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Homelessness is increasing in San Diego. How is the city responding?

 June 14, 2023 at 4:33 PM PDT

S1: It's time for Midday Edition on Kpbs. Today , we're talking the complicated issue of homelessness in San Diego. I'm Harrison Patino , in for Jade Heineman. Here's the conversations that keep you informed , inspired and.

UU: Make you think.



S1: Plus , a look at the daily reality of providing services for unhoused San Diegans. And we explore the unique challenges that unhoused seniors face when grappling with homelessness. That's ahead on Midday Edition. You're listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. I'm Harrison Patino , in for Jade Heinemann. The San Diego City Council has narrowly passed a controversial policy that will ban homeless encampments on public property within two blocks of schools and shelters. The five four vote came after hours of divided public testimony. Here to break down the ban and yesterday's vote is Kpbs metro reporter Andrew Bowen. Welcome , Andrew.

S2: Hi , Harrison. Thanks. Of course.

S1: So could you break down exactly what the camping ban will do ? Sure.

S2: So technically , this ordinance will ban camping on public property citywide anywhere in the city outside of those specific campgrounds like in Mission Bay or whatever. Anywhere in public property , camping is officially illegal. The thing is , it's only enforceable when there is shelter available and when a person who is camping on that public property declines to accept that shelter. And that's because of an appellate court case that came out of Boise , Idaho. Basically , the judges decided , you know , it's cruel to criminalize someone for sleeping somewhere when they have literally nowhere else to go. So that is officially the law that it's banned citywide , but only enforceable in certain instances. Then there's this other section of the law that says in these particular areas , as you mentioned , within two blocks of schools , within two blocks of homeless shelters , camping is illegal regardless of whether there's a shelter bed available for someone. So in those cases , a police officer could approach a person who's camping , you know , a block away from a school and say , listen , we don't have any shelter for you right now , but you can't be staying this close to a school. So we need you to move your tent outside of that buffer zone.


S2: One of them has to do with illegal lodging. That is a state law. And then there is also part of the municipal code that deals with something called encroachment. Illegal lodging is relatively hard to enforce. According to the police , they have to collect evidence that proves beyond a reasonable doubt that a person , if they're staying , you know , somewhere illegally , they intend to sleep there overnight. Encroachment is somewhat easier to enforce. It simply bans blocking the public right of way. It was actually written to prevent people from leaving trash cans on streets and blocking traffic. But it is often used to clear encampments that are blocking sidewalks. So the city has this law. It uses it often and it bans people from setting up tents on a sidewalk that , you know , make people have to walk into the street. It's also difficult to enforce. So this camping ban is basically an effort to make a law that's more tailored specifically to this problem that they're trying to address , which is homeless encampments on public property. There isn't a progressive enforcement model. So it would start with a warning and then escalate from there.

S1: This vote drew a lot of public comment. The meeting last night lasted about ten hours. Was there anything that stood out to you during the public testimony ? Yeah.

S2: So , you know , the majority of the public testimony , I would say , was in opposition to this ordinance , although we did hear people from both sides and impassioned testimony on both sides. Among the supporters , you know , they're saying that this situation with encampments is really untenable , that people who walk , you know , through these these areas where the encampments are concentrated are having to endure a lot of discomfort that children walking to schools have to pass through these encampments. Here's a brief clip from testimony from Dominick Landry. He is with the East Village Association. The east Village , of course , is where a lot of these encampments are concentrated.

S3: East Village has historically and disproportionately borne the brunt of hosting service centers for the county's unhoused populations , and that centralization has created untenable conditions on our local sidewalks. Residents , students , workers and visitors are subjected to daily observances of distress and despair around these encampment sites , a reality that continues to erode the public's confidence in the city's ability to adequately address this unfolding crisis. As downtown emerges from the Covid 19 pandemic.

S2: And then Harrison , among the opponents , we heard from a lot of people who are currently homeless , people who were formerly homeless , outreach workers and service providers. And and they all basically said that this is just further criminalizing homelessness and criminalizing poverty. It's not actually going to solve the problem of encampments because first of all , of course , there are limits on the enforcement , as I mentioned. And then also , even if you do sort of crack down and start enforcing the law , these laws making more arrests or giving more citations , that's not going to end a person's situation , economic situation or just the lack of housing in the city. Here's a clip from John Brady. He is a formerly homeless individual and is with an organization called Lived Experience Advisors.

