Mayor Maureen O'Connor ordered more police patrols and a cleanup campaign on city streets after spending 48 hours living among homeless people while disguised as a vagrant.
O'Connor revealed Tuesday that she got a firsthand look at San Diego's mounting homeless problem by sleeping in park alcoves and panhandling for two days during the Labor Day weekend.The mayor left home Friday dressed in old clothes and carrying a bedroll and was accompanied by two reporters and shadowed by two police guards, all dressed as indigents.
"There's no memo that could describe what I saw out there," O'Connor said in a telephone interview. "I saw poor people paying cash for heroin and homeless people who wouldn't go into shelters because they don't trust the system.
"Homelessness is more than not having housing. It's about more serious problems, like substance abuse and mental illness. And the situation is deteriorating."
As a result of her experience on the streets, believed to be the first time a big-city mayor has gone undercover as a homeless person, O'Connor said she will immediately recommend more police patrols to combat drug traffic and a cleanup campaign in the "absolutely dirty" downtown areas.
She also said short-term aid to the homeless is in plentiful supply but that sandwiches and overnight housing do not address such chronic problems as alcoholism, drug abuse and mental illness.
"I had no problem getting a free meal, a place in a shelter or job referrals," she said. "We have some wonderful networks in place, but a lot of homeless people, including families, aren't using them."
Homeless advocates complimented O'Connor, saying her experience would generate much-needed publicity and set an example for other public officials.