By Jack Doxey
Veterans For Peace San Diego Chapter
When people visit San Diego for the first time, they are impressed with the breathtaking views at night. The bright lights shine like beacons; especially the Emerald Shapely Building with its elegant architecture and its emerald green sparkling lights.
However, there is more to the city than meets the eye. San Diego, for me, conjures up memories of the movie The Wizard of Oz in which Dorothy and her new found friends skip along the yellow brick road and although they get to visit the castle and the wizard himself, they never get to the Emerald City because it is illusionary. It does not exist.
The city of San Diego reminds me of Dorothy’s illusionary Emerald City What you see in San Diego is not what you get. When the city lights dim, a less attractive underside of the city emerges out of the shadows.
I belong to a group called the Veterans For Peace and we often walk at night handing out sleeping bags to people who are unsheltered and have little more than a thin blanket to keep them warm. Up until recently, the homeless were even denied the dignity of having access to public bathrooms. They are treated as outcasts. It is a city where the stark contrast between wealth and poverty is alarming and tragic.
We are a city of conventions and a place where people like to come and enjoy themselves. However, do not think that visitors do not notice. Some years ago a foreign visitor; Mr. Jonathan Clark of Auckland New Zealand wrote an article to “letters to the editor” and it appeared in the San Diego Union. Here is what he had to say:
“I visited San Diego last week for an electrical engineering conference and exhibition.
As I walked from my hotel on Ash Street to Sunday mass, I was taken aback with the number of shelterless people packing up their meager belongings. It struck me as unacceptable for the wealthiest nation on the planet to present this image to a foreigner who admires the wealth that the US has been blessed with.”
Isn’t it sad and embarrassing that a foreigner, such as Mr. Clark, felt compelled to shine a revealing light on our city in an attempt to spur us into action? According to the Regional Task Force on the Homeless, the number of unsheltered individuals in San Diego County is currently estimated to be 5615 individuals. There are approximately 3231 unsheltered in the city of San Diego. This has become a source of embarrassment for the city. In an effort to make the city attractive to convention visitors and tourists, the city, on a regular basis, forces the homeless to pick up their few possessions and move to a different location.
The San Diego Chapter of “Veterans For Peace” is dedicated to promoting peace and supporting veterans. In the year 2010 we decided to help the homeless by providing them with sleeping bags. When distributing these items we became painfully aware of the countless number of homeless, not only veterans but other men, women and in some cases entire families shivering in the cold and rain. We solicited donations to help promote this project, now called the Compassion Campaign, and to date have distributed 3300 sleeping bags to the homeless in our city.
The city of San Diego has the potential to become that wonderful mythical, Emerald City that we all fondly conjure up in our minds. San Diego is blessed with wonderful weather and the ocean at our very back door. May I suggest that we all watch, one again, the movie “The Wizard of Oz” and pay particular attention to the Tin Man because he kept searching for a heart. We know that our fair city has a kind heart. Now, all we need to do is to use it to resolve our homeless problem.
Let us talk less about “Soccer City” and the “Convention Expansion” project and seek out the many dedicated individuals and organizations that have created a groundswell of activity in their efforts to urge the city to take dramatic, innovative steps to end the very serious homeless situation in our town. Folks, we are way beyond finger pointing. I am encouraged to see our city fathers and chartable non profits and the business community start to come together in a positive, supporting way to confront and resolve probably the most crucial problem the city has ever encountered. As a San Diego citizen I am encouraged by recent developments. Let’s keep up the good work. I just know we have enough heart to do it.
I got my ear to the ground and I already can hear Dorothy, with renewed confidence, skipping down San Diego’s very own yellow brick road and this time she might truly find Emerald City.
San Diego Veterans For Peace Hugh Thompson Memorial Chapter: