Guest Editorial: Time to think outside the box in homeless ‘plight flight’

By Dave Schwab

India, as we all know, has had a rigid social caste system over time. But it’s sad to realize that, here in the States, yes, right here in America’s Finest City, we too have a caste system.

We even have “untouchables.” In our culture, those untouchables are called “homeless.”

They live in squalor on the streets of our Downtown, without even decent sanitary facilities, not even portable toilets. And some people complain that it looks bad, and the smell is bad. No kidding?

I applaud that a dialogue is continuing — and intensifying — about what can be done about homelessness.

Here are a couple of my own meager suggestions to toss into the mix if anybody’s listening.

First, I think since there is already a homeless ’burgh Downtown with people camping out on sidewalks, that we should find space(s) that could be designated for the homeless. Then we could begin moving them into these areas voluntarily.

Maybe you could have tents and simple shower facilities and portable toilets, things to take care of their basic human needs. Perhaps you might even have some social service contacts there, or nearby.

Second, I would like to see homeless represented somehow in city government. Even though the homeless does not “own” property, that does not disqualify them as citizens deserving of adequate representation.

I’m not foolish enough to suggest you would create a homeless City Council district and elect a councilmember to represent them. At least not right away.

Maybe you could start out slow, maybe have a homeless “liaison” from the community who could sit in on City Council meetings, offering the homeless’ perspective. Maybe that person(s) could sit on a committee or two. Hey, maybe even housing.

I think doing these simple things would send a message to the homeless community that there is a way out, and more importantly, that people actually care about them and their plight. If we gave them a home, however modest, it would still be their place, something they could take pride in and build around.

Has homeless representation in government ever been tried anywhere else? If not, maybe it’s time for a test run.

The other day I got in a good-natured debate with someone about the homeless plight.

Their argument, which certainly is valid — though I mostly disagree with it — is that the majority of homeless are responsible for what’s caused them to be on the streets; that they want to remain there; and that society would be better off if we just beefed up law enforcement to take care of them and their problems.

That won’t get them off the street, and would just be displacing them somewhere else, not dealing with the root causes of why they’re there in the first place.

As a journalist, I have written various stories about the homeless and interviewed many of them. A year or so ago, I was introduced by a friend to several of homeless people. I asked them these questions: “What is the biggest problem confronting you? What do you fear most?”

Their answer came back loud and strong, the police.

They perceive that they are being harassed by them, and that the police are not out to help them, but to make their lives more difficult. I’m not judging this, or saying this perception is right or wrong. I’m saying that’s the perception in the homeless community toward law enforcement.

Maybe I’m just tipping at windmills … but in my view, people don’t live on the street in America’s Finest City. I think we should be stripped of that title until or unless we start getting the homeless off the streets and into permanent homes with some kind of security and stability.

I like that we’re patching potholes. That’s all well and fine, but I think we could patch a couple less potholes and put in a couple more portable toilets Downtown to begin addressing the basic human needs of San Diego’s “untouchables.”

Let’s think creatively about what we could do to patch the lives of the homeless, and return them to some sense of normalcy, whatever that is.

It almost seems like we treat pigeons in Downtown more humanely than we do our fellow man/woman. It’s time to put human back into humanity.

There, but for the grace of God I go. All of us are judged by the least of us.

One final note, though I am not a Christian and am not classically religious, I have found one truth to be self-evident: We are our brothers/sisters keepers.

—Dave Schwab is a local journalist and regular contributor to San Diego Downtown News. He can be reached at

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