When most people think of San Diego, they immediately think of the white sandy beaches that channel an international component, allowing many to experience a trans border adventure. It is a unique place that serves as a gateway to mountains, beaches, cities, and Mexico. However, within San Diego County there is one area, particularly, where the elements that make up “America’s Finest City” are much more concentrated, radiating a bolder “San Diego”. That area is the South Bay.
The South Bay is a dynamic area that truly embodies the fundamental elements of San Diego. The region is the most ethnically diverse in San Diego, comprised of approximately 61 percent Latino, 20 percent White, 13.2 percent Asian Pacific Islanders, and 4.1 percent African Americans. The South Bay also has the highest rate -approximately 60 percent -of residents that speak at least two languages. These numbers alone make the South Bay one of the most culturally enriched areas of San Diego. Add the border to that, and you have the potential to create a cultural oasis. And yet, the concentration of these elements has led to an extreme build-up of “costs” that often weigh heavily on South Bay residents.
For example, the residents of Imperial Beach, the Tijuana River Valley, and San Ysidro, bear the brunt of the environmental crisis that is generated at the border. They are the ones that deal with the substandard air quality that comes with having an average of 70,000 vehicles cross the San Ysidro Land Port of Entry every day. They are also faced with the sewage pollution that streams into the Tijuana River and out to the Pacific Ocean, making their beaches unsafe to swim in, and giving their air a foul smell.
Additionally, some South Bay residents deal with unstable housing due to low household incomes. More than 25 percent of the population earn less than $35,000 a year -barely enough to cover food in the 11th most expensive city in the US. All the while, an estimated 1.4 billion dollars in goods crosses the San Diego border every day. These stark extremities of wealth, pollution, and poverty in the South Bay have resulted in drastic behavioral health disparities that fundamentally diminish the standard of living for the residents.
The ones most impacted by these factors are the youth of the South Bay. According to the San Ysidro School District, over one-third of the student population -1,892 students-were considered homeless during the 2015-2016 school year. These factors, along with its geographic location have an enormous impact on behavioral health outcomes in the region. Alcohol consumption is legal at age 18 in nearby Mexico and research suggests proximity to the Mexico border has shown increased risk for underage drinking and substance misuse. While there is an existing prevention infrastructure in the region that addresses these behavioral health disparities, budget shortfalls have stripped their effectiveness and completely eliminated others. As a result, substance use has increased while at the same time prevention services delivery has diminished.
To address these shortcomings, IPS recently received a federal grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and created the project, Partnerships 4 Success (P4S). P4S is focused on identifying behavioral health disparities among the Latino population in the Southern Border Region of San Diego County. Our purpose is to explore community characteristics that may be contributing to these disparities, develop a community infrastructure that cuts across and breaks down siloed agency efforts, and build community capacity.