By Ben Cartwright | Back Out with Benny
A couple of weeks ago, I was attacked late at night in Hillcrest by an unhoused individual. The man asked me for a dollar, I politely declined and then he attempted to take my bag from me. When I resisted, I was pushed to the ground, and I got pretty roughed up. While the cuts and bruises have pretty much healed, my thoughts on the situation continue to fester in my brain.
My initial reaction was a feeling of shock and a deep sense of violation. While I’ve always known that Hillcrest is a busy urban neighborhood where these types of incidents happen (when I was a staff reporter I covered several stories of folks who were attacked in the neighborhood), it had never hit so close to home.
I was assaulted in the neighborhood that has been my safe place since I was 17 years old. How could this happen to me?
Then my immediate reaction was to be angry at the homeless people who are “taking over” our sidewalks. I was angry about all of the people who ask for me money each day as I walk through the neighborhood; angry at the people who hold up the line at the restroom at Starbucks; and angry that so many people don’t feel safe in the neighborhood anymore.
But then I had some time to calm down, really think it through, and remember how I really feel. I’m angry at our society for letting this happen.
I’m angry that we as a people don’t have the heart to really care about the fact that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, there are more than half a million people who live on America’s streets.
I’m angry that our political leaders at all levels don’t have the will to fix this problem; a complicated problem, but a problem that has fixes.
I remember growing up in San Diego and every year the City Council would take up the issue of the winter tent to shelter homeless people in the colder months. It was hard to believe each year that this tent wasn’t just an automatic, but had to be re-authorized each year by the council, and every single year there was fighting about where the tent would be located. Everyone said they wanted to get homeless people off the streets but no one wanted the tent in their “backyard.”
So many people are quick to hand a quarter or their leftover take-home scraps from dinner to a homeless person they pass on the street (while patting themselves on the back for doing their good deed of the month), yet should the government want to provide additional funding for homeless services many of these same people would scream, “Why should my tax dollars go to support those lazy bums?”
The city of San Diego — knowing it has had a homeless problem — has been locking and removing public restrooms for years, citing drug-dealing crime issues, but now San Diego is the talk of the nation as we grapple with a hepatitis A outbreak, at a level that has never been seen in a developed nation in modern times.
Where else did they think people would use the restroom? Power washing sidewalks with bleach has become the new norm in San Diego — but it took nearly 20 deaths and 500 illnesses for the city to wake up and even pretend to care about homelessness.
These are human beings — 70 percent of them San Diegans who lost their housing while living here because of our outrageous housing costs — and it seems like we just don’t care. Locally, after the hep A crisis woke our leaders up, some solutions have been implemented (a campground in an old city parking lot, and three temporary bridge shelters in giant tents that will be erected soon), but it’s not enough. With a few exceptions, homeless people don’t want to live on the streets, many of them have illnesses (mental, addiction, etc), and others are just down on their luck. So many of us could be just one illness, car breakdown or lost paycheck away from homelessness.
So I’m not mad anymore at the homeless person who attacked me. In fact, when I made a police report, I told the detective that should they find the individual, which is unlikely, I will not press charges. This person is probably suffering from an addiction or was just starving and wanted money, and rather than criminalize this person, I want to get him help.
And I want us all to be more compassionate and stop looking at the homeless population as “the other,” but rather as “our neighbors” who are in need of our help and support. It’s our fault that this problem exists, so it’s up to us to demand solutions from our elected officials.
Getting out with Benny
In light of the hepatitis A crisis and the upcoming flu season, The San Diego LGBT Community Center will host a free vaccination clinic on Thursday, Oct. 19, from 3-6 p.m. Everyone is welcome to get vaccinated. For more information and to RSVP, visit bit.ly/2gvKUBA.
The Center’s 45th Anniversary Gala has sold out, but there are still tickets available for the fabulous after-party, taking place on the evening of Saturday, Oct. 21, at Hotel del Coronado. The cocktail-attire after party will include music, dancing, no-host bar, mock gaming and lots of fun with hundreds of Center Supporters! For tickets, visit bit.ly/2hxXhNe.
It’s almost time for Halloween, which means Fabulous Hillcrest will produce the 25th annual Nightmare on Normal Street, on Saturday, Oct. 28, from 6-11 p.m. This fun outdoor block party includes music, dancing, cocktails, and Hillcrest’s biggest costume contest! For tickets, visit bit.ly/2kGMlS3.
— Benny Cartwright is the director of community outreach at the San Diego LGBT Community Center. He can be reached at 619-692-2077 ext. 106 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Note: Byline photo by Rob Lucas Modern Aperture Photography.