S4: Claiming that the reason we don't have people in shelters that don't exist because. A refusing services is outrageous. We cannot allow people to live on our streets. They have nowhere else to go. Here are the truth. Today , 6500 people are homeless in our city. 1885 are seniors. 3500 people are on our streets with nowhere to go , and a thousand shelter requests go unanswered every month. 588 people died in 2022 on our streets.

S1: And you mentioned the East Village earlier , and that's , of course , been the epicenter of this crisis here locally.

S2: So , you know , a lot of people are staying on the streets and sidewalks in that area because that's where they can get a meal to eat or that's where they can get a shower in the morning if they need to or where they can wash their clothes. And so , you know , the desire to sort of decentralize or de concentrate these encampments outside of the East Village could potentially have the impact of just pushing those encampments further into neighborhoods and residential areas. And the nearest by residential areas are low income areas , you know , Sherman Heights and Logan Heights. And these communities that are already experiencing a lot of these encampment encampments now , but could see even more of them going forward. You know , the question of how this law is going to be enforced , I think the the practice in in the past has been that , you know , people submit complaints to the police department or to their city council member or to the government , you know , saying that there's an encampment here and we want it to go away. And so it's been a very reactive response to this crisis. What I think we'll have to wait and see is if this if the police are actually able to do some proactive enforcement of this ordinance , you know , patrolling these areas around schools and parks and shelters and trying to get people to move out of those areas , or are we going to just continue pretty much the status quo where they're responding to these complaints ? You know , if they're trying to do proactive enforcement , basically that's going to mean that , you know , it doesn't matter if you submit a complaint around , you know , for an encampment in your neighborhood that the police are already enforcing these laws in other areas that were deemed a higher priority. So , you know , we'll have to kind of wait and see which areas are actually most affected. But certainly downtown and East Village is , I would say , number one.

S1: You're listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. I'm Harrison Patino , in for Jade Heineman. I'm speaking with Kpbs metro reporter Andrew Bowman about the recently passed encampment ban and how it will affect San Diego's unhoused population. Mayor Todd Gloria says he's pushing for a shelter strategy. Could you tell us more about how the city is actually addressing this need for shelter beds ? Yeah.

S2: So before the council took up the camping ban , they received a presentation from city staff on a shelter strategy. And basically it's just , you know , a high level overview of what the city is doing now and what it intends to do in the future in order to create more shelter capacity. The city council this week on Monday just approved a budget , and that budget does include more money to set up new shelters. It also includes money to relocate existing shelters. So some of these shelters may have been set up on a lot where there's a plan to build affordable housing or maybe they were just set up in a space that was never meant to be a permanent shelter space. And they're trying to , you know , move it to a place that's maybe more suitable. There's also a focus from the mayor on trying to create more shelter capacity for particularly vulnerable populations. Seniors , LGBTQ youth , for example , someone who is trans , may not feel safe going into a homeless shelter knowing that they're at a higher risk for violence despite all of that money in the budget. I don't think and I don't think even the city staff would claim this , that there is enough money to create a shelter bed for everyone who wants one. The fact of the matter is , around 10 or 11:00 in the morning , all of the shelters are full already. And if somebody wants a bed to go to , they're just out of luck. There's also one of the new initiatives that the mayor is pushing is safe campsites. So maybe the obviously , it's not ideal for somebody to be sleeping in the tent , in a tent , out in the elements. But , you know , it's better for them to do it in a more controlled or safer area as opposed to on the sidewalk. So the initial space that the city has identified for one of these safe campsites is 20th and B , which is on the fringe of Balboa Park. It's where they actually had a safe campground during the hepatitis A outbreak. And that's meant to be temporary. And the hope is to then relocate it to another space. Also in Balboa Park , that's next to the Naval Hospital , it's important to know. Out that a campsite is not shelter. The ordinance does not allow enforcement if there you know , anywhere in the city , if there is a shelter bed available. But the police cannot say , well , we have this open campsite for you to go to. So , you know , if you don't go there , then we're going to arrest you or give you a citation. The shelter is inside. It's , you know , within surrounded by walls. And that's , you know , essentially the campsite is perhaps a better alternative to sleeping on the sidewalk , but it is not shelter.

