San Diego’s homeless crisis has reached alarming levels, with Black San Diegans disproportionately affected. While the issue demands urgent attention, Democratic leadership, spearheaded by Mayor Todd Gloria and the City Council, seems to prioritize their own political agendas over the well-being of the city’s most vulnerable population.
According to the latest annual homelessness count, Black San Diegans make up a staggering 27 percent of the city’s unsheltered population, despite comprising only 6 percent of the overall population based on U.S. Census estimates. This disparity is reflected in enforcement data as well, with individuals identified as Black accounting for nearly 28 percent of arrests and citations for encroachment, the primary charge used by the city to police homelessness since 2018.
Instead of addressing the root causes of disproportionate Black homelessness, Mayor Todd Gloria and his fellow Democrats have chosen to focus on implementing a homeless camping ban that will likely result in increased police interactions with Black San Diegans. This misguided approach is bound to exacerbate the racial disparities within the homeless population and make matters worse for those already facing immense challenges.
The passage of the camping ban by a narrow 5-4 margin further highlights the lack of unified support for this policy. City Council President Sean Elo-Rivera, along with Councilmember Monica Montgomery Steppe, voted against the ordinance, expressing concerns about its potential racial impacts. Elo-Rivera’s amendment to track enforcement data, including the races of those impacted, was a step in the right direction, but it still falls short of addressing the full extent of the problem.
The camping ban has the potential to discourage Black San Diegans and others from seeking shelter, as highlighted by a 2022 study conducted by San Diego State University. The study reveals that enforcement of anti-homeless laws creates a harmful context of frequent police interactions, resulting in material and emotional harm. This, in turn, leads to a reluctance to seek services until emergencies arise.
Mayor Todd Gloria justifies the camping ban as a means to persuade unsheltered residents to move into shelter or new safe campsites while addressing public health and safety concerns. However, the new ordinance, despite the addition of alternative shelter options, is likely to exacerbate racial trauma and reinforce systemic racism within the homeless population.
City Council President Sean Elo-Rivera remains hopeful that monitoring the impact of the ordinance will yield better outcomes for Black homeless San Diegans. However, true progress will require a more comprehensive and proactive approach that addresses the underlying causes of homelessness and prioritizes the needs of the community over political posturing.
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