IVN San Diego: Father Joe Carroll Gets Candid On Homelessness

Author: Jeff Powers
Created: 02 August, 2018
Updated: 21 November, 2022
5 min read

San Diego, CA. - Visiting Father Joe Carroll at his East Village home, it doesn't take one long to recognize the pivotal role he played in elevating the issue of homelessness.

For 37 years, Father Joe walked the streets of downtown San Diego where he fed, housed, and provided lifesaving services for our community's homeless population.

Every day 3,000 men, women and children were cared for by St. Vincent de Paul and now Father Joe's Villages.

Father Joe's Villages

From his pictures with the Pope to his Congressional Medal of Society, Father Joe Carroll is more than a name, he's a San Diego institution who continues to bring heart, compassion and tough love to an issue that he says has gone from "caring, to callous."

Father Joe's Congressional Medal of Society

During our visit Father Joe shared how his three decades plus approach to homelessness was vastly different to the approach taken now, his hopes that the new convention center initiative passes in November, which should bring the homeless community a dedicated revenue stream, and shared his views about "Housing First," the Obama era HUD plan that he says is more of a developers federal subsidy pipeline than a homeless housing solution.

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Father Joe retired in 2011, a decision he now "regrets."

Check Out The Interview:


A Different Philosophy

Father Joe says his approach over three decades was markedly different than the one being employed today by the San Diego Housing Commission.

Father Joe says the differences are stark:

  • He fostered transitional housing, where the individual is not a tenant,
  • he believed in wrap around services that provide extensive mental health rehabilitation,
  • and he knew the important role of tough love. A casualty of our politically correct culture

"When I started, homelessness was a service, an agency issue, it was myself, Catholic Charities, Rescue Mission, Salvation Army, now it's become 'Easternized.' The government runs everything. The City of San Diego turned everything over to the Housing Commission who is taking the Housing First approach. It's a totally different philosophy."

Not A "Housing First" Fan

Father Joe isn't a fan of the San Diego Housing Commission's "Housing First" plan.

The San Diego Housing Commission’s homelessness plan states they will direct $79.7 million in federal, City of San Diego, and SDHC resources over the next three years into six programs that will create permanent housing opportunities for 3,000 individuals and families experiencing homelessness in the city.

"Get government out of the business of homelessness. So you can get the experts and agencies, who've spent their lives working with this population, let them run it," says Father Joe. "Don't come in with all these government regulations which are based on, if they're spending money, give them 30 days of housing and if they aren't better get 'em out. That's no way to rehabilitate a person who is homeless."

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And where is the data?

Father Joe says without understanding who the population is, how can you accurately prescribe what's best for them? "There is no study on who the homeless population is in San Diego. I would recommend USD, UCSD or SDSU commission a year long study to discover exactly who these men, women and children are, then you can produce an effective plan to address their needs."

The Hepatitis A Backstory

The Hepatitis A outbreak in San Diego resulted in the deaths of 20 people, hospitalized 406 more.

The outbreak was very real for Father Joe as his nephew, who lives with him in his East Village home, contracted the virus. He survived and is doing fine.

But it was an incident with Father Joe in 2017, at the height of the outbreak, that according to sources, finally drove the point home for elected officials that this issue was out of control and had become a huge crisis. "I was in my wheelchair and I literally could not get to my office using the sidewalk," said Father Joe, "as our neighbors (homeless population) had closed it down. So I had to maneuver into the street where I lost my balance and flipped my wheelchair, landing into a gutter. I was laying in that gutter for a good amount of time."

As the story goes, when city business leaders heard the story they were furious and immediately told public officials they were going to go public with the news.

According to IVN San Diego sources, to combat that pressure, three tents were erected in Barrio Logan, Midway and East Village.

The tents house some 700 homeless men, women and children.

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"Those tents are terrific and a real blessing for our community," says Father Joe. "I certainly hope the program is extended beyond the one year plan that expires in November. Something has to be done because I'm at the point where I think it's not solvable. We've let it spread all over town, we need to get the men off the street, period. That's why the tents are so great."

Two San Diego business leaders, Dan Shea and Peter Seidler put up $1.5m for the tents.

In April at the National Conflict Resolution Center Peacemaker Awards, Peter Seidler and Dan Shea received the Philanthropy in Peacemaking award for their efforts in raising those housing tents for the homeless.

 Yes! For A Better San Diego

Yes! For A Better San Diego will be on the November ballot.

Proponents say the initiative would raise revenue to modernize and expand the downtown convention center to drive economic growth and jobs, generate significant funding to alleviate homelessness and repair roads.

Father Joe Carroll is a supporter of the effort though he did express concern that the homeless funding will need to go through the City Council. "I do have a little concern about where the City Council will send those dollars, but overall it's a great opportunity for millions of dollars to help our community. At least, if the initiative passes, we'll be having the conversation of where the money goes, instead of I wish we had money to put for these programs and services. So, it's a step in the right direction and I'm supportive of Yes For A Better San Diego."

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Yes! For A Better San Diego Campaign