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San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria ramps up efforts to get homeless people off the streets

Homeless camps in downtown San Diego, March 14, 2014
Nicholas McVicker
Homeless camps in downtown San Diego, March 14, 2014.

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria is ramping up efforts to move the city’s homeless residents off the streets, as reports of encampments are increasing across the county. Last week, city workers showed up in downtown’s East Village neighborhood unexpectedly to give out citations and warnings, indicating a more aggressive approach than the city has taken in the past.

The new progressive approach comes after the city has been receiving an uptick in complaints about homeless encampments. They received about 1,200 complaints last week from residents, schools and local business owners.

Gary Warth, San Diego Union-Tribune reporter, joined KPBS Midday Edition to talk about his recent report on the city’s shift in enforcement.


Warth said homeless residents camping out in East Village were surprised by last week's visit from the city’s Environmental Services Department.

"In one sense they're used to it. They're often dealing with police and they've gotten used to the idea that there are routine cleanups that they do, but on Wednesday it took them by surprise," Warth said. "There were some signs on posts that said there would be a cleanup that day and it was a three-hour notice. In some cases that handwritten sign was on the same post as a metal sign that said there are cleanups scheduled Tuesdays and Thursdays, and that's what people had gotten used to."

San Diego police officers contacted more than 200 homeless people in East Village last week.

"There were three people who got arrested for encroachment, and that's after they had been warned, after they had received a citation, an infraction citation, and then a misdemeanor citation — so that's called progressive enforcement," Warth said.

He said the city is looking into alternative options for those who don’t accept shelter.


"The biggest change they're looking at is having safe campgrounds. There are people, as you probably are aware, that are on sidewalks, in tents, and they say they do not want to go into a shelter. But when you ask them 'well what if you moved tents someplace where it would be safer and you wouldn't get hassled by police and there might be a restroom there and some handwashing stations?' and they're like 'yeah, I would do that,'" Warth said. "It's being discussed now. There's money in the budget for it. Also, the county set aside $10 million for any city interested in creating their own shelter to help them get it off the ground, but that includes any type of shelter, including safe campgrounds."