Homeless cleanup
City and contract workers sort through belongings left on the sidewalk during an enforcement sweep on Commercial Street in San Diego.(Zoë Meyers/inewsource)

Homeless encampments have taken over our sidewalks, parks and canyons. Many San Diegans are afraid to walk down public streets for fear of being accosted by a homeless person.

Recent crime data released by the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office reveals homeless individuals are up to 514 times more likely to commit crimes, and weak laws virtually prohibit police from enforcing theft, loitering, trespassing, public indecency and open drug use. So the homeless crisis continues to get worse.

Opinion logo

Homeless people have rights, but so do the citizens of San Diego. It’s time for our elected leaders to get the homeless off the streets and provide them with the help they so desperately need. No more excuses, no more explanations, no more apologies — we need to hold our elected officials accountable.

Over the last 20 years, local, state and federal government has not been able to solve the homeless crisis, often implying the situation is simply too complicated. But government has been able to successfully address other daunting challenges.

For example, NASA was able to successfully launch the James Webb telescope one million miles into space and take pictures of galaxies 13.6 billion light years away. The Department of Defense was able to develop the Global Positioning system that we use to navigate America’s roads and highways. Closer to home, public schools are able to serve 29.6 million lunches to students every day.

Yet government is not able to get an estimated 226,000 homeless, who make up less than one-tenth of a percent of the 332 million people in America, off the streets.

In the city of San Diego there are 2,307 people in shelters and 2,494 living on the streets. Throughout the county there are 8,427 homeless people with just over half in shelters. One local option is to build our way out of this crisis, but the cost to construct nearly 10,000 new units is currently prohibitive. A truly innovative solution is needed.

Elected officials and government bureaucrats frequently say that homelessness involves addressing a variety of issues, including mental health, housing, employment, drug addiction and alcoholism, so there’s no quick fix. But if astronauts can live in space, why can’t we house homeless people on Earth?

Government’s inability to get homeless off the streets is simply unacceptable. If homelessness is truly the crisis politicians say, then we need to treat it as one and solve it. We need innovative solutions that will get people who are living in tent cities the help they need to function in a society.

San Diego’s homeless population could easily double or triple in the next decade and in no time at all we could look like Los Angeles, whose homeless population is nearly 70,000.  “America’s Finest City” can do better, and our elected leaders must solve the homeless crisis now. It’s their responsibly — indeed their duty — to do so.

Mark Powell has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice administration and a master’s degree in educational counseling. He is a former reserve officer with the San Diego Police Department and president of Parents For Quality Education.