A child walks around San Diego’s city-sanctioned campgrounds in Golden Hill. / Photo of Adriana Heldiz
A child walks around San Diego’s city-sanctioned campgrounds in Golden Hill. / Photo of Adriana Heldiz

It’s long been clear that to the extent San Diego has a plan to address homelessness, a big part of it involves the police.

An NBC San Diego investigation this week laid it all bare.

The station obtained an email in which officers discuss issuing encroachment citations as a way to “handle transients.”

Funnily enough, the city did not cough up that email in a 2016 public records request by Kelly Davis, reporting for Voice of San Diego, when she asked for “San Diego Police Department policies, procedures, memos and training bulletins regarding enforcement (citations, arrests) of San Diego municipal code 54.0110.”

Davis reported for us in 2016 that SDPD officers were increasingly targeting the homeless with citations meant to address trash bins. It’s almost poetic, were it not impossibly sad, that the police are quite literally viewing homeless residents and trash dumpsters as one and the same.

NBC found the trend has kept up: “in 2018 police officers in San Diego issued 5,910 encroachment tickets in San Diego, a nearly 300 percent increase from 2013 when officers issued 1,413 encroachment citations.”

This year, the police sweeps ramped up intensely just before the annual homeless count, possibly skewing the results. The Regional Task Force on the Homeless had to take unheard of steps to get the federal government to sign off on adding back into the count the people whom police had arrested.

Worst of all, police Capt. Scott Wahl told NBC that the department takes a sense of pride in this approach.

“Some of the conditions on these streets are deplorable. They’re not healthy, they’re not safe and the homeless population pays the price the most when we look the other way. So we’re proud of the fact we’re out here doing something about it,” he said.

Wahl is right about almost all of that. Conditions are deplorable, and the homeless are paying the price. But we’re all paying the price alongside them by choosing the path of least resistance and leaving this issue to law enforcement to address. Police are going to police, it’s kind of what they do.

Without that long-awaited mythical regional plan for homelessness, our plan is effectively to make merely existing in public a crime – an approach with enormous moral, economic and social consequences.

I’m not proud of that, and the police – and every leader in this region – shouldn’t be either.

What VOSD Learned This Week

Maya Srikrishnan recently traveled to San Pedro Sula, Honduras to get a better sense of the forces driving migrants to San Diego’s doorstep. She pulled out seven photos from the trip that help explain the situation on the ground there. And she met with a deportee whom she’d originally met in Tijuana, to talk about the man’s experience journeying to the U.S. only to be sent right back.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump told Sean Hannity that San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer thanked him for “doing the wall” when the two met this week. Faulconer told us that exchange never happened. On the podcast, we talked about their meeting and the San Diego County Republican Party’s embrace of Trump on the podcast this week.


The Jackie Robinson YMCA in southeastern San Diego will soon replace its longtime leader, an effort that’s prompted plenty of soul-searching over what leadership should look like there.


School districts aren’t required to have policies spelling out boundaries between students and teachers. But not having those policies can cost districts big time – as many across San Diego county have learned the hard way.


Violent crime in El Cajon has spiked far higher than elsewhere in the county, and no one seems to know why.


As another contentious vaccine bill makes its way through Sacramento, the latest changes aim to zero in on problem doctors who dole out exemptions improperly.

What I’m Reading

Line of the Week

“I cannot believe that so many people have been doing this the whole time! The world is filled with wonders, never forget!!!!! Make some bread today!!!!!!!! So that you can have it tomorrow!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” – This aggressively earnest post about making bread is the antidote we could all use.

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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