S1: So what's the plan for enforcement on this ban ? Yeah.

S2: So I , I may have mentioned that the neighborhood policing division gets about 800 to 1000 requests for clearing homeless encampments on the Get it Done app per week. So 800 to 1000. And the police said that it takes an average of 15 days to clear that those requests. Clearing the request , by the way , may not actually mean clearing the encampment. It may just mean going out to that encampment and , you know , taking the next step on enforcing the law. The the within the neighborhood policing division , there is the homeless outreach team. They're the officers who make the first contact with homeless individuals and try and get them to accept shelter if it's available. There is not any new staffing for the homeless outreach team. The police captain who oversees all of this division says that his team can and will enforce this law , although , frankly , it's just hard to see exactly how. I think we may perhaps see an initial crackdown , but it's going to take a lot more time and manpower to enforce these laws , certainly proactively. And then the prosecution of these , you know , of those instances is a whole other issue. You could issue a citation or an arrest for someone , but then the city attorney's office may look at all of the evidence in the case and say , well , we can't prosecute this. So , you know , as far as what is the enforcement plan , it starts with a warning that it escalates to a misdemeanor citation. The third step is an arrest. And what happens then is that the individual is taken to jail. Their belongings are impounded by the police department. That person is held for typically 4 to 6 hours and then they're released and they can go pick up their things from the police department. And that's how it works.

S1: So this has been a really contentious issue. The vote itself was passed on A54 vote , and there was some tension between city council members last night over amendments being made to this ordinance. Can you tell us more about that ? Yeah.

S2: Council President Shawn Rivera ultimately voted against it , but he used the position of council president to try and insert some amendments into the ordinance that he thought could perhaps make it a little bit better. And one of those amendments he requested had to do with the collection and reporting of racial data on how this law will be enforced. Blacks , we know , are overrepresented in the homeless population. They're also overrepresented in interactions with the police. And so he asked council member Stephen Whitburn , whose office brought this ordinance forward. If you would be willing to require a monthly reporting of racial data in the enforcement of this ordinance. Whitburn initially declined , but then council , the council president , said , Well , okay , let's vote on this ordinance. That's one of the powers that that position has. And there was this moment when Monica Montgomery , step of council member from District four , basically just asked Stephen Whitburn , why don't you want the collection of racial data ? I hope it's not for the reason that I'm thinking of. And it was quite tense , I have to say. And ultimately Whitburn just acquiesced and he said , Yes , well , I'm fine with including that in the ordinance. So , you know , it was a long meeting. I know the council member is especially towards the end , we're tired that you could see that they had just sat through hours and hours of testimony. Many of that testimony really going hard against them and criticizing them very directly. So it was a tense meeting and I expect a lot of that tension will continue now that this ordinance is still passed.


S2: Then after the mayor signs the ordinance , it takes effect from 30 , 30 days thereafter. They also added language that will say , well , if if the safe campsites have not been set up by then , it will take effect 30 days after the safe campsites have opened.

S1: I've been speaking with Kpbs metro reporter Andrew Bowen. Andrew , thanks.

S2: My pleasure. Harrison.

S1: We'd love to hear your thoughts on this recent ban on public encampments. Give us a call at (619) 452-0228 and leave a message or you can email us at midday at Coming up , we explore the shelter and services side of the homelessness discussion.

S5: And there has to be an alternative to homelessness. If we're going to enforce , there has to be an option , a facilities option.

S1: You're listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. Welcome back to Kpbs Midday Edition. I'm Harrison Patino , in for Jade Heinemann. As you just heard yesterday , the San Diego City Council voted on whether or not to impose a ban on homeless encampments in many public spaces. But that's not the only news on homelessness. Last January , more than a thousand volunteers visited encampments and shelters as part of San Diego's annual point in time count. Their goal count the number of people experiencing homelessness in a single night. It's a federally mandated requirement and an effort to look at the needs of the unhoused population. The Regional Task Force on Homelessness released the results last week , and the numbers are sobering but not surprising. More than 10,000 people are experiencing homelessness across San Diego County , which is up 14% from last year. That's a rough estimate with many unhoused people still accounted for. Bob McElroy is the CEO of the Alpha Project , which provides services to homeless residents in San Diego. He spoke with host Jade Hyneman about his reaction to the rise in homelessness in the city. Here's that conversation.


