SAN DIEGO —
When Michael McConnell posts on his Facebook page Homeless News San Diego or writes to his 6,000 followers on Twitter, don’t expect him to share family photos or pictures of his favorite restaurant. He’s going to share his thoughts about, yes, homelessness.
He identifies himself on his personal Facebook page as a homeless advocate first and second as a retired numismatist, a reference to his former business, La Jolla Coin Shop, which he sold a few years ago to focus more on his passion.
Once the vice president of the Regional Task Force on Homelessness, McConnell for years has operated on his own. He often speaks out against city and county policies for not doing enough to help homeless people, but also spent $370,000 of his own money to help defeat Measure C, a 2020 initiative that would have raised $2 billion for homeless programs over more than four decades and expand the Convention Center. McConnell saw the initiative as flawed and full of loopholes. The San Diego Union-Tribune recently caught up with McConnell.
Do you feel you’re making more of an impact working independently rather than with a group?
“I was on the RTFH (Regional Task Force on Homelessness) board and many other tables that work on homelessness. I found they were mostly just a lot of people talking about what to do instead of actually doing something. Currently, nobody can even point to who is in charge of the overarching effort. Now, I do more work on my own and support grassroots groups that are having more of an impact.”
How often are you out on the street, appearing before boards or doing other advocacy work?
“I try to go out on the street every day. I have also been a constant presence at city and county meetings to give public testimony over the years but mostly just use social media to advocate my position now. It is a never-ending job trying to get things moving in the right direction.”
Do you think the public has a misconception about homelessness?
“I had a misconception before I got involved so I imagine a lot of people do. The most important thing I have learned is that everyone can attain some sort of housing. Some people just need a lot more assistance than others. And when you learn how difficult our system makes it for people to be successful, it becomes clear why there are so many people living outside.”
When did you first get involved with this issue?
“I started going out in 2009 to give out supplies and speak with people living on the streets.”
What motivates you?
“At first, I just wanted to help alleviate the suffering of homeless people. And then as I learned more about solutions to homelessness, I wanted to be part of helping our city end it. Now, it’s the record number of people dying on our streets.”
After all these years, what do you think is keeping San Diego from making progress on this issue?
“Lack of leadership has been the number one reason. But the reasons go all the way down the line. There is also very little accountability on the service providers and housing agencies to spend the millions of dollars they receive to actually house more people.”
Has there been any progress on these issues?
“The city of San Diego is building out a homelessness solutions department and the County of San Diego is finally starting to make some progress in providing better mental health and substance use services. But the progress is moving at a snail’s pace.”
How can the average person help solve homelessness?
“By recognizing that homelessness is a crisis brought on by lack of affordable housing and health care, access to mental health care and substance use services. And then supporting efforts to add housing and improve services.”
There are plans to open more shelters in several areas of the county. Is that a good thing?
“Yes. Shelters, services and housing should be available in all parts of the county. People become homeless everywhere and it is much better for people to be able to stay where they are familiar and around the support systems they may already have.”
Is there any one thing the city and county should be doing more of to help homeless people?
“Housing, Housing and Housing! The only thing known to solve homelessness.”
What do you see as the most detrimental misstep that has been taken locally on this issue?
“San Diego has been stuck on Band-Aids. Much time and money has been spent on encampment sweeps and criminalizing homelessness instead of housing, substance use services and mental health care.”
Source: This post first appeared on sandiegouniontribune.com