Give Me Shelter!
July 31, 2018

Over the past several years, LA5’s special mission and passion has been to learn about and help alleviate homelessness. In his remarks, Past President Jose Vera noted how the club supports dedicated homeless service organizations through our Fast Five grants, and has had many speakers keeping us informed on the situation. Given our base in downtown LA, essentially ground zero, the crisis surrounds us; given our mission of service, we continue to address it.

On Friday July 27 Rotary 5 welcomed a true hero in the effort to fight homelessness, Gordon Walker. Introducing July 27’s speaker Gordon Walker, Matt Ball club Vice President of Programs overviewed Mr. Walker’s professional background in banking and real estate development, his Harvard MBA, and how perhaps unlikely he became involved in and successfully combatted homelessness in Salt Lake City. 

He began by naming the top 4 U.S. cities for homelessness, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle and San Diego; San Francisco, he said has lost control of its streets. And while legal action was taken to clean up encampments in Orange County, there is no political will to build shelters.

As the new CEO of the San Diego Regional Homeless Task Force (RHTF), Mr. Walker presented the latest efforts he and the non-profit are undertaking to improve the situation in San Diego County. In January 2017, RTFH formally merged with the regional Continuum of Care (CoC), a consortium of representatives tasked with strategic planning and resource coordination. Leveraging collective strengths to strengthen its impact RTFH has become a singular organization with a singular goal: to end homelessness in the San Diego region.

He noted that San Diego was at a tipping point when he arrived there a year ago. RHTF approached the situation by segmenting the homeless population: chronically homeless (a year or more, many with debilitating conditions), youth, veterans and families. They assessed that different people have different issues and needs for service, and proceeded from that point.

RHTF staff worked to build trust among the population, getting to know each person and their needs then working to find the best solution. Initial emphasis focuses on the continuum of care approach; that is, getting people off the street, whether into regular housing through vouchers, temporary shelters, or housing with services.

Mr. Walker explained that three elements must be in place to successfully combat homelessness, improve lives and ensure the quality of life in the community. Those are: political will; collaboration, cooperation and commitment of political and civic leaders; and, for all of us, compassion for homeless individuals even engaging with them one on one.

He emphasized that the evidence is clear that keeping homeless people on the street through neglect, lack of action or other reasons, is far more expensive then housing them due to their demand for public services.

These practical approaches can lead to success but it takes all of us to be involved to pressure and work with elected officials to make this a community and humanitarian priority.