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San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

San Diego Resumes Pre-Pandemic Crackdowns on Homeless Encampments

‘The city is constantly refining our approach to the unsheltered community’

By Evan Symon, October 6, 2022 1:34 pm

The City of San Diego and the San Diego Police Department (SDPD) resumed pre-pandemic crackdowns on homeless encampments this week, with police requiring the homeless remove tents from city streets and sidewalks during daytime hours due to municipal code violations.

In recent years, the city of San Diego has made strides to reduce the homeless population with many crackdowns occurring in tourist areas, shelter space going up by 38% since 2020, and a multitude of programs being started up. However, the population has also increased significantly, with the city now having an all-time high of homeless people, especially within the downtown area. In May, a half year count even found out that due to COVID restrictions expiring, the number of homeless people in the city shot up by 10% since January.

With the homeless situation growing more dire, and many suburbs seeing record numbers as well due to spillover from within San Diego, the city began cracking down even harder. On Monday, the San Diego Municipal code for encroachment was reinforced following a two-and-a-half year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The code states, “It is unlawful for any person to erect, place, allow to remain, construct, establish, plant, or maintain any vegetation or object on any public street, alley, sidewalk, highway, or other public property or public right of way, except as otherwise provided by this Code.” While the code has been ramped up before, such as during the 2017 Hepatitis A outbreak amongst homeless people in San Diego as a public safety measure, the growing number of homeless as well as more available shelter, as well as hygienic concerns, has caused the city to once again do it.

 

“The city is constantly refining our approach to the unsheltered community, trying everything we can to get folks to accept shelter and get off the streets for good,” said Mayor Todd Gloria on Wednesday. “This policy of asking folks to take their tents down during the day I think is an effort to maintain cleanliness and hygiene in the community. It’s safety for both the unsheltered and for the sheltered community and the neighborhood.”

“As San Diegan’s got vaccinated, as we’ve had more ability to offer more services. We said we would start doing more enforcement much like we did pre-pandemic. This is a part of an expansion of those efforts to do that. We have converted more of our properties in the shelters, we have expanded citywide outreach and we’ve built hundreds of new homes that are affordable and reserved for the formally homeless. We need to encourage people to accept that help.”

According to the SDPD, while tents will be taken down during daylight hours, they can be pitched back up at night, with San Diego not having enough total shelter beds available for all the homeless of the city. Park enforcement will not fall under encroachment as well, with violators instead being cited for illegal lodging. The crackdowns are hoped by the city and SDPD to help stop encampments from forming, especially in the downtown area.

“SDPD officers will be asking individuals violating encroachment laws to voluntarily deconstruct their tents during daylight hours,” said the SDPD in a statement on Thursday. “If individuals do not wish to comply, they may be subject to enforcement, which always comes with an offer of services and shelter.”

“The City has taken this action in the past, following the Hepatitis A outbreak. Given the recent rise in encampments across the city and the risk they pose to health and safety, the City will resume asking individuals to take down their structures. The goal is to clear public rights of way, ensure no health and safety hazards can accumulate over time and ultimately, encourage folks to accept shelter and services.”

“This action is an extension of the Mayor’s direction in early June to step up enforcement of laws against blocking the sidewalk. Homelessness is a fluid situation, and we’re always evaluating our directives based on changing dynamics. It’s not appropriate for people to live on the sidewalks, especially as the City is increasing shelter opportunities.”

Resumed crackdowns in San Diego

Homeless advocates and city residents and business owners have differing views on the crackdowns.

“This isn’t going to do anything,” explained Lana Fossett, a homeless advocate in San Diego County, to the Globe on Thursday. “It’s just going to force them elsewhere as the cycle of the homeless moving around continues. All this does is make sure that they don’t have a private area during the day and are exposed to the sun all day. It’s like if you were not allowed to use your house for half a day.”

However, many within the city are positive about the crackdowns.

“We need to get them into shelters, especially with winter coming,” noted business owner Luis Salazar, who has led local businesses on his block to ask different groups to alleviate the homeless situation there. “It’s for their safety, plus it hurts residents who feel less safe with them here, and businesses who suffer because, again, they scare away customers. The police getting them to take down their tents is the best thing to see for us.”

Homeless crackdowns in other cities in California will also likely occur in the next few months as cities prepare to house more homeless as the weather grows colder.

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