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Could San Diego's encampment ban go statewide?

 February 9, 2024 at 4:54 PM PST

S1: This week on Kpbs roundtable. It has been a traumatic few weeks for San Diego as more extreme weather has hit the region. But what has been the experience for San Diego's unhoused ? We hear the latest on homelessness across the region.

S2: There are not enough beds for all the people that want them , and so we're still trying to figure out where some of these folks have ended up.

S1: Plus , it's been six months since San Diego's camping ban took effect. Now , a statewide version is gaining traction in Sacramento.

S3: But there really seems to be more of a public appetite to crack down and just frustration around , you know , not seeing a significant dent in the problem.

S1: That and our weekly roundup coming up next on roundtable. San Diego is bouncing back from more stormy weather this week , which brought heavy rains , whipping winds and even a tornado warning to the region. All this while many parts of San Diego are still recovering from the damage caused by flooding from the storm in late January. Unhoused San Diegans have been especially at risk during the extreme weather. Some local shelters had to close due to flooding , leading the city to open an emergency evacuation shelter in Balboa Park. Meanwhile , days after the late January storm , the San Diego Regional Task Force on Homelessness held its annual point in time count to get a picture of how many people in the region are experiencing homelessness. All this comes as lawmakers in Sacramento propose a statewide camping ban , six months after San Diego's own camping ban took effect. Joining me to talk through all of this and more is Lisa Halverson , senior investigative reporter at the Voice of San Diego , and Blake Nelson , homelessness reporter at the San Diego Union Tribune. Welcome to roundtable. Let's jump right in. Starting out at a high level , what does the homelessness situation look like in the city of San Diego today ? And what's changed in the last year ? Blake , I'll start with you.

S2: Um , there's been a pretty dramatic shift in the encampment landscape. The most obvious place you can see that is downtown. Even though there hasn't been an insane surge of arrests or tickets from police for the camping ban , it appears that the threat of added enforcement has still led a lot of people to leave. And one of the big questions everybody has is where did everyone go ? We've got some did accept spots at these designated camping areas that they call safe sleeping sites. Data shows that more people are asking for beds , but there are not enough beds for all the people that want them. And so we're still trying to figure out where some of these folks have ended up. We know encampments are up along the riverbed , but one of the things we hope this point in time count will help us with is seeing if other neighboring cities are seeing an increase in folks.


S3: We've heard anecdotally of folks may be showing up more in City Heights or Chula Vista. So I think , you know , there is a hope that the point in time count will shed more light on that. But kind of taking a step back more holistically , I would say that in the past year , there's been a shift toward more punitive measures to address homelessness. So , you know , there's also talk of adding more shelter. And some has come online. We've have safe sleeping sites , but there really seems to be more of a public appetite to crack down and just frustration around , uh , you know , not seeing a significant dent in the problem despite increased local and state spending. Meanwhile , I would say life is more difficult for people on the street. They're on the move a lot more. It's harder for service providers and for reporters like Blake and I to try to find people that we may have kept in touch with in the past.

S1: And on that punitive aspect , unpack that a little bit.

S3: But as Blake pointed out , we don't really have a lot of data to show , you know , okay , if somebody had an interaction with a police officer , uh , you know , did they move on because of that ? I think any time that and I always feel the need , I have to say this , whenever we're talking about a policy like this , we're also talking about human behavior. And there's often not like an A plus B equals C. So there's just a lot that we don't know. But then we also have discussions , um , around behavioral health related to for example , care court , which is a new program that aims to compel more people , not not just homeless people , a much broader population , but just of people who have psychotic disorders , um , into care. Um , and , you know , a lot of the rhetoric around that was related to homelessness at the state level locally , they're trying to sit , you know , really point out this isn't a homelessness solution. This is a narrow group of people that may be served. And then we also have Senate Bill 43 , which expands Conservatorships to include people with severe substance use disorders. Um , and , you know , Conservatorships , of course , you know , somebody being forced into some sort of care , um , what the prediction is , it's that actually this will result initially in more people coming into the hospital on short term holds. Um , and of course , many people would point out , you know , a behavioral health conservatorship or something like that , or , you know , care court isn't necessarily punitive , but for the person involved , when they're being told you are being compelled to do this , it feels punitive to them.

S1: And you've done some excellent reporting on the intersection of homelessness. And the hospital system. I do want to get to that in a bit for sure. Sticking with this idea of more punitive measures.

