Homeless Campground Set To Open Near Downtown San Diego

Tuesday, October 3, 2017
By Susan Murphy
Photo by Susan Murphy / KPBS
Above: A parking lot on the city of San Diego's 7-acre property on 20th and B Streets will serve as a temporary campground for 200 homeless people, October 1, 2017.

A campground for homeless people in San Diego is set to open as early as next week, with 200 new tents set up in a city-owned parking lot at 20th and B Streets near downtown.

"A KOA campground — that's what we’re shooting for," said Bob McElroy, president and CEO of the Alpha Project, which will oversee the campground. "A place that’s safe, clean, hygienic and nurturing."

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of homeless people have been cleared out of several East Village streets that were lined in tents, tarps and squalor. City officials said the stepped up enforcement is part of an effort to combat a hepatitis A outbreak that has left 17 people dead.

But the aggressive enforcement has left hundreds of homeless people with nowhere to go. They have been pushed to other unwelcoming neighborhoods where they continue to struggle to survive.

McElroy said the city-sanctioned campground will offer a reprieve from harsh street living.

“The first key is that people will be safe,” McElroy said. “And they’ll have access to showers and bathroom facilities and handwashing facilities and all of our mobile medical teams will be there.”

He said the campground will be neat and orderly with uniformed tents.

“We’ve got some of our donors that are working diligently to get us a bunch of two-person tents so that we don’t have blue tarps and contaminated stuff everywhere,” McElroy said.

“We’ll have a shuttle system,” he added. “We’re working on the logistics of that right now. We don’t want people walking through neighborhoods.”

People will also be allowed to bring their pets, he said.

“If that’s your best buddy, if that’s your family member, Fido’s more than welcome to come,” McElroy said. “We have a veterinarian that will make sure that all the animals have their shots and inoculations and food and all that stuff.”

He said the campground is very temporary, just 60-90 days. It will close when the city’s three large industrial tents for homeless people open around December. The “sprung structures” will provide shelter beds to as many as 1,000 people.

“Lots of volunteers are lining up already to come and mentor people, be a friend to somebody if they want a friend,” McElroy said.

Priority to the campground will be given to the most at risk people, including seniors and disabled, as well as mothers and children, he said.

“We have so many people that are walking up to us, that are calling the offices: ‘Bob when can we get inside?’"

"We're getting close," he tells them. "The mayor will give the word, and we’ll start moving people in."