Jul 28, 2023 - News

How San Diego's camping ban will work

A homeless encampment in San Diego

Rachel Hayes lives near a freeway overpass along with hundreds of other people in a homeless encampment in downtown San Diego. Photo: Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images

San Diego police are ready to begin enforcing a broad ban on homeless encampments starting Monday morning.

The ordinance, approved by the City Council in June, always prohibits camping in defined "sensitive areas," and the rest of the city so long as shelter is available.

Why it matters: San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria pushed the ordinance through a divided City Council, and it's the biggest homeless policy change he's made since taking office.

Catch up quick: Officers can now charge people camping on public property with a misdemeanor if shelter space is available and they refuse it.

  • That arrangement means the law complies with a federal ruling and settlements over enforcement of encroachment ordinances, the city attorney's office opined.

Zoom in: Encampments are now always illegal within two blocks of schools or shelters, in canyons, on the banks of waterways and in some public parks. Voice of San Diego mapped those areas.

Yes, but: The city must post signs in the areas near schools, parks, shelters and transit stations where the blanket ban applies, per the ordinance.

  • Some signs are up, but staffers haven't finished posting them citywide, and it's unclear when they will.

Of note: Enforcing the ban will be limited until all signage is up, but officers can ticket unhoused people for other violations in the meantime.

Enforcement will follow a three-strike policy citywide:

  1. A warning, explanation of the ordinance, and shelter offering. An SDPD spokesman told the Council last month unsheltered residents accept shelter about 10% of the time.
  2. A misdemeanor citation, either for encroachment or a new charge created by the encampment ban.
  3. A second charge, including arrest. The officer can instead let the person choose shelter.

Between the lines: The start of enforcement was pegged to 30 days after the city's first safe camping site opened.

  • Eighty people are currently living on the site, in 65 tents. It has capacity for 136 people, but the city is filling it gradually.
  • CBS 8 reported the permit for that safe camp site expires Dec. 28, and the city's fire marshal said there wouldn't be an extension of its 180-day limit.
  • Gloria has said the ban complements a new comprehensive shelter-expansion strategy.

By the numbers: Encampments are most prevalent downtown and in the immediately surrounding area.

  • Street homelessness downtown decreased in June, to 1,723 people. That's lower than the total for five of the last six months, but still an increase from 1,453 people last June.

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