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San Diego's Unsafe Camping Ordinance goes into effect, enforcement to begin

Enforcement of San Diego's recently passed Unsafe Camping Ordinance will begin Monday, one day after the law went into effect.

The ordinance, passed June 27 and signed into law by Mayor Todd Gloria on June 29, prohibits tent encampments in all public spaces throughout the city if shelter beds are available.

It also bans tent encampments at all times in certain sensitive areas — parks, canyons and near schools, transit stations and homeless shelters — regardless of shelter capacity.


"As the Unsafe Camping Ordinance takes effect, I encourage unsheltered people to take advantage of our new safe sleeping site or available shelter beds," said City Councilmember Stephen Whitburn, who introduced the ordinance. "These options are much safer and healthier than living on sidewalks or in parks.

"I also look forward to all San Diegans having safer and healthier neighborhoods where public areas are used for their intended purposes," he added. "Together, we can improve the quality of life in communities across San Diego."

The Council passed the controversial ordinance 5-4, with Gloria and Whitburn being strong advocates. Critics say it criminalizes homelessness and won't solve the greater causes of the social problem.

“It's going to do the same thing as the other existing laws do – it's just going to move people from one place to another,” said homeless advocate Michael McConnell.

Under an amendment by Councilmember Marni Von Wilpert, the ordinance would not take effect until 30 days after the first safe sleeping lot was opened on 20th and B streets, to allow non-law enforcement social workers to be the first contact with homeless people.


Whitburn said the safe sleeping site and another one nearby will accommodate hundreds of people currently living on the streets.

That doesn't change the fact that overall shelter capacity in San Diego is not nearly enough to meet the overwhelming need.

“It's so hard to get into a shelter here in San Diego. About two-thirds of referrals to shelter are denied because of occupancy and other issues. There's just nowhere safe for people to go, so they end up right here in the park or on a sidewalk,” McConnell said.

According to the city, "education, outreach and enforcement will begin immediately," following the law going into effect this weekend.

How that will be enforced remains somewhat murky. Officers in the SDPD's Neighborhood Policing Division have been trained in a progressive enforcement model and will "continue to provide education and outreach to homeless residents about the ordinance," a spokesperson from Whitburn's office said.

The plan is that the first contact from police is a warning, second contact is a citation and third contact is potential for arrest if people refuse shelter or are unwilling to move from banned areas.

“The implementation is going to happen gradually, over time,” Whitburn said. “Generally we are going to be starting in the areas around schools and in some of our parks. And other areas where there are particular concerns about public health and safety, such as around homeless shelters and such.”

With city taxpayers funding more than $200 million to provide homelessness services, "it is right and appropriate for us to set the expectation that people experiencing homelessness must avail themselves of the services we are providing," Gloria said. "Enforcement of the ordinance will coincide with bringing online hundreds more shelter opportunities through our Safe Sleeping program and my pursuit of measures to cut bureaucratic red tape to speed our homelessness response."

Those who voted no on the ordinance were council President Sean Elo-Rivera and his colleagues Kent Lee, Monica Montgomery Steppe and Vivian Moreno. The four also voted against the ordinance on its first reading June 13.

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