Over the years, the existence of a food operation called “drive-by” in San Diego – a temporary arrangement in which groups distribute food to homeless people – has been be criticized as a meaningful effort but ultimately dangerous. But now that these efforts have been widely eliminated amid the closure of the coronavirus virus, the homeless San Diegans will starve and nonprofits are considering how they step to fill the gap.
For decades, church groups and volunteers have gone to the East Village and other areas with dense homeless populations to distribute sandwiches, burritos and other fast food. Many often appear on the same day – expressing a lack of coordination that frustrated advocates. Others come down for more impromptu reasons – or even just take burgers for the homeless.
Many restaurants, coffee shops, and individuals also surreptitiously hand over fast food or drinks to the homeless San Diegans they meet in their neighborhood.
District and state orders to remain at home and close down many businesses during the pandemic changed overnight – and the San Diegans homeless people immediately felt the pain.
“I see my loved ones dying of hunger,” Brian Schultz, who usually lives near the San Diego River, told me earlier this week.
Replicating the unorganized network on which Schultz and other San Diegans are homeless is not easy.
Non-profit organizations that continue to serve food regularly – now packaged according to the corona virus directives – are rushing to adjust their existing operations to fulfill the new mandate. Many institutions also wrestle with how to maintain the operation because some staff and volunteers are forced to stay at home.
And food banks, often seen as resources for large-scale food distribution, are not ready to overcome the crisis themselves.
The San Diego Food Bank, for example, has historically distributed food that requires preparation – canned goods that need to be opened, packaged goods that need heating – and those who live on the streets have no place or supplies to prepare them.
“We basically give people groceries. We don’t take it out of the way,” said Food Bank CEO Jim Floros. “We don’t open cans.”
Both Floros and San Diego Feeding CEO Vince Hall said they would be willing to try to further improve and adjust their offer to try to help overcome the hunger crisis that occurred in the streets of San Diego, but said they needed to partner with homeless service providers to get food out to people who live on the streets and canyons.
“Much of our approach to tackling hunger lies in charity networks and faith-based organizations that operate programs at the environmental level, and that includes homeless service agents,” Hall said.
Amanda Schultz Brochu, senior program director at the San Diego Hunger Coalition, said her organization was consulting with the food and kitchen bank to assess the support they needed to meet the district’s exploding food needs.
In the coming days, Schultz Brochu said that the Hunger Coalition plans to try to contact more than 500 food pantry operating outside the venue that ranges from church cabinets to community clinics to understand how they have been affected by coronaviruses and assess how they can adjust to respond.
“In many ways, we rely on our partners to share with us what they see and how they need to shift,” Schultz Brochu said. “We do everything we can to get them resources, and information and best practices, and help them think creatively about how to change and how to connect with people.”
Meanwhile, he said, the San Diegans homeless may be able to more quickly access food sources with the recently streamlined C.alThe application process for fresh food stamps or by appearing on one county family resource center, where staff are limited posted outside to retrieve the application.
Some groups have tried to do more to directly deliver food to homeless San Dieless.
The Duwara Awareness Foundation, the Living Water Church of Nazarene and Our City Choir Choirs – all of which operate in the Eastern Village – are among those who have dramatically ramped up their offer.
Jonathan Castillo, chief regional official for PATH, said nonprofit homeless outreach workers have begun taking non-perishable food items such as peanut butter and some food to camps in central San Diego, East County and along the San Diego River within a few weeks As a last food resource has been destroyed.
“We conduct outreach to ensure we are connected to as many people as possible to ensure they are well informed and provide as much food as we can,” Castillo said. He said nonprofits mapped individuals and camps to ensure they could continue to bring food to them.
Alpha Project’s CEO, Bob McElroy, whose organization has been used together move the client where he lives to the sanctuary of the Convention Center the past few weeks, said he began asking workers to take excess fast food and other items not eaten at the Convention Center to camps in National City, Chula Vista and Hillcrest after learning about the food gap from the Voice of San Diego.
Other non-profit organizations have banded together to maintain their existing services.
Pastor Joe’s village has continue to serve daily food on the East Village campus as a pandemic has increased and Third Avenue Charitable Organization – best known as TACO – has also been continue serving food downtown twice a week.
But all these efforts cannot immediately fill the gaps created by the loss of the popping operation.
Castillo suggested that a group of “important volunteers” who work together with nonprofit organizations could provide efforts that have already had an opportunity.
Jim Lovell, executive director of TACO, questioned whether nonprofit or local government agencies could hold groups – perhaps virtually – who previously distributed food to the homeless San Diegans to see if they might want to reconfigure their efforts to distribute food safely during the pandemic.
“The volunteer must feel like, ‘Take me back there,'” Lovell said. “I would think if there was a packaged way of saying -‘ this [practice] provide security across the board ‘- there may be several groups who are willing to return. “
McElroy agreed that a collective discussion on how to get food for the homeless who needed San Diegans was very important.
“Who will get it out there?” she says. “Maybe we should all go around the table and talk about it.”
If the conversation continues, eternal debate about whether to offer free food to homeless people – and the best format for that service – is likely to reappear.
Deacon Jim Vargas, CEO of Father Joe’s Villages, has long advocated against temporary street-level operations and instead believes food services should be linked to other homeless services.
He is one of the local service providers who has long said street feeding can prevent homeless people from seeking other services or interacting with those who might provide them.
Vargas said this week he believed food operations related to services remained the best approach during the coronavirus pandemic because cities, counties and Regional Task Force were in a hurry to homelessness to provide more housing opportunities, including at the Convention Center.
“Now is the time when we can really take advantage of the fact that people are looking for those resources and say,” OK, we have them for you. We have it for you at the convention center, ” said Vargas. “And I think it will be better for them in the long run.”
Lisa Halverstadt writes about city and district governments in San Diego. He welcomed tips and story questions. Contact him directly at [email protected] or 619.325.0528.
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