Homeless Crisis Gets Attention In San Diego City Attorney Race

San Diego's homeless crisis has become a growing priority on the local political scene, and now it's finding a big niche in the race for city attorney.

With Prop. 47 turning greater numbers of low-level prison inmates back into society, all too many are winding up on the streets -- some with chronic substance abuse and mental issues.

The prosecutor who's running to succeed Jan Goldsmith is offering a plan to tackle those challenges.

"Make no mistake, we are not going to incarcerate our way out of this problem -- that's not the goal, that cannot work,” says Deputy District Atty. Robert Hickey.

“But what we can do is create that incentive for people who have drug abuse needs, mental health needs when they touch the criminal justice system, to get them into the right programs."

When Mike Aguirre was city attorney in 2006, he stopped prosecuting people for sleeping in public, citing constitutional grounds.

But bringing in social service agencies and providing pathways for misdemeanor defendants to work with law enforcement is something that's since begun to gain traction.

The city attorney's community courts program also is making inroads in low-level cases.

“What we’d be doing,” Hickey told NBC 7 in an interview Friday, “is dedicating a deputy city attorney to marshaling all the potential service providers in the programs that we can funnel the homeless into when they touch the criminal justice system.”

Two other candidates in the race say they'd also prioritize comprehensive approaches to the problem.

"Our veterans population is very large here in the community, it’s actually grown in the last several years, and that’s a problem,” says Gil Cabrera, an attorney in private practice who serves on the Convention Center board of directors, “and then the community that has mental health issues as well. We want to make sure they are getting the programs they’re able to get that are already out there for them, and that we are driving them to the right resources."

Said attorney Rafael Castellanos, a San Diego Port commissioner: "We really need to increase the stock housing in the region. We need a city attorney with some land use and real estate development experience to help the city streamline the services and help get these units to market faster. That will help all of the housing situation and the units available for the homeless."

Meantime, the fourth candidate in the race, chief deputy city attorney Mara Elliott, could not be reached Friday for her perspective on the issue.

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