S5: We're down the streets every day , and we've just seen the numbers increase on a monthly basis. And I'm not I'm not surprised at all. And , you know , that's only a snapshot of for our count. So we know there's a lot more people than the and came up in the count for sure.

S6: Now I also wanted to get your thoughts on the unsafe camping ban. In a press conference Monday , you called San Diego's public camping ban a step in the right direction.

S5: I've been pro enforcement from from day one. I didn't get into I didn't start out with the to enable people to kill themselves publicly. And there has to be a consequence to bad behavior. And I'm speaking more of the folks that that are , you know , crime on crime , committing crimes on other homeless folks , open drug use , the drug dealers and things like that. But certainly there has to be a place for disabled senior citizens , the mentally ill. For 37 years , I've been like John the Baptist , crying in the wilderness , trying to get something for the 15 to 20% of the population who's who's whose only crime is. They're severely mentally ill at no fault of their own. And yet there's nothing for them. There's not assisted living facilities , there's no mental health facilities that they can access. And these folks are just just floundering out there and dying on a daily basis. And then we certainly have seniors , mainly disabled , senior citizens that need assisted living. And those don't exist either. So I'm I'm more focused on the folks out there that I've we've had hundreds and hundreds of people come into our facilities over the decades because they got sick and tired of being moved from one place to the other. Maybe they had , you know , 15 or 20 trolley tickets and illegal lodging tickets and they go to jail for , you know , a weekend and they come back out. They don't want to go back to the squalor and the same environment , and they come in and start the process of recovery. I've used the jails system as my detox because there are no detox beds in San Diego. There's 70 in the county , but not in San Diego. And it's saved people's lives , people's lives. I have staff members that have done interviews that have stated , hey , if it wasn't for , you know , enforcement and me doing a couple of days in jail. It saved my life and I wouldn't be working at Alford today. So there are a lot of bright sides to that. But I'm not about bullying people. I'm about providing services to people who want them. And there has to be an alternative to homelessness. If we're going to enforce , there has to be an option , a facilities option.


S5: I know there's debating this city hall right now , but certainly cart before the horse. If you start enforcement before you have these , I guess they're working on two tent encampments. So if you don't , you start the enforcement before you have a facilities option , Then as I said , that I'm not going to be supportive of that because now we're criminalizing homelessness. There has to be an alternative. There has to be an option. You can't be here. You can't be blocking the sidewalk , get help or get a ticket. But the help means that you got to have a place to go and then you choose.


S5: We have 600 in our four facilities. I think Saint Vincent's has another four or so. And we need , you know , 1500 more.

S6: In terms of who's creating policies.

S5: We were still working , but the county was located there. The city was located there. Housing mission was located there. The fire department , paramedics , Lifeguards , PD , nurses , clinics was but all the resources on one site. You know , one of the biggest challenges that homeless folks have is trying to navigate an uncoordinated system. Somebody says today to an outreach and we can only put people in shelters that are referred by our outreach people and they have to wait for clearance. You know , say Bob's out there right now. I've been out there for a long time. I don't want to be here anymore. I want to get in today. I'm talking to an outreach worker. That outreach worker has to call the coordinated intake system or somewhere else for to see if they can get in. They might wait 3 or 4 hours and only to be told no. Tremendously frustrated system. It's hard enough to transition out of homelessness. Extra layers of bureaucracy does not help. Right.

S6: Right. And I think something that people have to consider is resources. You know , people who have found themselves unsheltered. It's not like they've got a car to go to , a place to seek services. It's not like they have a cell phone or a computer to get online to access some of these services either. Right. Well , and.

S5: Then you've got to have somebody answer the phone on the other line and try calling two on one sometimes , see if somebody answers the phone. So it's tremendous frustration. A lot of people just give up. And , you know , when you've asked an outreach team whether it be ours or someone else's 15 times to get a get a bed somewhere and you're waiting hours and just to be told no. A lot of people just give up.

