The San Diego City Council will soon vote on whether to ban homeless encampments in many public locations, but some activists aren’t happy about it.
“You are failing at your job and you’re blaming the unhoused population for your failure,” one woman said during a heated public comment period. “You suck,” she added, walking away from the microphone to applause and cheers.
San Diego’s Environmental Services Department regularly finds items in encampments or tents that it says poses a risk to public health or the environment. (City of San Diego)
More than 100 people attended the city’s Land Use and Housing Committee meeting Thursday to offer their opinions. Even more called in or emailed the committee about the proposal.
After more than two hours of public comment, the committee passed the ordinance 3-1, sending it to the full council for a vote.
The proposed ordinance would ban people from erecting tents within two blocks of schools or homeless shelters, in parks, along trolley tracks or near waterways. City workers regularly find items like electronics, drugs, human waste, fuel and more in these areas, which pose a risk to the environment and public health, according to a staff report on the proposal.
“We want a city that feels and looks safe and healthy, and we can’t do that with the encampments on the street right now,” said Councilmember Stephen Whitburn, according to local news station CBS 8.
Many business owners and residents testified in favor of the ordinance, saying they witness almost daily public drug use, litter and other illicit behavior. Some said walking around the city with their families has become unsafe with tents blocking sidewalks and aggressive behavior from people suffering mental health issues.
“Now I am as liberal as they come,” one man said, adding, “For those who want help, we have to have a heart for them. For those who don’t want help, we have to have a hard line that says it’s not okay to block [sidewalks].”
But homeless advocates said the ordinance will only hurt people who are already suffering.
“The ordinance basically just criminalizes homelessness,” Felipe Cervantes, a volunteer with a student-run group The Mustard Seed Project told CBS 8. “It doesn’t solve a problem and it punishes people.”
Advocates of an ordinance limiting public camping in San Diego argue unsanctioned homeless camps pose a risk to the environment. Nearly 70% of the trash collected in October 2022 by the San Diego River Park Foundation came from unauthorized encampments, according to the city. (City of San Diego)
Whitburn, who proposed the ordinance, said it would only be enforced if there is shelter space available for homeless people.
“But there are also plenty of unsheltered folks who don’t welcome assistance,” Whitburn said during Thursday’s hearing. “Individuals who for whatever reason have just decided they’re just going to live in an encampment on the sidewalk or a park or a canyon or riverbed. This ordinance addresses those individuals.”