S2: The county of San Diego is looking at this as candidates looking at this. Um , but all of that is also happening , uh , amid what could be a pretty seismic shift in police enforcement if the Supreme Court decides to step in and , and and really rewrite the rulebook. We've got this ruling , a lower court ruling from a while back , that this is an oversimplification , but basically says you can't push somebody off public land if they have no other place to go. If you can't offer them a shelter bed , there's a there's a lot of fine print that goes along with that. But that's sort of the , the , the big picture look. And so a lot of cities and increasingly a lot of Democratic leaders have said this is handcuffing our response to encampments. We need more freedom to be able to clear encampments. So San Diego has signed on to an appeal from a small town in Oregon called Grants Pass. That case has now made it to the Supreme Court , and the justices will probably decide by June , uh , what the standard needs to be when local cities are trying to respond to an encampment.

S1: I'm glad you unpacked that for us , because that decision is looming over all of this. So as we're talking about city , regional , state responses , that will be that could be a game changer when that decision comes down. So important to keep that in mind as we have this conversation , I want to touch on some of the serious weather events that we've had. So , you know , the flooding in late January , the heavy rains again this week that drenched the region.

S2: And not even just on I mean , floods , rain , weather always hurts people who are living in the riverbed who are living outside. But this was particularly damaging to people who are who had accepted shelter and were were in a supposedly safe place. Uh , you had a lot of different facilities that took in water and some sort of minimal damage. Um , for the second time in a couple of months , uh , folks who were living at the 20th and be Safe sleeping site were temporarily relocated to another facility. But the biggest impact was we had this big tent downtown. That Alpha project ran at 16th and Newton. Um , that was completely flooded. You had several feet of water. About ten porta potties were knocked over. I mean , just extraordinary damage throughout the entire thing. Everyone had to leave. A colleague and I were inside it shortly after all the a few hours after all this happened , there were abandoned wheelchairs in the back because people had to be carried out so quickly. There wasn't even time to bring the wheelchairs with them. You know , we were seeing medication that had been left on , on people's beds to treat cancer. Uh , so that that has been incredibly traumatic for all sorts of people and is a big problem that the city has to solve , not just to figure out , can we can we salvage this tent ? Because all those folks are now staying at a gym by Balboa Park , but also , as the city is trying to add more shelter beds , this takes more than 300 offline , at least for the near future.

S1: What does that say about the city's planning when it came to the rollout of these sites ? Because yeah , San Diego bright and sunny most of the year , but there is a rainy season here. And sure , the storm that hit , uh , in late January was , uh , once in a thousand year storm , but we do get heavy rains here.

S2: And he emphasized that both were always seen as temporary solutions. Although the Alpha Project tent has been there for several years. And so I think , you know , the city has has implemented a lot of temporary measures , a lot of stopgap shelter options to try to open up more beds as more and more people lose a place to stay. But some of these places we are increasingly finding out are in vulnerable areas , which is going to be an ongoing challenge.

S1: And Lisa , do you have something to add ? Yeah.

S3: Well , one thing I will say is I would definitely recommend , if you haven't already , listeners should read Blake's story about the Flooding and Alpha project. It was a very good story documenting the impacts for the folks living there. I will note with the Alpha Project shelter at 16th and Newton , that location was already set to relocate. Um , so basically there is a housing project that's going to be coming up in that area. And so they had already been looking for a new location for that shelter. So now they're temporarily in the Balboa Park Activity Center. You know , the few hundred people that were staying there. Uh , but I think it will be interesting to see , okay. Because of this. I mean , is it even worthwhile for the city to try to get folks back into that shelter tent at that location or.


S3: I keep asking for updates , you know , are the residents going to go back ? Do we have a damage estimate ? And it just sounds like they're still assessing. And and I do think one factor here , and I'm hearing this in a lot of different corners right now , is there are lots of folks waiting to see what the weather was going to be like this past week as well , and the impacts of that. Um , and I think , yeah , there are many decisions still to be made about rehabilitation for all sorts of buildings and properties. Right now.

S1: We've been talking about the city of San Diego. Let's broaden it a little bit to the county. Blake , how's the county handling homelessness ? What what challenges are they facing ? Yeah.

