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  • Writer's pictureJosh Taylor

San Diego's homeless problem and what we can do to help

San Diego's is a desirable place to live. But this city has a complicated side to it, with over 8,000 homeless individuals highlighting a stark contrast between wealth and homelessness.

The causes of homelessness are multifaceted. Expensive housing, unemployment, poverty, low wages, mental illness, substance abuse, and domestic abuse create a perfect storm, leaving thousands without shelter. Mental illness, in particular, significantly contributes to homelessness. Insufficient services exacerbate the problem, as the lack of necessary resources further destabilizes individuals.

Efforts to address homelessness are in motion. The San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless (RTFH) leads initiatives to alleviate the crisis. Emergency shelters, trailers, and tents have provided temporary refuge for unsheltered individuals. However, these are short-term solutions. A more profound change is necessary.

Long-term strategies involve education and training. San Diego Continuing Education (SDCE) offers career pathways to equip homeless individuals with skills for sustainable employment. Collaboration with organizations like the San Diego Rescue Mission (SDRM) amplifies the impact. These initiatives not only provide practical training but also restore dignity and hope.

The homeless population's diversity reflects the city's demographics. White, black, Hispanic, and Asian individuals compose a varied mosaic. While most are male, veterans and families constitute notable portions. Shockingly, youth under 18 make up nearly 20% of the homeless population.

The COVID-19 pandemic aggravated the crisis. Unemployment surged, raising housing barriers. Homeless individuals faced heightened vulnerabilities, with limited access to resources. The correlation between COVID-19 and alcoholism magnifies their risk. Homeless individuals' health disparities emphasize the urgency for comprehensive solutions.

Financing the fight against homelessness requires substantial investment. San Diego has committed $630 million in two years. Majority funding is channeled into housing initiatives and support services, such as mental health and addiction rehabilitation programs. However, the magnitude of the problem demands continued and expanded efforts.

What you can do to help.

1) Donate Basic Items

Shelters and organizations always welcome donations of cash, groceries, and clothes, but there are ways to customize what you give. First, ask the shelter what they need most. Second, consider the time of year, and donate summer clothes in the warmer months, or winter clothes when it’s cold. Think about donating toiletries or personal products, including bras, underwear, and socks.

2) Cook & Serve A Meal

At places like Feeding San Diego, you can volunteer to cook a meal for homeless guests. Taking the time to help prepare and serve a meal means so much to someone who is staying at the shelter. When you reach out with compassion and a servant’s heart, you not only provide a meal but a feeling of hope during a difficult time.

3) Donate Professional Skills

Everyone has talents and skills they could donate to help people experiencing homelessness. Direct service providers may be able to use their unique skills to help shelters or individuals. This includes plumbing, accounting, carpentry, fundraising, legal, medical, dentistry, child care, counseling, tutoring, or mentoring.

4) Job Opportunities

Encourage your company, school, or place of worship to hire people experiencing homelessness. Most unemployed homeless adults desperately want to work, but need an employer to give them a chance. That hand-up could be exactly what someone needs to help them rebuild their life.

5) A Simple Smile

Making eye contact, saying a few kind words, or smiling can reaffirm the humanity of a person at a time when homelessness seems to have stripped it away. This small gesture takes but a moment, but has a lasting positive impact.

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