It is quite difficult to take the first step towards homelessness if there is a warrant – even a minor one – over your head.
The District Attorney’s Office hosted a one-of-a-kind homeless awareness event on Saturday morning at Imperial Beach to help homeless people get rid of minor tickets, get ID cards and start a new one. life.
The 50 or so homeless people who attended the event at the Imperial Beach Neighborhood Center were able to take a hot shower, a meal and a COVID-19 vaccination.
“We have identified many barriers to exiting homelessness when people are ready,” said Martin Arias, deputy director of prevention and intervention programs at the district attorney’s office.
Arias said many homeless people have minor infractions – loitering, stolen shopping carts – which can be a barrier to getting help. The event included attorneys from the San Diego City Attorney and Public Defender’s offices, as well as a duty judge, to have the warrants withdrawn.
Arias said the goal was also to enroll participants in the county’s homeless court, which helps eliminate petty crimes by participating in different treatment, life-learning and counseling programs.
A 57-year-old man at the event, who said he had been intermittently homeless for 17 years, said he was not making enough money from disability checks to get off the streets. Michael, who declined to give his last name, said he previously worked in steel framing on downtown buildings but suffers from heart disease that prevents him from working.
He said not all homeless people are the same and shouldn’t be painted with a wide brush.
“A lot of them aren’t as bad as you think they are,” he said. “Many will give you the shirt on their back.”
Josie Hamada, of the Imperial Beach Women’s Club, said the town is a small community where everyone knows each other. She said it was important for the community to come together to help those less fortunate.
“Each homeless person has their own story,” she said.
Homeless participants received an assembly line of services. They first entered the neighborhood center and received food, then directed to showers after eating. Afterwards, they could choose from the donated clothes and then go to a separate room for legal services.
The room featured lawyers from the three agencies who could consult the files. Organizers said many attendees were unaware they had arrest warrants. Then the Department of Motor Vehicles set up a station to issue ID cards because many participants did not have any ID. Outside, they had the option of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine from nurses on site.
Matthew Wechter, a deputy public defender, said the hope is that organizations can come together again to host similar events across the county.
The Imperial Beach Neighborhood Center is a non-profit organization founded in 2018 by The United Methodist Church at its location after years of declining membership. John Griffin-Atil, executive director of the center and former pastor of the church, said the center is a way for the remaining members to be of service to others.
“Every person deserves dignity and respect,” Griffin-Atil said. “It’s in the DNA of a church to help those on the margins.”