From the third-story art studio in which he has painted for 20 decades, George Mullen has experienced an unobstructed view of the rising homeless population in downtown San Diego.
“As the years went on, it has gotten dramatically worse downtown,” the native San Diegan said from Studio Revolution in the historical Agents Construction. “One evening I was driving downtown, and I thought, ‘This is completely insane. What’s the city direction doing here? ”’
Mulllen, who’s in the investment business besides being an artist, said that he reached a breaking point late last year after he handed the sprawling homeless encampment around 17th Street and Imperial Avenue.
In February, he and Brian Caster, CEO of A1 Self Storage, wrote an opinion piece to The San Diego Union-Tribune that suggested using large industrial tents to temporarily house the displaced near Brown Field in Otay Mesa. Initially suggested as Camp Hope, the thought now is named Sunbreak Ranch.
The proposal gained some traction, and fans of the idea comprise Jerome’s Furniture Chairman Jerry Navarra, Metropolitan Airpark CEO Charles Black, the East Village Residents Group, Jacobs Center for Innovation chairmen Norm Hapke Jr. and Val Jacobs Hapke, Serving Hands International and former San Diego City Attorney Casey Gwinn.
But the proposal also has generated some confusion, as a similar but substantially different idea was indicated by San Diego Padres Managing Partner Peter Seidler and Paradigm Investment Group spouse and chain restaurant operator Dan Shea.
Proponents of both have similar motives and arguments. Permanent home for all is needed, they agree, but that solution is years away, and there’s a crisis that should be addressed now to help the 9,100 local homeless people, such as 5,600 who were unsheltered in last January’s point-in-time count.
The disagreement comes in where the tents should be located and how they need to be funded. Seidler and Shea assert the tents should be in different locations, helping the homeless where they already are and close services. They also believe that the tents can be funded through philanthropists, plus they already have commitments from fans to finance two tents, which maintain 250 people each.
Mullen, that sees funding as the responsibility of the city and county, argues that putting tents in different places are going to be a hard sell politically.
“In theory it creates a lot of sense,” he explained about the multi-site approach. “Why don’t we talk about the load in most of the districts? But what’s going to occur is that the council individual will get annihilated in the next elections. I have trouble seeing it get done.”
Neither proposal has gone before the City Council or been discussed at city or county committee, however Seidler and Shea do appear to be outpacing Mullen and Caster in promoting the thought.
Mullen has been comparatively quiet in publicly discussing Sunbreak Ranch because his op-ed bit and he has not met with city or county officials. Seidler said he has met with several officials, attends regular symposiums on homelessness at the University of San Diego, and presented the program at a summit with Shea last month at USD.
Still, Mullen is confident there will be public assistance for Sunbreak Ranch, and said he believes people also would support a modest tax increase to finance it — despite the need to get a two-thirds majority needed for approval, if it goes on the ballot.
“There has to be that the will, and also in the public there’s a will to do something like this,” he said, adding that he is disappointed that elected officials haven’t come forward to endorse it.
Mullen envisions Sunbreak Ranch as a place that’s remote enough that it won’t intrude on citizens and businesses, but nevertheless near services. The city-owned property near Brown Field fits the bill. It is 13 miles away from the 17th Street encampment and Father Joe’s Villages.
Mullen said Sunbreak Ranch wouldn’t be a place to warehouse displaced folks, but instead would offer a place where they can meet with specialist service suppliers who can help them with long-term healing. Having authorities and nonprofit agencies provide services is also a part of the Seidler-Shea tent program.
“Why would not we try to actually help our displaced brothers and sisters, get them from the dreadful downtown on-the-street situation or in the canyons, and get them in a clean, secure environment to help turn their lives around?” He explained. “Somewhere you can go take a deep breath without having a drug dealer or gang member or automobiles speeding by like you watch on 17th Street.”
While Mullen said he believes Sunbreak Ranch is your ideal approach to find homeless people off the street in the near future, he is open to other locations and ideas. He also is not compared to Seidler’s and Shea’s proposal, and only hopes some action is taken soon to help the thousands of individuals on the street.
“We have different ideas, and that is all good,” he explained. “Whatever functions is perfect, if it functions.”