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Proposed ordinance banning homeless from camping in public places sets off fiery debate

Posted at 5:40 PM, Apr 13, 2023

SAN DIEGO, Calif. (KGTV) — An ordinance that would make it illegal for the homeless to camp on public property in San Diego when shelter beds are available is attracting fierce debate at the city’s Land Use and Housing Committee.

“Our leaders, people like you are failing. You’ve decided to throw your hands up in the air and use more funds to criminalize people than to actually help them,” said Mandy Lynn, who came out to oppose the ordinance.

Lynn was one of over 100 people who came out in person or weighed in online on the ordinance brought forward by Councilmember Stephen Whitburn.

If approved, it would make it illegal for people to camp on public property if shelter beds are available.

“We’ve seen people in encampments die from hepatitis and be sickened by Shigella. We’ve heard too many stories of people camping on our streets, being randomly attacked, stabbed to death, even set on fire,” said Whitburn while giving an opening presentation on the plan Thursday.

The ordinance would ban camping near schools, shelters, trolley parks, and in city parks like Balboa Park and Mission Bay Park even if shelter beds aren’t available. It would also prevent people from camping along rivers.

Many downtown residents showed up to support the ordinance. Some said they were fed up seeing homeless people have sex and defecate outside daily. Others said they fear for their safety.

“We are frequently chased by angry homeless people carrying around weapons such as guns, machetes, knives, boards, arrows, hammers, screwdrivers, and bricks trying to scare and intimate us,” said Cookie Serrano, who said she was speaking on behalf of a group called East Village Doers.

A report prepared for the committee says from August 2022 through February 2023 there were 15,689 reports of homeless encampments submitted through the Get It Done app.

The report says the city has increased shelter bed capacity by 68 percent in the last two years. Yet 2,494 people were still unsheltered in 2022.

“Our leaders, people like you are failing. You’ve decided to throw your hands up in the air and use more funds to criminalize people than to actually help them,” said Lynn.

By 6:30 p.m. Thursday, the committee announced it had forwarded the ordinance to the full City Council for consideration. Mayor Todd Gloria also addressed the ordinance. Watch the news conference in the player below:

“This is the biggest problem in this city. This administration will do everything we can to address it,” Gloria said.

The mayor added, “We provide public restrooms, but people still defecate on the sidewalk. Let me be clear, not in my city. If you do, I expect our police department to hold you accountable. If there’s a bed available, I don’t want excuses I want you to use it. Not because the bed is the end all be all. The bed is the step towards permanent housing that ends the homelessness."

Homeless advocate Michael McConnell said, “I’m disappointed because it’s misguided and it’s not going to accomplish anything. It’s literally going to keep moving people around from one street to another; one sidewalk to another."

Gloria’s office says there’s no date yet when the ordinance could go before the city council for review. As we wait to see how the full city council will review this ordinance, Gloria believes it could get a majority vote.

“And I believe, when brought forward as we always intended, with a full explanation of how we see safe camping and safe sleeping playing out in our city; I believe that will be worthy of the vote of majority of the members of the City Council,” Gloria said.

The mayor also mentioned on Thursday he plans on rolling out the the fiscal year 2024 budget on Friday. He said there’s additional money in there going towards more shelters, safe parking, and safe sleeping.

It wasn’t clear how the ban on public encampments would be enforced if it were to be approved.