Opinion: Hospitals Shouldn’t Release Homeless Back onto The Streets

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A homeless man in downtown San Diego. Photo by Chris Stone

By Anne Rios

A woman fights back tears as she describes how staff at a San Diego hospital dismissed her pleas to help a homeless man — confused and still in his hospital gown — who had been discharged from the hospital with nowhere to go as the night turned cold. The hospital’s reply was just as icy: Don’t you know there are too many to help?

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Hours later, the 45-year old man was dead, found at base of the Washington Street Bridge in Hillcrest.

For more than a decade, Think Dignity has been serving homeless people on the streets of San Diego. Currently I am troubled that the surge of homelessness our city and state have seen has been met with less compassion when what we need is more. There are more calls to arrest those whose only crime is being human without a home, and more people caught in a cycle between hospitals and the streets.

Across California, homeless service agencies report having patients dumped at their doorsteps by hospitals, still wearing ID bracelets or even IV tubes. They arrive by Uber or even ambulance; some are told there is a bed waiting for them, only to learn the shelter is already overflowing. It makes no sense to expect people who are medically fragile to get well while on the streets.

That’s why Think Dignity is asking our state legislators to pass Sen. Ed Hernandez’ Senate Bill 1152, which requires hospitals to coordinate with homeless service providers before delivering a homeless person to their doorstep. The bill would ensure that providers are equipped to accommodate the patient’s medical needs, and not be forced into the position of turning a sick or vulnerable person away.

Anne Rios

Hospitals say they aren’t responsible for creating the homelessness crisis, and the real solution to homelessness is more homes. They’re right. The economic and social forces driving the crisis of homelessness are enormous, and we know the bold solutions needed will take time to eliminate a problem that’s been building for decades. But we cannot allow institutions responsible for keeping our communities healthy to point fingers while people die. Hospitals must act responsibly and compassionately.

As the leading homeless services provider in the San Diego area, Think Dignity knows that small acts of humanity make a big difference. As Hepatitis A spread through homeless camps, we delivered showers and hygiene. Our “Street Boutique” offers menstrual pads and incontinence supplies. Our “Street Cafe” fills empty stomachs as well as hearts with nutritious foods. If hospitals work to ease the transition between in-patient care and shelter or housing, they can prevent more suffering and possibly even save lives.

Fixing the homelessness crisis won’t be easy, but it must start with recognizing that we are all human, whether or not we have a place to call home. SB 1152 means expecting hospitals to do their part.


Anne Rios is executive director and managing attorney of Think Dignity, a San Diego nonprofit that provides services to the homeless.

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