Proposal to ban homeless encampments in San Diego moving forward to full council for consideration
In front of a nearly full room at San Diego City Hall Thursday afternoon, the Unauthorized Camping Ordinance got its first hearing by the San Diego City Council's Land Use and Housing Committee. There were lots of big emotions and residents were split on the matter.
After an hours-long discussion with over a hundred public comments, an amended version of the ordinance was approved 3-1, with Councilmember Kent Lee voting against.
It will now move forward to full council with no recommendation and a companion information item.
The ordinance would prohibit people from setting up tents within two blocks of schools, homeless shelters, trolley tracks and transportation hubs, parks, and waterways regardless of shelter bed availability.
It also prohibits tent camping anywhere on public property, if shelter beds are available.
“Residents across our city are deeply concerned about the public health and safety issues created by the proliferation of encampments in their communities. These encampments pose hazards to the people living in them and our neighborhoods,” said District 3 Councilmember Stephen Whitburn, who proposed the ordinance.
Eloisa Gutierrez is currently sleeping on the streets downtown. She said the proposal needs more nuance as people's situations range widely — from poverty and lack of realistic jobs, mental health issues and addiction struggles.
“We don't all do the same things. If they applied the laws more to the people who need it, it would be better,” she told KPBS in Spanish.
Groups like Alliance San Diego have come out in opposition of the ordinance.
“It would basically shut out unhoused San Diegans from almost every single part of the city. So we stand firmly against this because we feel it is a violation of our human right to shelter and not the right answer to the problem,” said Alliance San Diego policy director Erin Tsurumoto Grassi.
Some community members and councilmembers noted that proper enforcement of the encampment ban may be difficult. Plus, there’s a severe shortage of available shelter beds in the city.
“We need different types of shelters — safe villages as an example for people who don't want congregate settings. We need harm reduction shelters, we need sober living shelters. It can't be a one-size-fits-all because we have to meet the necessities of the unique individuals,” Father Joe’s Deacon Jim Vargas said.
The Unauthorized Camping Ordinance would have to be approved by the full city council before going into effect.
“It will be good if it gets people off the streets and into shelters," Vargas said. "It's one thing to have an ordinance, it’s another thing for it to be effective. And the way to be effective is we have to make alternatives available for individuals who are suffering on the streets.”