San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria announced Monday that the city would be making significant changes to how it conducts homeless camp clean-ups.
According to Mayor Gloria, the new changes were developed by the Mayor’s office and the San Diego Homelessness Strategies Department in conjunction with City Environmental Services and Neighborhood Policing departments, with significant input from those who have gone through the experience and homeless experts.
The major changes to homeless cleanup in San Diego will now include a suspension of cleanups and enforcement during inclement weather, a suspension of night cleanups, a better way to retrieve personal items collected during a cleanup, better notices for scheduled cleanup, reduction of law enforcement present at cleanups, and homeless services coordination to ensure shelter is given to those that need it. The San Diego Police Department (SDPD) will also stop issuing some citations associated with homeless individuals, while homeless services staff will save, store, and post retrieval instructions for all items recovered of value. SDPD officers will also be available to come to cleanup sites as needed despite having a reduced presence.
Mayor Gloria backed the new homeless cleanup changes to treat the homeless with more “dignity and compassion,” as well as to offer better protection against disease outbreaks such as typhus and hepatitis A and help clear sidewalks and pedestrian right of ways more efficiently.
“While the City has an obligation to make sure we don’t have another communicable disease outbreak like hepatitis A among our homeless population, we can do so with compassion and while respecting their dignity,” said Mayor Gloria on Monday. “As we work every day on solutions to connect folks to permanent housing, shelter and supportive services, these changes apply a measure of respect and compassion that will reduce the trauma for those San Diegans experiencing homelessness.”
Homeless activists and experts alike welcomed the change, but with some cautioning that more of a focus should be put on disease prevention.
“Homeless populations are, in general, more susceptible to outbreaks,” said Luis Salazar, a volunteer medic who assisted with the 2017 Hepatitis A outbreak in San Diego, as well as the COVID-19 outbreak since March 2020. “We’ve been seeing diseases like TB (tuberculosis) and typhoid start to make a comeback in recent years. Four years ago, the hep A outbreak here killed 20 people. And we’ve been trying to safely house and treat as many homeless as possible to avoid mass deaths due to COVID. These updated rules help protect a very vulnerable population from disease resurgences, especially in regards to helping give them shelter.
“Plus this ensures that belongings will be given back. We have war vets who will have medals safe, homeless with family will have pictures and electronics not thrown away, and in general doesn’t take away what little they have while also ascending to public demand for cleanups of these camps in a timely way. And all can be done on the current budget. No one really loses here.”
While some of the updated rules have already been implemented, all are expected to be in effect for the next camp cleanups.