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Downtown San Diego Partnership calls for creation of 'safe villages' for homeless

Posted at 6:42 AM, Feb 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-04 09:47:11-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) – A nonprofit organization believes they have an idea that could help with the homelessness problem in downtown San Diego.

"We're seeing an increase in numbers. Absolutely, we're in a crisis situation,” said Paul Armstrong, with the San Diego Rescue Mission. "It's heartbreaking because these are our neighbors."

The Downtown San Diego Partnership has been doing a monthly census of the homeless population in the downtown area since 2012.

"And, in our last count in January 2022, we found that there are more 1,400 people sleeping on our streets and more than 422 tent encampments throughout the seven downtown neighborhoods,” said Sarah Brothers, with the Downtown San Diego Partnership.

Amid those numbers and the impact COVID is having on shelters, the Downtown San Diego Partnership is calling for the creation of something called "safe villages".

Safe villages are transitional communities that can include small-scale homes or tents, living accommodations, and access to social services, among other things.

"If a concept like safe villages is going to be somewhere where someone is more comfortable, and that gets them connected to services and on that path, eventually, to permanent housing and somewhere where they can kind of enter into stability and safety, we think it's worth of exploring,” Brothers said.

The Downtown San Diego Partnership is still drafting its proposal and identifying funding for it.

ABC 10News reached out to Mayor Todd Gloria’s office for his take on this call for action.

In a statement, Gloria said, “The homelessness crisis in San Diego and across California requires that we consider all options, but also that we be realistic in our expectations. There are a number of resource concerns related to large-scale campsites, chief among them what sites are available for such operations. It’s our hope that the proposal the Downtown Partnership says they are putting together includes large, flat areas of land that could accommodate and are available for such a use.”

Brothers said that the Downtown San Diego Partnership is very early on in the process and that they're keeping options open on a specific site location — hopefully within the city of San Diego.

Homeless advocates feel it's a good idea to provide more options to have more ways to help.

"This is an opportunity for us as a community to look at that. We got to keep our eye on and focus on long-term housing solutions, absolutely,” Armstrong said. “But we also have a short-term crisis of too many people sleeping on the street."

Downtown San Diego Partnership President and CEO Betsy Brennan said in a release for the call for action, “The goal is to build more homes – the ultimate solution to end homeless. However, until we get more homes and more permanent supportive housing on the market, we need to keep all options on the table. We need to hear support for solutions like Safe Villages if we’re going to see this crisis and the impact it’s having on the lives of people experiencing homelessness move in a different direction.”

Whatever proposal or solution comes to pass from any group, some hope it comes sooner rather than later.

"Let's get a good plan in place, one that's, you know, cost effective and let's move quickly,” said homeless advocate Michael McConnell, a homeless advocate.