S6: Mm hmm. And I want to talk more about the camping ban. There are two aspects of this. One requires available shelter beds for a camping ban to be enforceable , but that requirement is not necessary to camping in certain areas , such as near schools or in parks.

S5: It's not just our residents , but the community also , and the stereotypes and stigmas that are attached to homeless folks. Bag ladies , dumpster divers , panhandlers , drug addicts , mentally ill alcoholics pertains to providers also in shelters. The neighborhood is going to get worse. Our property values are going to go down. It's going to attract more people into the neighborhood. All butts of BBS. Okay , We self-police. We've kept those neighborhoods clean and safe for over 20 years , but not every provider does that , and they become an attractive nuisance. Many times you just drive by facilities , use your eyes , you're lying eyes and tell you what you see out there. So in order for us to be able to place facilities in other neighborhoods , we have to be a good neighbor and we have to show that the community is going to be better because they're not worse. We as I'm just talking about around shelter facilities , because we've always we always self-police our own facilities. We don't bully anybody. We just let people know if you want to camp out in front of the elementary school , you're not going to be welcomed in an alpha facility. And so people don't because they know that someday they're going to need our services. So it's mutual respect and cooperation that we have with the folks , the other the libraries and other things. That's a political decision. That's not mine.

S6: You're listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. I'm Jade Hindman speaking with Bob McElroy , CEO of the Alpha Project. And Bob , in the past , you have been critical of the city's approach to building shelters. Do you feel the city has heeded any of your suggestions , whether in their approach to these safe campgrounds or other city run shelters.

S5: Have they heated in any of our suggestions ? Is that what you said ? I did know. No , they haven't asked. I mean , for example , they bought two storage tents , you know , that are unfit for human habitation. Without asking us , we could have told them that , you know , we built the one along with Peter Seidler , Lucky Duck , the first one on 16th. And Newton has been visited by over 65 cities. That has ventilation systems and central heating and air conditioning systems that move the air. And it's a beautiful thing. The two other tents that were purchased are storage tents. And just to give you one example , the one on Rosecrans , they spent , you know , tens of thousands of dollars to retrofit that facility. And I said , this is not good enough. When we had the last surge of Covid , there was 23 positives in that one tent alone with 150 people in it in the tent with 278 people downtown had two. So if they would , just in the flooding and the berms and be built , I've told them that all before , after the fact , because nobody asked me before the fact. What do you think about this facility ? And it's cost the taxpayers tens and tens of thousands of dollars to retrofit something that could have been taken , taken care of , or they just would have asked. So as I said , I see these two campgrounds. There's a lot of challenges there right now. And I know where the mines are laid.

S6: Right ? Tremendously.

S5: That's my biggest frustration is , you know , there's only so much taxpayer money out there and to see it wasted really is I can't use cuss words or but it's not good.

S6: Speaking of facilities , there are also concerns that shelters aren't meeting the needs of the most vulnerable , particularly seniors and people with disabilities. So in your view , what needs to be done to better serve them ? The city might not be asking you these questions , but here on midday we are.

S5: Well , that's a great question. As I said , the severely mentally ill need facilities for them so they can have some peace and dignity. Okay. We took those down in the 80s and we've never , never been replaced. And certainly senior citizens , we have many of them in our facilities that need assisted living , that need additional care. Um , with , with their issues , we do the best we can , but we are not aborting care and we're not assisted living facility and the tremendous challenges there. They need their own spot so that they can have some peace , they can have some dignity , you know , and and have some humanity that needs to be those need to be separate facilities. Certainly the mentally ill , nobody's tackled that. I've been feeling about that for 37 years. And as I said , through no fault of their own , these folks are out on the street and those folks take up 80% of the resources of police time , paramedic time , fire department time , emergency room time , simply because they're trapped in their mental illness. And that's unfair and it's inhumane.

S6: You know , in a press conference last Thursday , Mayor Todd Gloria had strong words about other cities in San Diego County who he argues are just not doing enough on homelessness. Take a listen.

S3: There are few cities in this.

S7: Region who are doing a little. Most of them are doing absolutely nothing. What other city in this region has built the amount of shelter that the city of San Diego has ? What are the city has invested the resources to provide services to the level of the city of San Diego has for people experiencing homelessness.


