i’m tired of the bums in san diego

I like to think I’m pretty up to speed on homelessness, at least in San Diego. I did some reporting on it earlier in my life. I know that the bums holding up signs represent a small fraction of the “homeless” population. I also know that people end up homeless through a variety of mechanisms: some self inflicted, some by no fault of their own, some by a mental health problem, and many by a sticky and re-enforcing combination.

Smelling like urine and feces, a shoe-less man in a thong stumbles around downtown on Park Ave in downtown San Diego. Photo is from on my walk home, yesterday.

As a lower-rung-but-on-the-ladder emergency medicine guy, I can see the physical hardships that create and exacerbate illness and disease for those lacking proper shelter. Check it yourself one day: the next time you have the flu and feel like absolute shit, go spend your night under a bridge with roaches crawling about, people walking past your head, and a constant threat of violence about.

The last number I heard from a member of the Alpha Project was that roughly 5% of homeless are bums. That’s not hard science, but it’s what I heard quoted from people who’ve worked directly in the homeless services world for decades here in San Diego. And before you freak out on my use of “bum”, let’s use the official definition:

In San Diego there are roughly 9,000 homeless people as of 2016. Particularly awesome for us living and working near downtown is that the vast majority of San Diego homeless also live right in my neighborhood.

C Street, as it passes underneath the Interstate 5 bridge. Golden Hill, San Diego, California. Photo is a sidewalk that I walk twice a day to and from work. My kids walk it too and hold their noses at the putrid smell of urine and feces.

But I’m tired of the god damn bums.

I’m tired of seeing a tweaker with his pants half off, on my sidewalk in front of my home, with his penis hanging out, and his filthy bag of belongings next to him.

Worse, I’m tired of not even being bothered anymore. As a first responder, I hate having to turn a blind eye to it and not care about an unresponsive person on the ground. I hate knowing that there is nothing I can medically do for this person because they have so many untreated conditions and existing constantly in a dangerous environment.

And they are threats. Don’t think so? How about you let your six your old daughter walk around by herself next to some of these guys. She has a right to walk around her city more than they have a right to shit on my sidewalk, contribute nothing to our economy, and function as a literal parasitic organism.

Want me to volunteer on an effective team to right this problem? I’m in. Want to raise my taxes so an effective and results-proven program can be put in place to effectively remedy this stain on our society? I’m in.

But San Diego won’t do that. The County Board of Supervisors, who really this problem should be addressed by, doesn’t care in any practical sense. They manage health and human services, for which homelessness is about as dead-center in their court as possible. But, the actual problem is in the metro area, and the suburbanites who stay relatively insulated in their lives throughout the county aren’t about to cough up money to solve someone else’s problem.

People “care” about homeless in the same way they “care” that every minute of every day a child in Africa dies from malaria. That is to say that they don’t care, of course. Not in a material sense where it will cause action.

And in an extremely sad and grown up way, I get it that we can only care so much. There’s so much horrible shit going on this world is just impossible to care about all of it, let alone try to get anything done and have some enjoyment along the way before you die.

So we can get into existential arguments and get super wonky with policy initiatives. We can debate this all night long.

And while we’re having that debate, there’s probably some bum on spice taking a shit on my sidewalk or trying to break into my truck. So sorry for being a little selfish but I’d like to just step out of this problem now. Someone else can spend $2,000/month in rent to live like this: have fun.