S2: So we talk about how there's a bed shortage in the city of San Diego. Generally , things get much worse. The further you go out of the city of San Diego. Fewer shelter options , fewer services. So the county , the county is trying to do a couple of things there. They are considering their own camping ban , modeled after San Diego's stricter limits. Uh , they're also trying to find more land that they can quickly put up a temporary shelter , like a big tent that could hold hundreds of bunk beds or , like these small sort of they call them pallet shelters. They're like little cabins that could hold like one , maybe two people. Uh , but what they're running up against is the same problem that a lot of these groups run up against is whenever you name a site or a plot of land and say , like , hey , this could go here. Um , there's often local opposition. So we just saw that a few few days ago at the county supervisor meeting. One floated site had been in the city of Escondido. A lot of residents there , including the mayor , had said , hold on. This is too close to our businesses. Although the mayor did say , we will find something else we can work with you on and make it a more permanent shelter. But I mean , Supervisor Joel Anderson has been pitching spots for a while. I was at town halls with him and in Lakeside and Santee , and both of those plans for small homes for the homeless crumbled after a public outcry. The one other thing I would add is Anderson did reference some of those town halls at a recent meeting to say that some of those residents may be coming around and maybe , maybe those proposals could be revived , but at the moment they're not.

S3: And I would say this has been tough going for the county , because they've been having these conversations about shelter sites going back for the past few years , and they have a few things to show for it. I mean , they they did partner with the city of San Diego on the Rosecrans shelter. There's a safe parking lot , um , in Joel Anderson's district. Um , and they partnered with other cities on new shelters , but they don't really have their own sites. And so I guess we'll see , you know , what happens. And if you know , when if we're talking about emergency shelter , it seems like this has been a long running emergency conversation.

S1: Lisa , I want to talk about the reporting you've done on the intersection of homelessness and the hospital system , in the same way that you said that listeners should go read Blake's story , I'm going to say , listeners , you should go read Lisey's Story. Excellent reporting that you did multiple stories on this issue. You know , you looked at how the hospitals , they're not equipped to handle the influx of homeless people that are coming into their emergency rooms , and how many are just winding up back on the streets after the discharge.

S3: So we have more seniors who are living on the street. We have more people that are chronically homeless , which means that they've been living on the street for at least a year and have at least one disability. And lots of people on the street have more than one disability. We also have been dealing with a drug overdose crisis and a larger behavioral health crisis. And the longer someone is on the street , the more vulnerable they become health wise. And so all of those things together are contributing to seeing more people in hospitals. When these folks hit the hospitals , they don't have the same opportunities that you or I have to go to that follow up appointment. They run into a lot of issues. So like just to give a quick example , um , if I'm getting out of the hospital , um , and say that I broke my , broke my arm or leg , um , and I live in a canyon , the situation for me getting discharged is going to be very different than if I were discharging to a home , and maybe I had somebody to help me out. And that's a very simple example. Often the the conditions we're talking about are much more complex , but hospitals really aren't set up to deal with these. Complicated life situations that these folks experience that really do exacerbate their health conditions. And so what you're seeing is people often continuously cycling , often with chronic health conditions. The hospitals are really set up to deal with acute emergencies. And , you know , as much as it may be an emergency sometimes to the person that's coming in the hospital , may not view a chronic health condition as an emergency , but untreated or not properly treated. And dealing with all of these other dynamics on the street , these issues can just get a lot worse.

S1: When we come back. Why local hospitals often struggle to handle the needs of homeless patients.

S3: There's not a system set up that hospitals can directly refer their patients , and there aren't set aside beds. And so it's essentially happening is that these homeless patients are getting in line with literally every other homeless person in San Diego who wants a shelter.

S1: That's just ahead on round table. This is Kpbs roundtable. I'm Scott rod. Today we're talking about homelessness in the wake of the region's recent storms. I'm speaking with the voice of San Diego's Lisa Halvorson and Blake Nelson from the Union-Tribune. Lisa , I want to stick with this topic of hospitals. You know , they're required. My understanding is , by law to prioritize finding shelter for patients when they come in. But that isn't happening.