S5: That's that's always been the case. Always been the case when we had the plan to end chronic homelessness 20 some years ago and we all met at Nazarene College from all over the every city in the county. And we had a the homeless czar from Washington , DC came out and we had this big Kumbaya meeting out there and every mayor swore to do or committed to do their fair share for their populations. And that was 20 plus years ago and nothing's ever happened. So it's all city of San Diego is always borne the brunt of the region's homeless services. And there's a couple of reasons for that. One of them was you go to any traditional city from back in the the 20s and the 30s. All the missions and all the facilities for the homeless were in the inner cities. That's where the services were. And traditionally that's that has not changed. And so that's where the resources are. But certainly other cities need to do their fair share. They never have. And I don't have any great expectation that they will.

S6: You know , you've been involved on the ground on this issue for many years.

S5: We're not serving homeless people. We're serving brothers and sisters. Sons and daughters , grandmas , grandpas , people. And unfortunately , we become a society of labels and stigmas and stereotypes. Instead of looking at people in a humane perspective is that that's who they are. Those are our folks. And is it okay for your son or your daughter to be living in that squalor ? Is it okay for your grandma , your grandpa , to be living in that squalor and look at the humanity ? People do a lot of talk. Nobody takes anybody home with them. You care about people so much. Open your doors. Take somebody home with you. That'll never happen. My point is , is that we've taken people are just a label now and it's easier to I'm not going to have grandmas for senior citizens , grandmas and grandpas on asphalt. I just I wouldn't want my grandma on asphalt. We've got to be better than that. These are people , you know , And as much as , you know , some people , people are fed up and they're disgusted and they've been attacked and all the negative thing that goes on , hey , I get it. I feel for them , too. But we've got to we've got to look in the mirror and say , jeez , that could be me. That could be my son , my daughter , my grandma , their folks. And I think we're going to bring the humanity back to the back to the discussion.

S1: That was Midday Edition host Jade Heineman speaking with Bob McElroy , CEO of the Alpha Project. What do you think needs to be done to address homelessness in San Diego ? Give us a call at (619) 452-0228 and leave a message or you can email us at midday at Coming up , we explore the many challenges that unhoused seniors can face.

S8: It's important to not look at the unhoused population as a monolith. Really. For the older adults , it's economic.

S1: You're listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. You're listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. I'm Harrison Patino , in for Jade Heineman. We've been talking about the state of homelessness in San Diego County. And this year's point in Time count revealed a surge in homelessness across the county , particularly among seniors. According to the survey , nearly a third of unhoused people are 55 and older. That means the number of unhoused seniors is up nearly 50% compared to last year's count. And many of these seniors are experiencing homelessness for the first time. So what's happening here ? And how can we best address the needs of this population ? Host Jade Heinemann spoke with Melinda Faust , the CEO at nonprofit serving seniors , about the challenges seniors face to keep a home. Here's that conversation.


S8: So this could be the loss of a job or the loss of a spouse. It could be a medical illness or it could be as simple as increased rents on a fixed income.

S6: Like you said , many older adults have limited income or are just unable to work. And while there are many reasons someone may find themselves unsheltered for those 55 and up is the main reason income.

S8: The main reason is income and rents have increased 10 to 15% , sometimes even more in the last several years. Meanwhile , folks on fixed incomes are only seeing a fraction of an increase. So for many of the older adults we serve , they may be living on 11 or $1200 total a month , while the average rent for one bedroom in San Diego is well over $2,000.


S8: And one of the key solutions that we have identified in order to prevent homelessness is what's called a shallow rental subsidy program. So with programs like this , by providing a few extra $100 a month towards rental assistance , we found that more than half of the seniors we work with would have been able to stay housed.

S6: That sounds like a good solution there.

S8: But in addition to that shelter , really , none of the existing shelters have age friendly solutions. So they may not have bottom bunks , they may not address mobility issues. In addition to that , many of the seniors we work with avoid shelters due to safety concerns.

S6: And what are some of those safety concerns ? Yeah.

