Board of Supervisors voted 4-0 to draft an 'Unsafe Camping Ban'
The San Diego County Supervisors advanced a countywide "unsafe camping ban" similar to ones recently passed in San Diego and Poway.
Supervisor Joel Anderson is pushing the ordinance, saying it is necessary to handle an ongoing homelessness crisis.
"Although the county and its partners successfully cleared encampments such as the North Magnolia Avenue site in unincorporated El Cajon, the county enactment of an unsafe camping ordinance will provide another tool to help clean up similar encampments on a wider scale throughout the county's unincorporated communities," Anderson wrote in a letter to the board.
Jordan Beane of the Regional Task Force on Homelessness was one of dozens who spoke out against the proposal.
“We have not had a month since March of 2022 where more people have exited homelessness than (when they) began experiencing it for the first time.”
Anderson said it differs in some ways from the ban in the city of San Diego.
“We’re not the same as San Diego, because we do have a housing element and a shelter element in our board letter. We're saying that we want to create more shelters, that this is a very important issue, and we want to address it on every level possible,” the supervisor said.
The ordinance would “allow law enforcement to prohibit and abate illegal encampments, remove improperly stored items on public property, and protect vacant property from fire and pollution,” according to the agenda item description.
Almost every person at the meeting spoke out against the county proposal; many had experience sleeping on the streets.
“We shouldn't be penalized or have my children in fear,” said Natalie, a mom experiencing homelessness in San Diego. “We had to pitch a tent at times, six people in a van. There are no resources and my kids are in fear of what's going to happen to their parents.”
Beane said there are better solutions than this ordinance.
“Our region needs to vastly increase the amount of affordable housing available to residents at all income levels. In the interim we need all types of shelter options connected to coordinated street outreach to see real reductions,” he said.
On June 13, the San Diego City Council approved an unsafe camping ban which 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.
The council passed the controversial ordinance 5-4, with Mayor Todd Gloria and Councilmember Stephen Whitburn being strong advocates. Critics say it criminalizes homelessness and won't solve the greater causes of the social problem.
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.
Poway approved its similar ordinance in July, "allowing law enforcement to abate illegal encampments and remove improperly stored property." Santee made it illegal to have an ignition source in the San Diego River corridor and the cities of Encinitas, El Cajon and Chula Vista City Council are considering similar bans.
Anderson's proposal to the Board of Supervisors also included "asking for support for direction to county staff to identify potential properties that could serve as regional homeless shelter solutions, to help ensure the availability of shelter space to move those living in encampments and connect them with wrap around services and a path to permanent housing," he wrote.
However, with a dearth of shelter beds and resources for the unhoused in the county, it is unclear where people could go in the interim between the ban and enough beds for every individual.
In September, 1,930 people experiencing homelessness requested a shelter bed for the night, and all but 393 were turned away, according to the San Diego Housing Commission.
The number of people entering homelessness has outpaced those finding permanent shelter for more than a year. According to the Regional Task Force on Homelessness' monthly reports, in September, 1,195 people in the region became homeless for the first time, while 776 people found housing.
The unsafe camping ban proposal was unanimously approved by the board. It will be looked at by county staff and come back to the board of supervisors for further consideration.