tiny Homes project is a best solution to provide temporary housing for the least amount of money.
The Tiny Homes movement is sweeping the country. See In a Tiny House Village, Portland’s Homeless Find Dignity in Yes! magazine. As cities search for solutions to homelessness, Portland’s Dignity Village offers 60 men and women community and safety.
There was one last story before we said good-bye. Her friend, Mike, has a heart defibrilator. The device malfunctioned when they were sleeping underneath the B St bridge last February to stay out of the rain. She was on the phone with 911 turning her locator on and off. Because they were under a bridge, they couldn’t find them. She went out to the edge of the bridge and the signal got out and they found them on 18th street according to the GPS. But there’s no 18th street. The EMTs kept saying that address doesn’t exist. “It’s in the middle of the freeway.” Jingles kept saying, “No, we’re in the middle of the freeway, but under it.” Somehow they got found and Mike got the medical attention he needed. If it hadn’t have been for Jingles’ cell phone, Mike wouldn’t be here.
If you’re a lawyer reading this and want to help Jingles navigate through the maze of applying for disability benefits, please send your contact information to me, email@example.com, and I will forward it on to her.
John Lawrence says
Homeless persons also qualify for free cell phones, information I didn’t put into the article but here it is from this free government phones website:
“Leading the country with the best widely available plans are Assurance Wireless and Budget Mobile, which provide struggling Californians with a free phone, free unlimited voice minutes and free unlimited texts. Recently joining the Unlimited Voice and Text club is Total Call Mobile.”
Grace Rich says
John, Thanks for doing such a personal view about a real homeless woman. We all need to hear about the history and difficulties of a homeless person. The challenges of doing paperwork for services are harder for even us seniors let alone for the homeless and they do need advocates from Operation Cold Water, Tucson, AZ
Jeeni Criscenzo says
Thanks for this story, John. The numbers you quoted are incorrect. Using the number of homeless students reported by San Diego County schools last year, there were 22,000 homeless students, 83.5% of which were sleeping doubled up or in motels at least part of the time. If we divide this by the number of children in a single parent household we get nearly 10,000 households with school age children who are homeless and not included in the Point in Time Count numbers. That is for the county.
John Lawrence says
Jeeni, thanks for the correction. Let’s see if I’ve got this straight now. If there were 22,000 homeless students, figuring 2 students to a household, and there was at least one parent to a household (some households may have 2 parents), that makes at least 30,000 homeless people that are undercounted by the POT survey. Am I correct?
Joan OBrien says
These numbers hes quoting are more accurate. Homeless is homeless weather you are a student v struggling parent mother sister uncle who ever homelessness doesnt single out
Joan OBrien says
Oh and I’m that homeless person that this article is about. I’m one of the homeless out here, if your not out here 24/7 like I am you don’t see the numbers that I see. Oh and remember this that count is all of San Diego’s county and that still doesn’t count the ones that are hiding or the new ones that just snuck over the border or recently became homeless.
Betty Degroat says
Thanks John. Our homelessness here probably triples in the winter. We have some excellant agencies that do as much as they can to help our homeless; but so much more needs to be done.
La Playa Heritage says
Thank you very much for this article.
Homeless to Housed San Diego is on Facebook.
“This time they have the required permissions and permits to do it.” is not a correct statement.
H2HSD has permission from the Property Owner at 17th and Imperial to allow Tiny Homes onsite. H2HSD has not asked for permission or permits from the City of San Diego.
The City of San Diego has not given permission or issued Building, Water/Sewer, or Electrical Permits for the movable Camping Cabins. Temporary structures do not require Permits. Similar to the Tents set up at local Hotels for Wedding Receptions.
Beside 400 square foot max size, Camping Cabins cannot have indoor plumbing, and are considered Temporary Structures.
The land is Zoned for Emergency Shelters and Transitional Housing approvals Ministerially by Right, without the need for expensive Political Conditional Use Permits (CUP).
Keely Kiczenski says
Thanks so much for this comprehensive story. I work at the Transitional Storage Center mentioned above, run by Think Dignity and located at 252 16th St downtown. Small correction – we have 96 bins not 130, but the rest is correct and thank you for the acknowledgement.
People may not consider how difficult it is for those on the streets to make progress when they constantly have to worry about their belongings being stolen, confiscated, or washed away in the rain. The storage center provides an incredibly helpful service for all of our strong and inspiring clients, giving them a small but safe space to hang their work clothes or store important documents.
For those interested, in addition to the TSC and mobile shower project, we hold Legal Referral and Advocacy Clinics the third Wednesday of every month from 1-2PM at the Downtown Library, 330 Park Blvd, and every Thursday *except* the first Thursday of the month from 6-7PM at St. Vincent de Paul Village (1501 Imperial ave).
Lastly, Think Dignity’s East Village cleanup is coming up on Feb. 13th, so please visit ThinkDignity.org for details if you’d like to help out. We deeply appreciate all of our volunteers and donors! And thanks again John for helping give our unhoused neighbors a voice.
Daniel Beeman says
Great article, Thanks John! For two years I tried to move “SafeZone(s)” http://www.mediafire.com/view/1bcm4uzeoumljmn/SafeZoneProjAppeal.odt
to help homeless Veterans sleeping in vehicles. But no government agency or council/board was interested in helping it out or even legalizing a “SafeZone” for homeless Vets with vehicles. Mr. Cohn of the Cohn restaurant group seemed interested, but I didn’t have the other pieces in place to use his help.
I’ve gone through a bad struggle with depression for over a year now. Luckily I have affordable housing-sect.8. But my fight and will have real diminished.
P.S. It is great to see so many groups coming together to finally help some homeless. Rather than just trying to get a tax deduction for donating money or cars(dude, what homeless couldn’t use a car!?!) to fund programs that never really solve the homeless problem.