S8: So serving seniors released a needs assessment on older adults experiencing homelessness in 2021 , and a large percentage of those seniors shared that they had been victims of a verbal assault , of physical assault and also of theft while staying within the shelter system.

S6: Our shelter is able to address the needs that seniors may have. They may need help doing basic daily things showers , eating food.

S8: So right now , for example , if an older adult is discharged from the hospital and they aren't able to cook for themselves or help clothe themselves , they're actually turned away from shelters because they don't have those support systems. So having supports where they can have caregivers come in and help them while they're in the shelter system and also having service providers have additional training on the needs of older adults is critical at these times.

S6: That in mind , how would a camping ban affect unhoused seniors , especially when shelters really can't meet their needs and are in a position to where they have to turn them away ? Yeah.

S8: So as the encampment ordinance is currently written , it does not address the needs of older adults. We really do need to invest in more age friendly shelters where we are able to accommodate mobility needs. But we are also in support of safe camping for older adults , but again , making sure that it has ADA requirements that we are able to provide those services with folks that are trained on the needs of older adults. So currently our flagship location , the Gary Mary West Senior Wellness Center , is located on fourth and beach downtown. And under this new ordinance , this would be one of the areas. Where folks would be able to be swept regardless of if there is a shelter bed available. And this truly has become a safe haven for the older adults we serve. There's lighting here. They've really developed a community where they take care of each other. They watch each other's belongings , and it's right outside our center so that they can easily access our meals and get connected to our caseworkers who are actively trying to find them. Shelter and housing solutions.

S6: You're listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. I'm Jade Hindman speaking with Melinda Forrest , the CEO at nonprofit serving seniors. We're talking about the rising number of seniors experiencing homelessness in San Diego. Melinda Mayor Todd Gloria has said there are plans to present more shelter options for seniors and people with disabilities.

S8: So this is a model that we know works , and we strongly encourage the city to expand their efforts on that. But in reading the plans in the future , we just don't think there is enough being done. And frankly , we do need more of an emphasis , again , on these age friendly solutions across the board , both within shelters , within safe camping and of course , with affordable housing.

S6: You know , having to live unsheltered is a bitter pill to swallow for anyone , especially for seniors and those who are disabled because they are such a vulnerable population.

S8: There's also a sense of isolation and , you know , challenges with connecting to resources.




S8: There has been success with keeping seniors housed and preventing it from happening. As I mentioned , the city did implement a shell subsidy program back in September , which has had success with keeping those individuals housed. And we're also thrilled that the county most recently just launched their own shallow rental subsidy program last month. And we really think it's important to focus on preventative measures like this to keep people housed and prevent them from falling into homelessness in the first place.


S8: And so that's why it's critical that we build as much affordable housing as possible , but that we also take in all of the above approach. So again , investing in those age friendly shelters , investing in safe camping , but camp safe camping tailored to the needs of older adults. We also need to be creative and look at family reunification and shared housing programs. Rams.


S8: But it's just not enough. So we do need to invest more , both at the city level , the county level and the state level.


S8: They can learn more about our organization and ways to get involved. We are a nonprofit and we do rely on the generosity of the community. So invite the community to again become more familiar with serving seniors and then lots of ways to volunteer and get involved.

S1: That was host Jade Heineman talking with Melinda Faust , COO at serving seniors. Do you have thoughts on how San Diego is trying to address homelessness ? Give us a call at (619) 452-0228 and leave a message or you can email us at midday at If you ever miss a show , you can find the Midday Edition podcast wherever you listen. I'm Harrison Patino.

UU: Thanks for listening.

School children walking in the street to avoid homeless encampments on National Street in downtown San Diego on May 30, 2023.
Melissa Mae
School children walking in the street to avoid homeless encampments on National Street in downtown San Diego on May 30, 2023.

The San Diego City Council voted 5 to 4 on Tuesday to pass the Unsafe Camping Ordinance, which would ban homeless encampments on public property. It's a controversial policy, with city officials, local advocates and community members debating whether the ban will truly serve the needs of San Diego's growing unhoused population — or if it will instead affect the most vulnerable communities, from seniors to people with disabilities.


Andrew Bowen, KPBS metro reporter

Bob McElroy, CEO at Alpha Project

Melinda Forstey, COO at Serving Seniors