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San Diego City Council to consider homeless camping ban

The San Diego City Council will consider a controversial proposed "Unsafe Camping Ordinance" Tuesday intended to address the city's homelessness crisis.

Mayor Todd Gloria has pushed hard for the ordinance — written by City Councilman Stephen Whitburn — in recent weeks, urging citizens to sign a petition and speaking on the issue at news conferences.

It would prohibit tent encampments in all public spaces throughout the city if shelter beds are available and would ban tent encampments at all times in certain sensitive areas — parks, canyons and near schools, transit stations and homeless shelters — regardless of shelter capacity.


"Encampments pose an immediate threat to public health and safety, for both the people living in them and people living, working or going to school around them," Gloria said. "Those living in encampments are in constant danger of disease spread amid unsanitary conditions, violence and exploitation by dealers of deadly drugs.

"Encampments also frequently ignite fires that put the public and our first responders at great risk. The City Council must pass the Unsafe Camping Ordinance to protect the health and safety of all San Diegans," he said.

However, opponents say the ordinance won't solve the issue and would essentially make being homeless illegal in the city of San Diego, pushing people experiencing homelessness into other neighborhoods or cities.

Large swathes of Downtown, Mission Beach, Old Town and Midway would be off-limits under the proposal.

Gloria has proposed several in-city campsites to accommodate some people experiencing homelessness.


"This commonsense ordinance will be paired with a robust shelter strategy, which includes two new Safe Sleeping sites where more than 500 people stay in tents in secure areas with access to hygiene and services that will help them get on the path to permanent housing," Gloria said. "Letting people continue to live in squalor on our sidewalks is not showing compassion; it's showing indifference. We won't let that be the case in our city."

The Safe Sleeping Program would be located in Balboa Park at the 20th and B Street lot and Parking Lot O. The program would also provide bathrooms, security and other services for unsheltered individuals. Gloria said he expects one of the sites to open soon after the vote and another in the fall.

The city's Independent Budget Analyst said the details of the ordinance, how it will be funded and enforced, remain a mystery.

"Long-term fiscal impacts associated with ordinance implementation remain largely unknown; while [San Diego Police Department] and [Environmental Services Department] indicate that they may be able to absorb potential costs initially, council should monitor both operational impacts and potential costs during implementation of the ordinance if enacted," a report released by the IBA last week read.

"We suggest that council request regular reports on the implementation and effectiveness of this ordinance which could shed light on this matter," it reads.

San Diego City Councilman Joe LaCava supported the ordinance, but said he needed to see evidence it was helping people after implementation before he was satisfied with it.

"Implementation is key to the success of the Unauthorized Camping Ordinance, and I will measure its success on shelter placements and connecting homeless San Diegans to support systems," he said. "Accomplishing this lies in the implementation and our ability to equally protect unsheltered individuals and families, surrounding communities, and city staff.

"We have invested a lot to this point, and I will not risk sacrificing the hard-earned relationships and tenuous safety nets that our outreach teams have built with unsheltered individuals," LaCava said.

Last Tuesday, the Poway City Council voted unanimously to advance an ordinance that would allow authorities to abate homeless encampments.

If the council formally approves it on June 20,

the ordinance will give the Sheriff's Department the ability to abate unlawful encampments with 48 hours' notice, according to a city document.

City Attorney Alan Fenstermacher said the ordinance would let sheriff's deputies cite people for sleeping on public property if they refuse a shelter bed, and confiscate unlawful personal property within 24 hours' notice.

The ordinance covers what type of camping is allowed, unlawful storage, parking, removal of personal property, violation, penalties and enforcement.

Homelessness in the region increased by at least 14% this year — and 22% by one metric — according to the results from the 2023 WeAllCount Point-in- Time Count released last week.

The Regional Task Force on Homelessness conducted the federally required count in January throughout the county with the help of more than 1,600 volunteers. The count is a one-night snapshot of the minimum number of San Diegans experiencing homelessness.

Overall, the count found no less than 10,264 individuals experiencing homelessness across our region. This number includes 5,171 unsheltered San Diegans with 5,093 individuals in shelters and transitional housing.

"These results show what's been clear from our monthly reporting and from what we see on the streets — the region's homeless system and providers simply cannot keep pace with the ever-increasing flow of people across the county falling into homelessness for a variety of reasons," RTFH CEO Tamera Kohler said. "While there are some bright spots, more clearly needs to be done if we want to see different results."