By Jack Doxey / Veterans For Peace
When I pick up people at the San Diego Airport, I enjoy watching their reaction as they see, for the first time, the San Diego skyline. Most are impressed with the breathtaking views at night. The bright lights shine like beacons; especially the Emerald Shapely Building with its elegant architecture and its emerald green sparkling lights. San Diego is, indeed, a beautiful city.
However, there is more to the city than meets the eye. San Diego, for me, conjures up memories of the movie The Wizard of Oz in which Dorothy and her newfound friends skip along the yellow brick road and although they get to visit the castle and the wizard himself, they never get to the Emerald City because it is illusionary. It does not exist.
I belong to a group called the Veterans For Peace and we often walk at night handing out sleeping bags to people who are unsheltered and have little more than a thin blanket to keep them warm. The unsheltered might be sleeping next to buildings that are lit up all night, but they are denied the dignity of having a place to use a bathroom. They are treated as outcasts. This is not the Emerald City. It is a city where the stark contrast between wealth and poverty is alarming and tragic.
We are a city of conventions and a place where people like to come and enjoy themselves. Do not think that visitors do not notice. Here is what a foreign visitor; Mr. Jonathan Clark of Auckland New Zealand had to say in an article in the San Diego Union Tribune:
“I visited San Diego last week for an electrical engineering conference and exhibition.
As I walked from my hotel on Ash Street to Sunday mass, I was taken aback with the number of shelterless people packing up their meager belongings. It struck me as unacceptable for the wealthiest nation on the planet to present this image to a foreigner who admires the wealth that the US has been blessed with.”
Isn’t it sad and embarrassing that a foreigner, such as Mr. Clark, felt compelled to shine a revealing light on our city in an attempt to shame it into taking action?
According to the Regional Task Force on the Homeless, the number of unsheltered individuals in San Diego County is currently estimated to be 5615 individuals. There are approximately 3231 unsheltered in the city of San Diego. This has become a source of embarrassment for the city. In an effort to make the city attractive to convention visitors and tourists, the city, on a regular basis, forces the homeless to pick up their few possessions and move to a different location.
Some years ago, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) won a suit against the city of San Diego for confiscating and destroying the meager belongings of the homeless. In many cases these belongings consisted of small amounts of money, pictures of family and loved ones, and in some cases prescription medicines. The ACLU won the suit and the city of San Diego was instructed to provide some storage boxes for the poor that would ensure that what little the homeless have in personal belongings can be safeguarded.
The city of San Diego has the potential to become that wonderful mythical, Emerald City that we all fondly conjure up in our minds. San Diego is blessed with wonderful weather and the ocean at our very back door. So, as a city what else do we need to become a real Emerald City? I suggest that our city council members watch the movie, the Wizard of Oz and pay particular attention to the Tin Man because he kept searching for a heart. We know that our fair city has one and all we need to do is go about rediscovering it.
Let us put aside our play toys such as “Soccer City” and the “Convention Expansion” project and seek out the many dedicated individuals and organizations that have created a groundswell of activity in their efforts to urge the city to take dramatic, innovative steps to end the very serious homeless situation in our home town.
I just know we have enough heart to do it. I got my ear to the ground and I already can hear Dorothy skipping down San Diego’s very own yellow brick road.
The San Diego Chapter of “Veterans For Peace” is dedicated to promoting peace and supporting veterans. In the year 2010 we decided to help the homeless by providing sleeping bags and rain gear. When distributing these items we became painfully aware of the countless number of homeless, not only veterans but other men, women and in some cases entire families shivering in the cold and rain. We solicited donations to help promote this project, now called the Compassion Campaign, and to date have distributed 3000 sleeping bags to the homeless in our city. If you would like to support us in this work go to www.sdvfp.org to make a donation.