S3: It didn't come with any new resources for shelter. Um , and there isn't a system set up in the city of San Diego , which is Blake was sharing earlier , has the largest share of beds , shelter beds in the county. There's not a system set up that hospitals can directly refer their patients , and there aren't set aside beds. And so it's essentially happening is that these homeless patients are getting in line with literally every other homeless person in San Diego who wants a shelter. And as Blake has also reported , uh , you know , it's very , very difficult right now for anyone who wants shelter to get it. So people that are showing up and getting in line , for example , just 1 in 5 shelter referrals in the city of San Diego are resulting in someone getting a shelter. So that's for the broader population. And so it's happening in practices. These hospitals are telling people , okay , you might be able to go here and get a shelter. Here's a piece of paper with phone numbers and other things. A lot of times these patients don't have phone numbers. Um , and so what's happening is they're just trying to seek shelter with everyone else , and they're often not getting it.

S1: That was one of the things that surprised me most reading your story was that there wasn't a sophisticated system set up for referrals , for people to go from hospitals to seamlessly or more seamlessly find a bed in the city's current shelter system. That just seemed like a remarkable breakdown in our current system. Well.

S3: Well. So I want to say too , that it was one of the really interesting things that I learned digging into that , because , I mean , I was kind of when I first started reporting on this , I'm like , oh , well , they maybe. Are you sure there's not something , you know ? Um , when I first heard about this , like a few years ago , but the one of the hospital systems , Scripps Health , has actually been pushing to be part of the city's referral system so that they can directly refer people into shelter. So , of course , I then asked the city and the San Diego Housing Commission , why haven't you done that ? Why aren't hospitals part of this referral process ? And they essentially said , we really need the hospitals to step up and provide financial resources to help make this possible , because the vulnerability of these patients is so significant. And , you know , going back to that stat I shared with you earlier , 1 in 5 shelter referrals are resulting in somebody getting a bed. They feel inundated with the , you know , just the number of demand , you know , the the daily requests that they're already getting. Um , so I think it will be interesting to see now with this sort of unpacked for a lot of people that maybe just wondered about this issue. If it doesn't spur more conversations.

S1: Like , I want to talk about some reporting you did also on what seems to be a systemic failure for another vulnerable , especially vulnerable group of homeless individuals. Veterans you're reporting found that many vouchers that are set aside for veterans are just not being used. Um , why aren't they reaching ? Why aren't these vouchers reaching the former service members who are homeless ? Yeah.

S2: So just some quick stats. In 2022 , San Diego County got around 950 vouchers. And these vouchers generally cover much of a veteran's rent. Not all , but but a huge chunk and really helps folks get housing. Uh , you had about 950 , and about 40% of that was not used. Similar share in 2021. So. This requires for a. They're called Vash vouchers and for a Vash voucher. To successfully house someone , you need coordination between county officials in this case and the VA. So the county is saying we're not or we haven't been getting enough referrals from the VA. The VA has to do an initial screening because they're often the ones that are going to also supply a bunch of supportive services. So during one recent 12 year period , the county was saying we're getting only around a dozen referrals a month. The VA's got a got to up that number , which they already have. They've contracted with an outside nonprofit called Path , uh , and that referral rate has recently doubled. But the VA is telling me that the issue is not that they need more money , you're more staffing or whatever , but that just the housing market is such a mess. And there are so few units available , especially so few affordable units , um , that that veterans are just struggling to actually find a place. I talked to one woman , um , who because of a series of rapes that happened when she was in the Army , uh , this led to methamphetamine use , alcoholism , homelessness. She'd been arrested before , and at the first time I talked to her , she was just concerned that she had a Vash voucher. She was like , is any landlord actually going to going to rent to me ? Uh , she did end up finding a place. Her her top choice was a neighborhood in Chula Vista. She did get an apartment in Chula Vista , so that is huge. But that is what she was worried about is something that that a lot of people are concerned about.

S1: It's good to hear that she was able to find housing. The fact that so many others , though , haven't been able to use these vouchers or find housing or the vouchers are just not getting where they need to go. You know , that caught the attention of members of Congress , and they responded to your story and sent a letter to the local Veterans Affairs office.

S2: Something that happens with a lot of reporting , uh , is a reporter writes a story and then a government official says , hey , let me look into that. And so then they essentially either hire a law firm or send a letter or , or hire investigators or whatever and say , like , we basically needed to confirm that he did not make this up and I did not make it up. But they are they are still in sort of the information gathering stage where they sent a letter to the VA and we're like , Blake wrote this story. Can you please confirm these numbers and and give us some more context on what's happening here ? So I'll be in contact with with San Diego's congressional delegation to hear what they get back from the VA. But at this point , they're they're just trying to suss out some of the context from what I'm looking at , although they can probably get more information than than I can get as just a member of the public.

