Efforts to control San Diego’s homeless problem carries a significant and growing cost for the city’s taxpayers.
Financial data released by the Police Department in response to a public records act request reveals the department paid $848,362 in overtime wages for “homeless related activities” from October, 2017 to October, 2018.
Overtime costs for police have increased dramatically since the opening of the city’s homeless storage facility at 20th and Commercial streets east of downtown.
The homeless stow their belongings at the warehouse while they work, look for jobs, or get medical care and other services.
The police department spent just $1,200 on homeless-related overtime from July, 2016 to May, 2017. But after the storage facility opened in June of this year, overtime pay jumped to $87,000 that month.
Homeless-related overtime pay for police spiked to $188,000 for the month of August, and $240,000 for October.
Neighbors near the storage facility have demanded the city maintain order in their neighborhood and prevent the homeless from loitering around the building.
In response to those requests, the Mayor’s office told NBC 7 Investigates the overtime pay helped assure “a higher level of (police) service to address quality of life issues… in a half-mile radius in the surrounding neighborhood." Mayoral spokesman Greg Block said the overtime is necessary “... to avoid negatively impacting calls for service in other parts of the city.” Block said other programs for the homeless, including the Bridge Shelters and Housing Navigation Center, also require more police attention.
“Mayor Faulconer has committed to ensuring that these programs are a benefit to the communities where they (are placed), rather than a burden. That commitment includes improved safety and cleanliness around the facilities.”
Homeless advocate Michael McConnell told NBC 7 Investigates he understands and respects the concerns of residents who live near the new homeless facilities. But McConnell questioned whether $850,000 in overtime pay -- the bulk of it spent in just five months -- is worth the result.
McConnell argues that when police arrest the homeless, ticket them for minor offenses, or urge them to move away from a facility, they are simply moving the problem to another neighborhood.
"This ‘whack-a-mole’ strategy of moving people from place-to-place is very expensive, and that's taking money away from real solutions,” McConnell said. “Every time we invest a dollar, five dollars, a million dollars into band-aids, we’re not focusing on the real issue.”
McConnell said the city must invest more in housing, supportive services and trained outreach professionals to make a lasting impact on the homeless problem. “Real outreach,” McConnell said. “Professionally-trained people who are out in the streets building long-term relationships with people to get them out of homelessness, not to move them from one place to another.”