San Diego Sports Arena encampment residents ticketed as cleanup continues
Speaker 1: (00:00)
Residents, living at the sports arena Boulevard, homeless encampment are now being cited for living out on the streets. San Diego mayor to Gloria ordered the sweep, which started on Monday, but some advocates are questioning the timing of it ahead of the San Diego homeless count. Next week, joining me is KPBS health reporter, Matt Hoffman, who has been covering this story. Matt, welcome. Hey Jade. So why are city officials increasing enforcement and handing out citations to people living at the homeless encampment right now
Speaker 2: (00:30)
In short, they say it's because there's space inside of shelters. And they say, as long as there's space inside of shelters, they will be doing progressive enforcement going back a little bit on this Jade. Uh, the city start this big push to clean up this midway homeless encampment about two weeks ago, similar to what they do downtown. You know, they send in police and they send in, uh, some city crews with the trash trucks and they have people move their stuff whatever's left over. They end up throwing away. Now they're not making people leave. They're not citing anybody but sent. Then that was about two weeks ago. Uh, the city shelter beds, they weren't accepting a lot of intake because they had a lot of outbreaks from homeless residents who were staying there. Um, that's now changed. They're now accepting people again. And so the city's saying, Hey, this is part of the normal process in terms of when we have shelter beds available, we're gonna be going out and doing this progressive enforcement that goes from citations, and you can work your way up to possibly getting to arrests. So a lot of focus on this right now, because this up recently started, uh, but the city's saying, Hey, this is the normal process.
Speaker 1: (01:26)
Colleen Kosac, who's an attorney representing some of the people living at the sports arena. Encampment suggests the city has decided to increase enforcement to alter the upcoming homeless count
Speaker 3: (01:37)
All so that what on February 24th, when they come around to do the point of time count and the mayor has chased everybody off this street, he's gonna what pat himself on the back.
Speaker 1: (01:48)
So Matt, what does she mean by that?
Speaker 2: (01:50)
Well, her and some other advocates that really work on the ground with these people that are out there, you know, numerous times during the week, giving them food and water, different things. They think that this, uh, could be part of an effort to, uh, scatter homeless resident ahead of the, the point in time counts coming up next week. Um, and that gives a regional view of where we're at in terms of homelessness, there's federal funding. That's tied to the number of people that they find that are living on the streets. And they're saying that it's so much easier to count all these people when they're right here in this encampment. Um, and by scattering them, it's gonna make them harder to count. And then the mayor might be able to go back and say, Hey, look, there's lower number of people living on the streets. Um, I'm reducing homelessness. So that's sort of their point there
Speaker 1: (02:29)
What's the city's reaction to that accusation.
Speaker 2: (02:31)
They say that it's simply just not true. You know, again, they say this is part of the normal procedure, um, in terms of, Hey, we have shelter beds available now. And so that's why we're doing this enforcement again. Um, and they also point out that, like I mentioned before, there's federal dollars that are tied to the count here. Uh, so they say that it's in their best interest to have a very, very accurate count here. Um, so they say that this is just totally not true.
Speaker 1: (02:55)
How are community members and other advocates reacting to this situation?
Speaker 2: (02:59)
Well, we know that, uh, Ms. Cusack, she's an attorney, she's representing quite a bit of people down there. Um, and she's actually according to a voice of San Diego article, she's actually met with San Diego mayor, Todd, Gloria, uh, she's been threatening some legal action regarding some of the enforcement there. And they're trying to work out a middle ground in terms of this progressive enforcement. I don't know if that's stuck, hopping it entirely, or maybe having it more drawn out like a drawn out process. She wants people to be able to, like, if you get a ticket for encroachment, go through the process before you reach that next tier in the, uh, progressive enforcement step. So, um, we're still seeing a lot of people going down there, you know, they're all out there with their phones, a lot of different advocates, uh, monitoring the police down there, but a lot of people not with how this is being handled. Um, but trying to work with the police to come up with a better solution,
Speaker 1: (03:44)
The encampment was cleared out a couple of weeks ago. How many people are living there now?
Speaker 2: (03:49)
Yeah. So when the city started this process, they estimated there's probably about 180 or so people living there. Um, and that's kind of on both sides there of sports arena Boulevard, uh, in the back there. Um, since they started doing the cleanup, some of those homeless advocates that are on the ground, maybe estimate that maybe about a third of the camp have left. A third of the people have moved on. Um, but I will say there's a lot of people there who say, Hey, we set up this encampment because we had nowhere else to go. And this was our means to like set up a community to survive. And so a lot of them say that they don't plan on going anywhere.
Speaker 1: (04:19)
And how many people have been cited or arrested recently.
Speaker 2: (04:23)
So since they started doing this progressive enforcement on this, uh, midway encampment, um, it's kind of a slow process. They don't go out and hit everybody in one day on Monday, the first day, uh, they made 17 contacts. Um, and from that, they wrote a few citations for people. And that includes things like encroachment, um, things like illegal lodging. Um, so they're trying to crack down there. Now. We, we did see some people who, who were arrested. We found out that one person was arrested, not because they refused to leave the encampment or like tied to encroachment. Uh, it was for a warrant, but we will see this enforcement continuing. Uh, this is just sort of the beginning of it for this midway encampment, which as we've seen in the last few weeks has gotten a lot of attention. The,
Speaker 1: (05:01)
You know, when police approached people during Monday sweep, were they offering them help to find shelter?