S1: Well , you heard it here first on roundtable. Blake Nelson does not make up his stories. I'm glad. Yeah.

S2: They're they are not made up. They are true.

S1: Glad we got to the bottom of that. Um , we had the point in time count two weeks ago. Blake , briefly. What is the point in time count ? And I know that you went out and were shadowing some of the folks who were doing it. What did you see ? Yeah.

S2: So the federal government requires regular momentary tallies of an area's homelessness population. The point in time name refers to that. This is not this should not be considered to be on the same level of like the census that the whole country goes through every couple of years. I mean , this is just we're going to send out 1500 volunteers for a couple hours on a random day in January , and we're going to see how many people we can find. And then that does provide a helpful comparison point to look at year after year after year. But it is just a very narrow point in time. Look at how many people were here at this time. So it's it it should not be taken as this is the end all be all number of homelessness. Uh , but it it can show trends over time , especially in individual cities. Is that. Yes.

S3: Yes. I would say it's it's broadly seen as a minimum count. And interestingly , for many years in San Diego and a lot of other communities , it was a big deal number that everyone watched for every year and talked about there'd be a big press conference with a bunch of politicians to announce the number. But in more recent history , we've had a lot of other , more regular data coming out. That helps inform us too , and can be more informative. Um , so , for example , the Regional Task Force on Homelessness has been putting out monthly numbers on the number of people that are becoming homeless for the first time and the number of people who are getting housed. And unfortunately for the last 21 months of data , um , we've been seeing more people become homeless for the first time. And that really informs us on why are we not seeing a change in homelessness despite all this increased spending and investment ? It's because we have more people falling into homelessness than are getting housed. Just as simple as that. It's a math problem. But we also , you know , have the Downtown San Diego Partnership , a monthly count which includes downtown and some outlying areas. And so that's why you're hearing a lot of folks talk about the impact of the camping ban there , because there are numbers that they can point to. But what we don't have is data on what's happening in those outlying areas. Um , other than the River Park Foundation , which Blake has written about , um , does some regular counting along the San Diego River , but we're missing a lot of data. Otherwise , even with this new data.

S1: What I was going to ask you , it sounds like we have overlapping data sets of different counts , which maybe provides kind of like this Swiss cheese look , where , you know , you may get a sense of what's happening , but there are still holes poking through.

S3: And so that that's been really difficult , I know is I kind of hinted at earlier , I mean , it's been harder for me to keep in touch with some people. And I know certainly I'm hearing that sort of thing from service providers as well. Um , so that's definitely one missing piece. Um , I mean , there are numerous data sets , though , that I think would be helpful. I think it would be , uh , helpful to understand more , to get more granular data about where people are finding housing , um , about , you know , the different categories of homelessness to like month to month. Um , you know , what are we seeing in terms of trends , or are there one thing I know I for sure would love to is like , if we could break down the newly homeless number into where were they coming from ? So did they get evicted from a big apartment complex ? Um , what's going on ? What is the cause of that ? I could go on and on , but I'll stop myself.

S1: Well , well , Blake , do you think you know , Lisa said that it used to be this kind of big thing. There was a press conference. You know , we have more data that's coming out , but do you think that it's , uh , its value is maybe overemphasized or I guess , what's your what's your perspective on what the point in time count shows us and its limitations.

S2: Yeah , it probably it probably does get a little overhyped , at least just because it's since so many people participate in it , people are probably more the average resident is probably more familiar with that than what the downtown partnership does downtown. Certainly what the River Park Foundation does and the riverbed. So it is helpful. It , just , as Lisa said , should be considered as this is the minimum number of people who are out here. Uh , and , you know , even even if we had monthly counts , that still going to probably miss people who are blowing through their life savings and motels. It's going to miss high school kids who are couch surfing at friends. Uh , and it's just going to miss people who are really good at hiding. So this is always going to be imperfect. But more data would be fabulous.

S3: Well , and I think it's important to always emphasize , too. It's called a point in time count for a reason. It's a point in time. And so many more people experience homelessness in a given year than the point in time count. It's about double or more , um , that experience homelessness in a given year and access homeless services.

