By Harvey L. Vaughn III
Who among us has not felt utter helplessness and despair when we witness the sight of people who are forced into homelessness? Across our city, and indeed the nation, urban sidewalks are lined with sleeping bags and tents. I am heartbroken knowing that God’s children are inside those tents, in temporary shelters, and living in parked cars and vans. With Monday being a federal holiday marking the profound historical legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., such concerns are of particular poignance.
As a pastor at San Diego’s Bethel African Methodist Episcopal church, and an advocate for social and racial justice, it doubly pains me to know that poverty and homelessness are issues that disproportionately affect communities of color. Black folks are among the hardest hit. The Homelessness Research Institute reports that African American people are five times more likely to experience homelessness than their White counterparts; the Federal Safety Net website details how the poverty rate is twice as high among African Americans as it is among White people.
We cannot effectively achieve racial justice without also addressing our city’s lack of housing that is affordable. Skyrocketing rents set by corporate landlords impact the entire community, but it is important to recognize the racial disparities at play if we are to come together and solve this problem in good faith. That is why it brings me great joy that Bethel African Methodist Episcopal church, one of San Diego’s leading African American congregations, is the first to partner with Yes in God’s Backyard (YIGBY) to break ground on a new construction project that creates housing that is affordable for formerly unhoused veterans and senior citizens.
By combining the resources and expertise of philanthropic organizations, the faith community, the private sector, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the San Diego Housing Commission, this partnership aims to address the pressing need for affordable housing available to vulnerable populations.
This multifamily project will create 26 units in a three-story complex. Sixteen will house veterans, with rents subsidized through the San Diego Housing Commission and the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing or VASH voucher program. Additionally, nine units will be allocated for seniors or additional VASH residents. The Department of Veterans Affairs will provide off-site case management and clinical services, while Brilliant Corners, a homeless housing placement provider, will identify eligible veterans and manage placement for future occupancy. The project will feature one-bedroom apartments and incorporate sustainable design elements to enhance energy efficiency. Best of all — it’s right in our backyard in Logan Heights! Residents do not need to be members of our church, and we are open to people of all faiths, or no religion at all. We are here only to serve the needs of formerly homeless veterans and the elderly. It is our duty, but also, our honor to do so.
On Friday, as San Diego began its festivities celebrating the birth of Martin Luther King Jr., we started laying the foundation for our transformative multifamily project that will offer hope and stability for our new tenants. This inaugural project reflects not only the physical groundwork, but we are also laying the belief that this endeavor is a sacred commitment to provide affordable housing. The scripture reminds us that we are God’s fellow workers. “You are God’s field, God’s building” (1 Corinthians 3:9). Together, we’re creating a foundation of faith in the power of community, compassion and dedicated individuals to make a lasting impact.
Since 1889, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal church has been committed to serving the Logan Heights community. Bethel stands strong in our mission and commitment to helping underserved members of the community, and we consider solving homelessness part of that. We know that our choices define our community, and we choose to be a leader in working toward a world where everyone has shelter. No matter what we look like, where we come from, or what is in our wallets, we all deserve a safe place to lay our heads at night.
Our region is facing a crisis that will only worsen if we do nothing. Community leaders and elected officials must continue developing creative approaches to offer housing that is affordable, including partnerships with the faith community. We are all called upon to look after one another on this Earth. Let us work together to lift up our brothers and sisters who have fallen on hard times and pray that our community cares for us and our loved ones in our times of need. When we join hands and work together, we are building more than housing; we are creating a better world.
Vaughn III is the senior pastor at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church and lives in Chula Vista.