Police Clear Homeless Encampments From San Diego's East Village

Tuesday, September 26, 2017
By Susan Murphy
Photo by Susan Murphy / KPBS
Above: These two pictures show the before (Jan. 8, 2017) and after (Sept. 26, 2017) of a police crackdown on homeless encampments near Interstate 5 in downtown San Diego.

Seventeenth street in the East Village, and the surrounding blocks along the outskirts of downtown are known as San Diego’s skid row. Hundreds of homeless encampments overflowing with trash have lined the streets for years.

Until now.

The tents and tarps that stretched across entire city blocks are gone. Shopping carts are empty.

And the homeless people? Many seem to have disappeared. Cleanup crews are sweeping up belongings left behind.

Homeless advocate Michael McConnell has been observing and documenting the major transformation. He said police in large caravans have been conducting major enforcements.

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"As far as I can tell this has been a phased approach with the knockout punch in the last two weeks to really try to get rid of the tents, disperse people, so there’s not large encampments," McConnell said.

Homeless people told KPBS their tents used to be tolerated from 9 at night to 6 in the morning, but now they have been told they can never set up their tents.

San Diego Police Lt. Scott Wahl said the increased enforcement was focused on education, vaccination and sanitation as part of the city's battle against the Hepatitis A outbreak, which has now killed 17 people. He said the streets and sidewalks had to be cleared in order to be cleaned.

The city of San Diego recently announced plans to house homeless people in three large industrial tents, but those are not expected to be up until at least December.

In the meantime, McConnell said he has noticed increased tension among the homeless population.

"It almost seems like something’s about to boil over," he said. "People — you can only push them so far before something happens and I'm really fearful that the city is creating a very dangerous, intense environment."