S1: At the state level. More than a dozen lawmakers are backing a proposal for a statewide camping ban that's modeled after San Diego's ordinance , and it would prohibit camping within 500ft of landmarks like schools and transit stops. This is getting attention because it's a bipartisan push. You know , it was co-authored by Republican State Senator Brian Jones and Democratic Senator Katherine Blake Speer. What would a camping ban look like statewide ? And do you think it's something that could be exported from San Diego and adapted to other parts of the state ? I'll go to you , Blake.

S2: Um , I mean , I think the main thing everyone would have to keep in mind is in San Diego , probably the biggest immediate effect is we saw a huge surge in people asking for for shelter. Huge surge might be overstating it. More people definitely start asking for shelter beds once that passed , and even as the city and the region try to bring more beds online , uh , there still isn't nearly enough space for everyone who is actively asking for it. So I think the biggest thing for other cities that are looking at something like this is if you are not going to offer more shelter to go along with increased police enforcement , you're just going to be pushing people around. But again , I think it's unlike , I shouldn't say , unlikely. I think there is a chance that the Supreme Court is going to is going to decide what cities can and can't do before this actually makes its way through. The statehouse. I could be wrong , but no.

S1: That's true. The legislative session will go up , you know , through basically into the early fall. And this decision from the Supreme Court is expected to come , you know , by June , I believe , early summer essentially. So there is kind of a timeline overlap here. And it'll be interesting to see how that all plays out.

S3: And I you know , I think Mayor Todd Gloria would agree. Um , but there has been a push to add more shelter. There's been an interest in adding more shelter here , and that's not the case across the state. Some cities don't want to open up shelters in their communities. And so to Blake's point , if they don't open up shelter , it just becomes a situation of whac-a-mole where people are moving from place to place. And sometimes that can have impacts to where , you know , maybe there's a community that historically didn't have as much homelessness , um , because maybe services are concentrated in a particular area , but maybe that's close to schools or parks or , you know , some other sensitive area. And so suddenly we have people coming into different areas. Um , I think unless you can pair , you know , any sort of approach , whether enforcement or not , with more housing and more shelter , you're going to have trouble actually putting a dent in homelessness. Because also , even if you add a lot of shelter , you have to have a place for people to go after or the shelter becomes de facto housing. And so that's definitely something , you know , I'm wanting to have more conversations about in San Diego , too , about , okay , if we increase the number of shelter beds , along with something like an encampment ban , and that happens statewide as well , is there a big housing plan to get people through those shelters ? Because you could have a situation where there's just a need for more and more shelter , because there's not more housing.


S2: Uh , if there is more enforcement in a bunch of other cities , I want to see if if there and not just if if city councils pass it. I want to see how aggressively their police enforce it. Um , since , again , I think police in San Diego have relied have been relying more on on encroachment and some other laws that were already on the books. If they're going to move people out of a out of an area and the Supreme Court , that that could change everything. Yeah.

S3: Yeah. And on the Supreme Court decision , I know one thing I'm really watching to see is how do we define available shelter ? Because I have met many folks over time who can't make it into a traditional shelter because of issues , health issues and challenges that they have. Um , for example , I met a woman who was paraplegic. She can't go into a traditional shelter. Um , so , you know , is there going to be some clarification of of what that means ? And , you know , how they look at daily availability in terms of numbers as well ? Um , and on a very related point , I am also very interested to see whether the city and county , um , increased shelter options for our most vulnerable people , um , who now really can't access shelters , as I talked about. So people that have health conditions who may need some help , um , you know , going to the restroom or eating who we now sometimes walk by on the street and wonder , why the heck is this person out there ? Well , a lot of times they don't qualify for our existing shelters. Their needs are just too significant.

S1: We've been talking a lot about the policies surrounding homelessness , which there's so much going on and there's so much to unpack. But as we wrap up here , I want to focus on the people that are being impacted. And you both emphasized that , you know , what matters here is that these are human beings with names , families , stories.

