Atkins to lead forum on homeless

By Yahairah Aristy and Jeff Benesch | La Mesa Foothills Democratic Club

As homelessness continues to be one of San Diego County’s greatest public policy humanitarian challenges, there’s a big opportunity for local Democrats to learn more about the issue. The Nov. 1 meeting of the La Mesa Foothills Democratic Club (LMFDC) will feature a keynote presentation by Sen. Toni Atkins at 7 p.m. in the La Mesa Community Center, 4975 Memorial Drive.

The plight of the homeless, the hepatitis A outbreak, housing and health solutions and recent legislation to fund and address the problem, will be the focus of the senator’s talk and the all-star forum to follow. Sen. Atkins will address SB-2, the Building Homes and Jobs Act, her recently signed Senate bill to create a permanent source of funding for affordable housing, and specifically designed to bring relief to struggling families and individuals.

Sen. Toni Atkins will discuss SB-2, a bill she sponsored that creates funding for affordable housing. (Courtesy LMFDC)

“Homelessness has become a humanitarian crisis in many areas of California, and my home city of San Diego has been hit hard. There’s far too much suffering on our streets,” Atkins said. “SB-2 will help by providing desperately needed funding for permanent housing with supportive services to stabilize people who are living with significant medical or mental-health issues.”

The forum to follow Sen. Atkins will be composed of local homeless advocates, office holders, and a media representative who has provided outstanding coverage of the issue for years.

Among the participants will be an outspoken leader of homelessness issues in our community, Michael McConnell. He serves on multiple local and regional homelessness advisory committees and has been an active member of the Regional Task Force on the Homeless (RTFH), an organization that engages stakeholders in a community-based process that works to end homelessness. At RTFH, he served on committees that focus on system modeling, data analysis and resource allocations.

Since 2009, McConnell has directed all of his philanthropy and volunteer time to solving homelessness. Inspired by witnessing the plight of the large population of homeless people near his Downtown San Diego home, he also shares a personal connection through his brother’s mental illness, a disease shared by many homeless individuals.

As the San Diego team leader for “25 Cities,” a national initiative to end homelessness, he led efforts to create the necessary tools to ultimately end veteran and chronic homelessness in the region. A thought leader on the topic, Michael has presented at conferences across the country, including the National Alliance to End Homelessness Conferences. He organizes regional summits and is a regular presence at community meetings.

If you have followed local media coverage of the politics and the shortcomings of local governmental efforts to curb homelessness and the hepatitis A outbreak in San Diego County, and there’s been a plethora of good reporting by many outlets, you’ve probably noticed the Voice of San Diego’s leadership on the issue, most notably by Lisa Halverstadt.

Halverstadt is an investigative reporter for Voice of San Diego, who’s written extensively about San Diego’s homelessness and hepatitis A crises. She also writes about nonprofits and regional progress in addressing important local causes such as Balboa Park’s needs. She previously headed up VOSD’s Fact Check efforts and embarked on weeks-long explanatory projects about topics as diverse as SeaWorld’s San Diego footprint and the region’s drone industry.

LMFDC draws members from San Carlos, Allied Gardens, Del Cerro, La Mesa, the College Area, Santee, Mt. Helix, Casa de Oro, and other nearby communities. We meet the first Wednesday of every month. Meetings begin at 6:30 p.m. with snacks and socializing, followed by the program at 7 p.m. Visit and like us on Facebook for more information.

—Yahairah Aristy is president and Jeff Benesch is vice president of programming for the La Mesa Foothills Democratic Club. Reach them at

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