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Advocates slam San Diego’s ‘criminalization’ of homelessness

Advocates critical of San Diego’s homeless enforcement policies spent Monday morning caroling outside City Hall. But these weren’t the carols we’re used to hearing, says KPBS Reporter Gustavo Solis

Homeless advocates Monday criticized San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria for the city’s ongoing practice of issuing tickets and citations to homeless people.

As a candidate, Gloria pledged to stop “criminalizing the existence of San Diego’s poorest and sickest residents.”

In a demonstration outside City Hall, San Diego Emergency Housing Alliance called Gloria out for what they say is a broken campaign promise.

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Susan Murphy
Homeless people stand in front of their make-shift shelters on 17th Street in San Diego's East Village, June 28, 2016.

“Mayor Todd Gloria has continued with the cruel and short-sighted policies of his predecessor,” said Ann Menasche, a lawyer with Disability Rights California. “We demand that the mayor and City Council stop the criminalization and persecution of our most desperately poor, elderly and disabled residents now.”

Several homeless people who have been on the receiving end of citations, said the city’s enforcement tactics make them feel unwanted.

“I feel like a pariah,” said Valerie Grischy, a plaintiff in a federal class-action lawsuit against San Diego for ticketing people who live in their cars.

Other homeless people say this type of enforcement forces them to be constantly looking over their shoulders.

“It’s scary because you got to stay up all night and wait for the cops to come because you’ll have to drive off,” said Bobby Ewing, a homeless veteran. “I never thought I’d have to run from the cops.”

Ewing said he has received more than 40 tickets and currently owes $2,000 in fines.

In October, Voice of San Diego reported that the number of homeless people ticketed has decreased during Gloria’s term compared to when former mayor Kevin Faulconer was in office. However, the citations are still happening.

Rachel Laing, Gloria’s director of communications, did not directly address the advocates’ central criticism that the city is still criminalizing homelessness.

Instead, Laing touted the city’s work to increase housing options and shelter space, which includes, among other things, more than 200 new shelter beds.

“It is not compassionate to leave unsheltered people on sidewalks and in encampments vulnerable to disease, assault, cold weather and other dangers,” she said in a statement to KPBS. “That’s why, in 2021, we have brought 132 units of permanent supportive housing online and there are another 476 in the pipeline.”