With homeless encampments in the center of his district on the rise in recent months, San Diego City Councilman Stephen Whitburn announced Thursday that he will propose an ordinance banning tents and makeshift structures. on public property.
“We have heard too many stories of people camping on our streets being randomly attacked, stabbed to death or even set on fire,” Whitburn said. “These camps are unsafe. They are also a danger to our neighborhoods.”
San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria joined Whitburn in the announcement, saying he supports the proposal and would urge the full City Council to pass it.
Also Thursday, representatives from counties across the state proposed a plan designed to create more housing and services for the homeless while increasing accountability and transparency.
Gloria said the new local ordinance would be tougher on people who refuse to accept help or move their tents, but would still take a compassionate and progressive enforcement approach. People camping in public places, including canyons and sidewalks, would be offered a shelter bed and would only be cited or arrested after multiple contacts with law enforcement.
Gloria and Whitburn also said the city plans to open another secure parking garage in the near future and is looking for a site for its first secure campsite.
“I want to be clear, once we have these resources in place, the answer from our homeless population can no longer be ‘No,’” Gloria said. “They cannot say no to leaving the sidewalk or not to prefer to be on the street or not to services and aid. When we ask him to get off the street and we have a place for him to go, ‘No’ is not an acceptable answer.”
However, with around 2,000 homeless people downtown alone, there are not enough vacant shelter beds or other alternatives to offer everyone on the street, even with the new parking lot and campsite.
When asked about the challenge, Gloria said she still hopes it will be enforced because many homeless people are able to find some form of housing on their own.
A monthly report from the Regional Homelessness Task Force shows that many homeless people rent units for themselves. He february report shows that 725 homeless people were housed that month, with 522 people renting units.
A federal legal decision prohibits law enforcement from citing or arresting people for outdoor camping if no alternatives are available. Whitburn’s proposed ordinance would follow the rule, but make exceptions, and law enforcement could cite people for camping in public places in certain areas, regardless of the availability of shelter beds.
Such enforcement would occur at encampments within two blocks of schools or homeless shelters, in any open space, waterway, or natural area adjoining a waterway, within any transit center, on any streetcar platform, or along any tram track.
The same application would apply to campgrounds at Balboa Park, Mission Bay Park, Presidio Park, and coastal parks in Ocean Beach, Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, and La Jolla.
The proposed local ordinance is similar to a proposed last year by State Senator Brian W. Jones. The bill, which is due for a committee hearing on March 28, would ban homeless encampments in public parks, near schools, libraries and other sensitive areas.
Gloria said the city in April will also begin enforcing its ordinance banning people from living in their vehicles, a law that had been on hiatus since the pandemic.
Homeless advocate Michael McConnell, a vocal critic of the enforcement already underway in homeless encampments, said the proposed ordinance seemed redundant.
“We already have a state law against illegal lodging and a municipal encroachment code,” he said. “I’m not sure what this additional law is going to do. Homelessness is basically criminalized every day in San Diego.”
McConnell said he doesn’t want people living on the streets, but he didn’t see additional law enforcement working until there were safer places to go.
In a separate announcement Thursday, representatives from San Diego and other California counties unveiled a proposal that they said would coordinate homeless efforts across the state and create more transparency and accountability.
Dozens of recommendations are included in the AT HOME plan, an acronym for Accountability, Transparency, Housing, Outreach, Mitigation, and Economic Opportunity.
San Diego County Board of Supervisors President Nora Vargas participated in the announcement with other members of the California State Association. from counties, including representatives from Los Angeles, Riverside, Alameda, Stanislaus and Tuolumne counties.
She and other supervisors stressed the need for more collaboration and streamlined processes to address homelessness.
“I have heard the strong voices in my county, and I am sure all of you have too,” she said.
Vargas said San Diego is already demonstrating local cooperation, with one example of a county-owned, city-funded shelter with the county providing behavioral health services.
More such services are needed, as well as outreach efforts, he said.
“We don’t have enough behavioral health care workers to meet the needs of our community, especially our unsheltered neighbors,” she said.
Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson discussed the plan’s recommendations to address the state’s housing shortage, saying some proposals are easier than others.
“As an example, the Department of Housing and Community Development has approximately 20 active state housing subsidy programs in 12 categories,” he noted. “Those could consolidate.”
Other recommendations, such as making changes to the California Environmental Quality Act, will require more work, he said.
The AT HOME plan supports exempting all permanent supportive housing, shelter and transitional housing projects that meet specific criteria from CEQA review, which Carson said would be a “step change” in service delivery and housing faster.
Other recommendations would explore new and creative financing mechanisms, streamline development rules and help local governments that sometimes see housing projects stalled due to objections from some community members, he said.
California State Association Counties CEO Graham Knaus said AT HOME is the most comprehensive plan ever developed to address homelessness, and implementing parts of it would require acts of the state Legislature, but could be done within one year.
Details and a list of recommendations in the plan can be found at https://www.counties.org/home-plan .