S3: I would say that , um. Oh , I think of this , um , man , Michael , who I met outside the Homelessness Response Center. Um , and this was when I was working on the story about homeless hospital patients. And he had been discharged from the hospital a few different times in recent history. And he was , you know , getting to the homelessness Response Center again. He was going to check in for shelter the next day , but he was just so disillusioned. And he said to me , you know , basically. I'm going nowhere fast. I got pneumonia going and trying to get shelter. Um , and I think a lot of times people think folks don't want shelter. Um , but this man had actually , he told me he had gotten in line for a full week trying to get shelter after a previous discharge , um , from the hospital and didn't get a bed. And here he was again after another hospital stay , trying to get a bed. So it's very hard when you're homeless in San Diego to get help. I think a lot of times people think , oh , like they should just accept shelter. But a lot of people that are seeking out whether it's shelter , whether it's they want to start the process of detox , it can be really difficult to get help.

S2: Uh , there was a woman in her 30s named Brittany that I met downtown on the subject of people asking for shelter. She told me something that I hadn't heard before , but makes sense , which is ? I asked her why she was still in a tent and not in a shelter , and it sort of a light bulb went off and she said something along the lines of like , honestly , I'm just spending so much time trying to survive out here. I forget to call the number. I was talking to her in the context of. I was surprised to go through a bunch of medical examiner data to find that , like more than a dozen people have died in San Diego County over the past decade or so. Uh , from hypothermia in during winter months. I mean , people are freezing to death outside , which I did not know. Um , and Brittany demonstrated for me how she starts fires in her tent by lighting hand sanitizer. Um , which is not safe. And she is aware it is not safe. But that is the one thing that can keep her warm , especially in the nights were dropping down into the 30s. So I think about Brittany a lot.

S1: I've been speaking with Lisa Halverson , a senior investigative reporter for the Voice of San Diego , and Blake Nelson , homelessness reporter at the San Diego Union Tribune.

S3: Thanks for having. Us.

S2: Us. Thanks so much.

S1: When we come back , we catch up on some other stories that got our attention on this week's roundup. That's next on roundtable. Welcome back to roundtable. It's time now for our weekly roundup of stories we've been following. Joining me is producer Andrew Bracken. What's up Andrew. Hey , Scott. All right.

S4: I think it was Tuesday. And afterwards , Melissa Mae , our colleague from Kpbs , she did a story breaking down what goes into a tornado warning and also what the difference between a tornado watch and a warning is. And in that story , she spoke with National Weather Service meteorologist Brian Adams. And here's a little of what he had to say there.

S5: It's kind of a combination of how likely is it to occur versus how much lead time can we give people. So we have to anticipate , too , that if we think the storm is going to strengthen more , and we're showing signs that it could potentially produce a tornado at any minute , we have to get that warning out.

S4: I think we have , you know , some of us in the newsroom had questions about , you know , was there actually a tornado ? Also , one common question , I think a lot of us had is what are we supposed to do ? And in that story , she kind of delves into that. I think some people may have gotten that tornado warning on their phone. One of the things that mentions it's like , you know , you go into your basement , whereas here in San Diego , we're not used to tornado warnings , nor are we used to really having basements.

S1: I mean , we're seeing these increasingly intense storms come through. I was driving on the eight coming into the station , and the rain was just , like , pounding. And then all of a sudden , yeah , I got this warning. And I figured , well , I guess I just got to keep driving , but but I guess the best thing to do if you're in a car is to pull over. That's that's something that came up in the story as well.

S4: Yeah , that's what he said. But so you just kept going. You're like , all right , I'm just going to my destination.

S1: I was like , in that movie twister , baby. Just just powering through.

S4: And you know , there was also in the story they talk about the cloud. I guess they did see a cloud. I don't think there was an actual confirmation of it , of the tornado hitting the ground. But definitely , you know , an unusual sight for San Diegans , I think.

S1: Yeah , a scary moment.

S4: You know , a couple of weeks ago we we talked about a pretty precipitous drop in the adoption of rooftop solar. As you may remember , last year they changed the net metering rules. So depending on how you calculate it can be can be more expensive for people. And so less people are adopting rooftop solar. The Union Tribune's Roxana Popescu basically has this this article where she asked some experts , you know , looking into is installing solar worth it right now ? And there's a lot of different sort of factors involved. It definitely sounds like a more long term investment , I think , she said. The average cost for installations around $14,000 , um , there's also a federal tax credit that I think you get about 30% back. My takeaway was it's a pretty complicated answer there. It's not like an easy yes or no. And I also my other question , just kind of reading that article is like , what about renters ? You know what I mean ? We don't really renters don't really have the the choice there , I guess , but just definitely an interesting kind of look into the different questions homeowners are looking at whether to adopt to solar.