Speaker 2: (05:06)
Yes, they were offering them help to find shelter. And basically the way the city says it goes. So like, you know, if they know on a certain given day, they have 30 shelter beds available, they'll do enforcement until they can fill those shelter beds. Um, they don't wanna be doing enforcement, uh, when there's, uh, no to beds, that's actually part of like a, kind of a complicated legal settlement that happened recently. And there's also, I will say too, Jade, the police when they're out there, uh, they say that they don't do these sweeps during inclement weather. So if it's like raining and stuff like that, they're not gonna be going out there. Um, but as long as shelter beds are available and the weather's good, they're gonna be going out there and doing this enforcement, not just in the midway district too, but this is happening across the city of San Diego. So, um, people that are living downtown, they may start to see more enforcement again. Now that those shelter beds are there,
Speaker 1: (05:49)
Some of the homeless population living on the streets say they do not want to live in a shelter. What are their reasons for that?
Speaker 2: (05:56)
Yeah, that's something that we hear, uh, quite a bit from people that they don't wanna live in a congregate setting. And that can be for a lot of reasons, you know, uh, some people say they just don't do well around other people inside a large setting. Um, some people, you know, have been incarcerated before and say that that's a reason why they don't do well with people, no settings, but the kind of catch 22 is that's really the only thing that the city is offering here. And we're hearing from, you know, uh, miss Cusak, who's out there, the attorney saying, uh, that, you know, the shelters are dangerous. And, and as we've seen with these, uh, COVID outbreaks that are happening there. Um, so it's really gonna be interesting to see if there's some sort of middle ground that can be found there because you have, you know, on one hand the city saying, Hey, we have these shelters they're congregate and it's all we have. And then you have, you know, a lot of homeless residents saying, well, I don't want to go there.
Speaker 1: (06:41)
So what's the end game here. I mean, will this enforcement continue until everyone's off the streets?
Speaker 2: (06:46)
So we're hearing from the city that they're gonna continue their quote, compassionate approach here. Um, but they say that they still see a lot of health and safety issues that are happening at that encampment. And so they say that they will continue in enforcement. Uh, they say a lot of different things from sanitary conditions there, uh, to reported crime that's been happening there. Uh, and the mayor says that that just can't happen. You know, he, he says he doesn't want this to blow up into a full blown crisis. So it's kind of, you know, what's the barometer. Is there like a line where one day they're gonna take their foot off the gas pedal in terms of enforcement. We really don't know, but as we know right now, you know, the city says as long as their shelter beds available, they're gonna be going out there and continuing this enforcement, not just in the midway, but across the whole city.
Speaker 1: (07:24)
I've been speaking with KPBS health reporter, Matt Hoffman, Matt. Thank you.
Speaker 2: (07:29)
Police are now writing tickets for people living there.
A San Diego homeless encampment cleanup along Sports Arena Boulevard is entering a new phase, police are now writing tickets for people living there. City officials said it is part of a progressive enforcement approach now that shelters have space in them again.
On Monday morning San Diego Police officers began their sweep, going tent by tent to speak with people. There were some tense moments between police and advocates who do not agree with the city's approach.
"The police are using criminalization to drive people away," said Coleen Cusack, an attorney who said she is representing dozens of homeless residents at the encampment.
RELATED: City-led cleanup operation of homeless encampment in Midway begins
Cusack and some other advocates believe the city is escalating enforcement to scatter unsheltered residents, making it harder for them to be found in next week’s homeless point in time count. The survey gives a regional snapshot of the number of people living on the streets.
"And all so that what?" Cusack asked. "On February 24th when they come around to do the point and time count and the mayor has chased everybody out on the street
— and the mayor is going to pat himself on the back?"
A spokesperson for San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, who ordered the cleanup, said the enforcement is part of the normal process.
"The only change is that we paused shelter intakes during the omicron surge because we had so many positives in our shelters and now that we’re done with that — we’re of course opening our shelters again and we’re trying to encourage people via outreach and progressive enforcement," said Gloria's director of communications Rachel Laing.
She also pointed out that federal funding is tied to the homeless count.
"These federal dollars are really important," Laing said. "One of the calculations is the magnitude of the problem so it’s in our best interests to have an accurate count."
Police were offering shelter during the sweep Monday. A city spokesperson said a total of 17 people were contacted with four accepting shelter. One person was arrested for a misdemeanor warrant, eight people were given verbal warnings for violation of illegal lodging and/or encroachment, three were cited with infractions and one person was given a misdemeanor citation.
Some people remain resistant to shelter, saying they do not want to stay in a large congregate space.
"COVID has made it very unsafe for people to stay in congregate care and so a lot of people want single rooms to stay safe," Cusack said.
A city official said there have been significant efforts to get people into shelter, but there are ongoing concerns about health and safety. Enforcement will continue as long as there is space in shelters.