San Diego Citizens may want to keep an eye on an upcoming proposal aimed at addressing the issue of homelessness in the city. Councilmember Stephen Whitburn has put forward an ordinance that seeks to ban homeless encampments on San Diego sidewalks, parks, and other public places. The proposed ordinance is scheduled to be heard by the Land Use and Housing Committee, with the possibility of advancing to the full City Council for approval. Whitburn and Mayor Todd Gloria announced plans for the ordinance last month, recognizing the frustrations of residents in the area over the city’s perceived lack of response to downtown encampments. The proposed ordinance focuses on camping on public property, with violations being prosecuted as misdemeanors. Although the proposal is a step in the right direction, it is important to note that enforcement will only begin after new resources for homeless people are created.
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Ordinance Banning Encampments on San Diego Sidewalks to Get Its First Hearing This Week
SAN DIEGO — A proposal to ban homeless encampments on San Diego sidewalks, parks and other places is expected to get a hearing this week.
Councilmember Stephen Whitburn’s proposed ordinance is scheduled to be heard Thursday by the Land Use and Housing Committee, which could lead to it advancing to the full City Council for approval.
Whitburn and Mayor Todd Gloria announced plans for the ordinance last month. The proposal comes at a time when downtown encampments in the council member’s district have surged to record highs and residents in the area have expressed frustration at what they see as the city’s lack of response.
Change isn’t going to happen overnight, however. Besides having to first go through a committee hearing and then approval by the City Council, Gloria said last month that enforcement would begin after new resources for homeless people are created.
The mayor was referring to a new safe parking lot for people who live in vehicles and Whitburn’s plan to create a “safe sleeping” area, an alternative to shelters that would provide people in encampments a place to legally live outdoors.
Federal law prohibits people from being cited for sleeping in public places if there are not other options, such as shelters. The addition of a new safe parking lot and safe sleeping area would give the city more flexibility for enforcement.
The safe parking lot is expected to open this month, but Whitburn has not found a place for the safe sleeping project.
“The safe sleeping initiative is going to take longer, but I’m hoping that by the summer we’ll get our first safe sleeping site up and running,” Whitburn said. “We have not settled on a location definitely yet.”
Homeless shelters, safe parking lots and even storage facilities used by homeless people often are opposed by community members who don’t want any homeless services in their neighborhood, and Whitburn already has run into opposition to his safe sleeping plan.
He had discussed using an under-used parking area called Inspiration Point in Balboa Park as a safe sleeping site, but community groups that support the park have come out against the plan as an inappropriate use.
Whitburn has not abandoned the site, but isn’t committed to it as the only location for a safe sleeping area. But even after a site is located, there still would be many time-consuming steps before it could open.
Funding will have to be identified, possibly with the help of philanthropy, and the property would have to be prepared to accommodate the project. The city also would have to put a contract out to bid to hire a service provider to run the operation, adding more time to the process.
With all those steps in mind, Whitburn is hopeful enforcement of a new ordinance could begin by mid-year.
“My intent is people will begin to see a downtown and a city where more people are living in shelter and safe sleeping sites and other better options, and fewer people living in encampments,” he said. “I’m confident we will get there. I don’t want to put a specific timeline on that because I’m more interested in doing this right, but I do think we will be making progress this summer.”
The word “homeless” does not appear in the proposed ordinance, which amends an existing municipal code, but it does contain new language about camping.
The ordinance prohibits camping on any public property, including sidewalks, and violations would be prosecuted as misdemeanors.
Camping would be prohibited regardless of the availability of shelters in certain areas, including within two blocks of a school or a shelter, waterways, any transit hub or trolley platform, in Balboa Park, Mission Bay Park, Presidio Park and parks near beaches.
Following an agreement that has been in place for several years, the ordinance states there will be no enforcement of the rule against public camping between 9 p.m. and 5:30 a.m.
“If people share my view that we need an ordinance like this, I would encourage residents to make their feelings known and help advocate for this ordinance,” Whitburn said about the upcoming meeting.
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