S1: Yeah , I know it's definitely complicated. The picture for homeowners. You know , a story that caught my eye in a it's in sort of the same ballpark at the state level. There's an effort to repeal something called or potentially repeal the income graduated fixed charge , which is super inscrutable. What that basically means is last year there was , uh , in a in a much larger bill , a rule passed where they're going to start implementing fixed fees on electricity bills with the goal of having lower income people pay less , and the fixed fee would be higher for higher income people. And this garnered a good amount of controversy because it was passed in what's called a trailer bill , which is essentially something that follows the budget. And it was tucked into this massive bill and sort of lawmakers and constituents , ratepayers saw this and said , wait a minute. You know , this came out of nowhere. There was no debate. So this highlights one something that's interesting that's happening at the Capitol , more and more policies being passed in these trailer bills , that there's not a lot of debate happening , but also now there's this sort of reversal where lawmakers are saying , wait , we're going to maybe take another look at this. We won't implement this because there really was a lot of pushback on this idea of adding more charges , more fees to what are already expensive electricity bills. Yeah.

S4: Yeah. And I think Kpbs is Eric Anderson has talked a little bit about that and , you know , heard from a lot of listeners and our audience , because anytime you talk electricity bills , I think it comes down to we know we have some of the highest rates in the nation.

S1: Uh , my understanding is the new fee. Ease would be hammered out , or the rules around them would be clarified in the summer. So it's kind of a ticking clock if they do want to repeal it. So we'll see what happens in the coming weeks and months. Yeah.

S4: Yeah. And some of the details were still to kind of be hammered out. Sort of it sounded like okay. Exactly.

S1: Exactly. Yeah. The last story is a lighter one ahead of the Super Bowl. The New York Times had a story that essentially said Tex-Mex is the MVP on the Super Bowl menu. And you know what ? I kind of agree. I think they're right. They highlighted Frito pie , seven layer dip queso dip , nachos , quesadillas. I know that at least a couple of those will be making an appearance at my Super Bowl party.

S4: I'll be attending one , but chips and guac probably my go to , so I'm okay with that. But that's kind of as far as I go. I don't know what else do you make ? What else do you bring for Super Bowl ? Oh , it's a.

S1: Smorgasbord , man. It's like pigs in a blanket. Buffalo wings , buffalo dip. It's going to be a smaller party this year compared to last year. But I plan on making as much food. So you're probably going to have to roll me into the newsroom on Monday.

S4: An alternate idea for Super Bowl Sunday that this is a former football player told me this originally he'd been sort of like just left the sport and just didn't want to partake. And he actually told me , like , Super Bowl Sunday is a great day to go out and do stuff and go out to places. So some of my family , they're going skiing. But I always think that's interesting to people because it makes sense. Everybody's at this like , you know , five hour party. It's kind of nice to go out and do something too , if you're not as football obsessed as most Americans , I guess. Yeah.

S1: Yeah. If you're going to hit the surf lineup , you know , going out when the Super Bowl airs , that's the time to do it. Totally.

S4: Totally. Yeah.

S1: Yeah. Andrew Bracken , thanks for being here.

S4: Thank you Scott.

S1: Thanks for tuning in to Kpbs roundtable. We'd love to hear from you. You can email us at roundtable at , or leave us a message at (619) 452-0228. You can also listen to our show anytime as a podcast. Kpbs roundtable airs on Kpbs FM at noon on Fridays and again Sundays at 6 a.m.. Roundtable is produced by Andrew Bracken. Rebecca Chacon is our technical producer. Brooke Ruth is Roundtable's senior producer , and I'm Scott Rodd. Thanks for listening.

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Pallet homeless sleeping cabins are on display in front of the San Diego County administration Building, Feb. 2, 2024.
Jacob Aere
Pallet homeless sleeping cabins are on display in front of the San Diego County administration Building, Feb. 2, 2024.

More storms hit the San Diego region this week, and unhoused San Diegans are especially vulnerable during extreme weather.

This week on Roundtable, we have a conversation on homelessness in the region over six months after the city of San Diego's encampment ban took effect.

Plus, California lawmakers have proposed a statewide encampment ban.

Then, we hear about other stories in the news on this week's roundup.


Lisa Halverstadt, senior investigative reporter, Voice of San Diego

Blake Nelson, reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune

Andrew Bracken, producer, KPBS