Rethinking Homelessness in San Diego

Homelessness Community Hero Steve Binder
Deputy Public Defender Steve Binder was recently honored as Community Hero for his work to remove the legal barriers that often prevent homeless San Diegans from getting back on their feet.

Homelessness in San Diego is one of the most pressing challenges facing our region.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), San Diego has the 4th largest number of homeless people in the country. That amounts to more than 9,000 San Diegans living on the streets, as calculated by the 2017 Homeless Point-in-time Count.

On March 22, local leaders and community members came together to dive deeper into the challenges surrounding the topic and identify solutions to reduce homelessness.

The event, hosted in partnership between KPBS, National Conflict Resolution Center and the Malin Burnham Center for Civic Engagement at The San Diego Foundation, was the latest in the Community Heroes series, a program that brings diverse groups of San Diegans together to learn about and discuss our regional challenges and opportunities.

For years, homelessness in San Diego has been in the headlines as local leaders and organizations work to identify solutions to decrease the number of individuals and families living on the streets.

From the lack of affordable housing and supportive public policy, to the need for more job training and social services, there are numerous factors that impact an individual’s ability to re-enter the workforce and secure stable housing. Fortunately, there are San Diegans in all sectors addressing specific obstacles facing our homeless community.

Community Hero: Steve Binder

Deputy Public Defender Steve Binder is one such individual.

At the event on March 22, Steve was honored as the newest Community Hero for his work to remove the legal barriers that often prevent homeless individuals from getting back on their feet.

In 1989, Steve co-founded the San Diego Homeless Court Program, a place where homeless San Diegans can resolve misdemeanor criminal cases without fear of facing punishing fines or the specter of custody. The program established a new approach to traditional enforcement of the homeless.

“For many San Diegans living on the streets, being mired in the criminal justice system is an impediment to reclaiming their lives and living lawfully,” explained Steve. “Piling up convictions, such as obstructing pedestrian passage on the sidewalk, only pushes the homeless further outside of our community.”

Recognizing the challenge is both a social problem and a criminal justice problem, the San Diego Homeless Court brings prosecutors, public defenders and social service agencies together to help homeless San Diegans get back on the path toward self-sufficiency. Many of the participants are also in programs that address ongoing difficulties, such as mental health issues, substance abuse and lack of employment skills.

While homelessness remains a significant and complex challenge within the region, the San Diego Homeless Court Program is part of the long-term solution, and the Community Heroes series provides an opportunity for dialogue and action to grow among diverse groups.

Steve closed the event saying, “If we don’t really commit ourselves to finding solutions and developing the resources for not just our citizens who are homeless, but for our housed citizens, our businesses, our government and our nation as a whole, we will continue to squander our precious resources. Everyone has something to contribute.”

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