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San Diego criticized for making unsheltered people move during heat wave

It’s been another day of scorching temperatures. Whether it’s air conditioning or fans, people are doing what they can to stay cool. But as KPBS reporter John Carroll shows us, keeping cool when you live on the street is nearly impossible.

Living on the street is difficult any day. But the ongoing heat wave has made things truly miserable for folks who don’t have permanent shelter.

Along a stretch of Commercial Street under Interstate 5, city crews were out cleaning the area Tuesday morning. That meant people like Larry Young, Rachel Olson and their dogs had to pick up and move.

“They make us move every other day ... and sometimes they wait until it gets really hot out and they make us move and a lot of people can’t move their stuff cause they’re handicapped," Olson said.


Aside from cleaning crews, police and the unsheltered, KPBS found homeless advocate Michael McConnell, handing out water, juice and food.

McConnell said it’s fine for the city to clean up trash, “But the fact that they make people move in the middle of this heat wave is just ridiculous and dangerous and cruel."

Late Tuesday afternoon, a spokesperson for Mayor Todd Gloria responded to McConnell's criticism. In a statement, Dave Rolland said, "The city must keep the sidewalks clean and safe. Five years ago, 20 unsheltered San Diegans died due to a hepatitis A outbreak. To make sure that never happens again, the city conducts regular, noticed cleanups. In addition, every day, city outreach workers are building relationships with unsheltered residents, offering immediate social services and shelter and getting folks on a path to long-term housing."

In a recent interview on KPBS Midday Edition, Gloria said the city is doing more than ever before to get people off the streets.

“What we’ve been able to do in the last year doing twice a month in concentrated efforts is serve over 1,700 unsheltered San Diegans. ... That outreach leads to shelter and results in permanent housing placements. Our city has placed over 700 individuals into permanent housing solutions," the mayor said.


The concentrated efforts the Mayor was referencing are basically one stop-shopping events where people get connected with a variety of services with the goal of getting them into permanent housing. He said the events help build trust with people who’ve lost trust in the system, and therefore often decline offers of shelter.

Michael McConnell told us what he sees as a final, permanent solution to the issue of unsheltered people.

An unsheltered man is shown along a stretch of Commercial Street near Interstate  5 on September 6, 2022.
Mike Damron
An unsheltered man is shown along a stretch of Commercial Street near Interstate 5 on September 6, 2022.

“I want a place for people to be (where) they don’t have to move. I want safe shelters, I want appropriate places, but most of all I want housing for folks," McConnell said.

That is something everyone agrees on. It’s just a matter of how to get there in a city with some of the highest housing prices in the nation.

KPBS has created a public safety coverage policy to guide decisions on what stories we prioritize, as well as whose narratives we need to include to tell complete stories that best serve our audiences. This policy was shaped through months of training with the Poynter Institute and feedback from the community. You can read the full policy here.