Downtown San Diego homeless encampments impacting students who walk to school
Homeless encampments on downtown San Diego sidewalks create a stressful environment for commuting Perkins Elementary School students. City leaders said a proposed camping ban could help.
Every school day, twice a day, students who attend Perkins Elementary are forced to walk on the streets to get to and from school due to homeless encampments on Newton Avenue and Beardsley Street, according to school leaders and parents.
“We don't need needles on the side of the street. We don't need piles of poop laying on the street covered up,” said Vivian Kikta, whose 10-year-old daughter attends Perkins Elementary. “It’s hard seeing the homeless because I try to help them myself if I have extra funds ...”
About 400 students, from kindergarten to 8th grade, attend Perkins Elementary, a San Diego Unified School District public school. According to the school, about 40% of the students walk to school.
Principal Fernando Hernandez said walking past violence in the encampments elevates stress levels among the students.
“Homeless individuals brandishing knives and weapons and threatening to hurt one another. They have seen them punching one another. These are all the things we have heard our children say when they come to school,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez said students are brought to the office when they witness something traumatic in an encampment. Staff try to help them calm down and ensure they feel safe before bringing them to their classroom.
"We help (them) process what they just witnessed. But it's something that children should not have to see on a regular basis. They shouldn't,” Hernandez said.
According to the latest Downtown San Diego Partnership data, nearly 2,000 people lived unsheltered in downtown San Diego in April.
San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria and educators met Tuesday to discuss how the city’s proposed Unsafe Camping Ordinance would impact the encampments near Perkins.
“This proposed ordinance will prohibit tent encampments in all public spaces throughout the city if there is a shelter beds available, and it will prohibit tent encampments at all times in key sensitive areas throughout the city, such as near schools and parks,” Gloria said.
Later this year, the city will open two campsites at the edge of Balboa Park equipped with space for 400-500 city-provided tents and bathrooms, security and other services to help people experiencing homeless move into housing.
But homeless advocate Michael McConnell said the ordinance would not reduce homelessness. It’s just going to move the unsheltered from one sidewalk to another.
“It seems like this is meant to limit the places people can be to a very small amount of places across the city," McConnell said. "I know it's not going to reduce homelessness,”
McConnell also referenced the city’s plan to close its 500-bed shelter at Golden Hall.
“(It will create) 400 to 500 safe camping sites, that doesn't create any net increase in beds for people to get off the streets,” McConnell said.
KPBS reached out to the city to ask when the Golden Hall shelter will close and what will happen to the people living there when it does. In an email, city spokesman David Rolland said there is no date set to close the shelter.
“It will not close until we have found a suitable place for all residents to go,” Rolland said.
The Unsafe Camping Ordinance will be presented to the city council on June 13.
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