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Politics

Fatal Crash Prompts Calls To Shelter Homeless In Hotel Rooms

A woman writes a message on the wall of a tunnel where three homeless people were killed by a driver, March 17, 2021.
Andrew Bowen
A woman writes a message on the wall of a tunnel where three homeless people were killed by a driver, March 17, 2021.

Advocates for the homeless are calling on San Diego city and county officials to move more unsheltered people into hotel rooms during the COVID-19 pandemic, after a man drove his car into a homeless encampment on Monday, killing three people and injuring six others.

The county has reserved hundreds of hotel rooms for people who are sick or at high risk of complications from COVID-19 under a state program called Project Roomkey. But reporting by the San Diego Union-Tribune has found many of those rooms have stayed vacant, even as the federal government has offered to reimburse local governments for their cost.

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Geneviéve Jones-Wright, executive director of the nonprofit Community Advocates for Just and Moral Governance, said the morning of the crash, more than 100 of the county's hotel rooms were empty.

"Mayor (Todd) Gloria said that he did not want their deaths to be in vain," Jones-Wright said during an afternoon a press conference Wednesday. "Well there is certainly a way to see that through."

Gloria said Monday that the San Diego Housing Commission had already put out a call for social service providers to help with placing more homeless people in "non-congregate" settings where they can isolate themselves individually.

"This will allow us take advantage of the opportunity the Biden Administration has provided by making such programs reimbursable," Gloria said in a press release Tuesday. "We must not let this chance to bring vulnerable residents in off the streets slip away."

A makeshift memorial is set up under the San Diego City College Bridge on B Street between Park Blvd and 16th street, San Diego, Calif. March 17, 2021.
Matthew Bowler
A makeshift memorial is set up under the San Diego City College Bridge on B Street between Park Blvd and 16th street, San Diego, Calif. March 17, 2021.

Monday morning, 71-year-old Craig Voss was traveling west on B Street under a pedestrian bridge spanning the San Diego City College campus when he drove up onto the sidewalk and into the encampment. San Diego Police arrested Voss and charged him with multiple crimes including felony DUI and vehicular manslaughter.

On Wednesday, officials identified one of the crash victims as 40-year-old Rodney Diffendal. The other two who died have not been named, but were identified as men aged 61 and 65.