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A homeless couple sits near the beach in Oceanside in 2016. / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

Police departments and city officials across North County are now grappling with how to handle enforcement of homeless individuals. Homeless advocates, in response, are raising concerns about the mistreatment of these populations.

The fear is that, during a public health crisis, the people who need help will recede further into society’s shadow.

Homeless advocate Ken Neuhaus said there’s usually a strong community of unsheltered residents in Magee Park in Carlsbad, but now that the park is taped off on all sides and closed to the public, those same individuals have begun walking around town during the day or hiding out behind bushes or near a local lagoon to avoid police enforcement.

“They can only sit at public places like the city’s transit center for a few hours before a police officer is bound to come by to question them,” he said.

Jessica Kramer, a homeless advocate who like Neuhaus helps provide food to Carlsbad’s and Oceanside’s homeless communities, said she’s particularly worried about the closure of public spaces  without offering the county’s unsheltered a safe and alternative place to shelter.

“Since the public parks and beaches have closed, the police have been actively patrolling and removing the homeless,” she said.

There’s no overt policy on where the homeless could and should go, she said. Instead, officers are just telling those individuals to simply move out of public view.

That doesn’t appear to correspond with guidance from the CDC that cautions local officials against clearing encampments and forcing people to disperse.

Carlsbad Police Sgt. Gary Marshall, who serves on the homeless outreach team, said his team is focused on informing homeless residents about the pandemic and how to reduce their risks, and he has no choice but to remove people from city parks and beaches because they’re closed. Marshall said officers are taking an advisory approach to teach people on the streets and living in their cars about risks posed by the novel coronavirus and are not enforcing laws against people living in their cars per Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order.

Megan Crooks, a neighborhood services director in Oceanside, which has one of the largest homeless populations in the county, said the police department’s homeless outreach team is working with social workers from Interfaith Community Services and are regularly contacting homeless individuals in Oceanside. But sometimes it requires half a dozen interactions with a person before they agree to receive services of any kind, she said.

When a homeless person is encountered either by the homeless outreach team or by local advocates, she said, that person is then assessed for permanent housing solutions.

“During COVID-19, I must emphasize that the emergency at hand is to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 virus,” Crooks wrote in an email. “It is not to house all homeless persons. While we would otherwise desire to find solutions for housing our homeless we must respond to the emergency nature of this situation.”

Rene Carmichael, a community outreach coordinator for Poway, said the city’s sheriff deputies interact on a regular basis with those living unsheltered and deputies are trained and equipped to provide resource referrals. They also have new options available to them during this pandemic, she said, including the opportunity with public health nurses.

“From what the Poway station has shared with us, most of our homeless individuals have not demonstrated a willingness to take advantage of these resources, but deputies will continue to interact with them in an effort to help meet their basic needs,” Carmichael said.

Robin Rockey, a spokeswoman for San Marcos, said the city is working closely with the San Diego Sheriff’s Department to actively engage with its homeless population and encourages them to take advantage of all the services that are available.

“We contribute significantly to the regional shelter network. We do not provide direct services to the homeless,” Rockey said.​

Lisa Halverstadt and I are continuing to keep an eye on how cities across San Diego County are handling homeless enforcement regionally. Halverstadt reported Tuesday that police in San Diego are still citing individuals despite guidance against it from San Diego’s City Council and the CDC.

Last week, we examined how countywide closures are forcing homeless San Diegans to grow hungry and desperate. Halverstadt also reported food banks and nonprofits are scrambling to address an overwhelming food need countywide.

Greg Anglea from Interfaith Community services in North County said the nonprofit has a food assistance program at its Escondido location where people can drive up and receive food without getting out of the car. Anglea said Interfaith’s food pantry is seeing twice as many people than usual, including people who’ve never come before.

“We’re trying to provide food assistance in a very different environment,” he said.

Anglea said even though the nonprofit usually relies on congregations and monthly food drives, there’s been a steady amount of food donations coming in from grocery stores and new donors.

“There’s people donating who have never donated before. A lot of people are donating after seeing disparities in our society,” Anglea said. “I think it’s being put on graphic display right now. And people who do have safety nets and who do have resources are donating.”

Vista Schools Call for ‘New Border Vision’

The Vista Unified School District’s school board took a stance on national immigration policies and passed a resolution embracing a new vision for the U.S.-Mexico border and nationwide enforcement on immigrant communities — particularly those who live and go to school in Vista.

The resolution says the board supports a “new border vision” that “expands public safety, protects human rights and welcomes people with dignity at the border.” It also calls on Congress to eliminate unreasonable searches by federal authorities and end potential profiling by federal authorities, eliminate federal authorities’ authority to waive all local, state and federal laws to build border barriers and end the criminalization of migrants “for simply being migrants.”

“The threat of deportation and fear of family separation discourages some undocumented students and students who live in mixed-status families from attending school, diminishing attendance and negatively impacting the educational outcomes of all VUSD students,” it reads.

Cipriano Vargas, a Vista school board trustee, said the board passed the resolution to reinforce its commitment to supporting all students.

Vargas said the school board started working on the resolution about a month ago and felt it was important to push it forward quickly to show its support of immigrant families and students during the uncertainty of the pandemic.

“The high presence of border patrol and ICE in North County San Diego also means that families and students who need to access medical supplies and health care during the COVID-19 public health crisis, face yet another barrier to being able to get the help they need,” Vargas said. “The emotional stress and anxiety that students who are part of immigrant families face as a result of the high presence of border agents in the region negatively impacts the learning outcomes of all students.”

Vista Unified is the second school district in the state and first governing body in San Diego County to implement the resolution. Berkeley Unified and the cities of Berkeley and San Francisco passed similar resolutions.

Lilian Serrano, chair of the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium, said her group Universidad Popular worked with the district on the resolution in part because the district’s board has been supportive of immigrant families and students in its passage of previous resolutions, including supporting the continuation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Serrano said she invites other cities and school districts across San Diego County and the nation to pass resolutions pushing back against policies that discriminate against immigrant communities.

Cipriano said he and his fellow board members have only received positive feedback on the resolution, and he hopes other governing bodies adopt similar resolutions.

What We’re Working On

  • Adriana Heldiz profiled farmworkers in Fallbrook who are confronting losses despite booming business in grocery stores. Farmers and food distributors are experiencing the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic as hard as anyone else as they quickly shift to accommodate a changing marketplace.
  • Maya Srikrishnan reports calls to the county’s child welfare hotline are down because mandated reporters of potential abuse, like educators, medical health care providers and child care providers, no longer have frequent in-person contact with children.
  • Even as we crave more news, San Diego’s newspapers, magazines and broadcasters are struggling with shortfalls amid the pandemic. Randy Dotinga reports three local publications – San Diego Magazine, San Diego Home & Garden and San Diego CityBeat – have stopped publishing entirely, the San Diego Reader has sliced the pay of its employees in half and the San Diego Union-Tribune and KPBS are facing shortfalls.
  • San Diego’s curve is flattening, but the end of social distancing is likely weeks away and there’s no uniform plan for who would get ventilators in San Diego, Will Huntsberry reports.

In Other News

  • The cancellations continue. There will be no San Diego County fair this year. The Del Mar City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to postpone the annual fair to 2021. Del Mar is also reconsidering its participation in programs including the Clean Energy Alliance and a regional sand replenishment program because of the economic effects of coronavirus.
  • The Los Angeles Times reported it can cost more than $1 million to build affordable housing in California and coronavirus could make it worse. The reporters profiled one affordable housing complex on a parking lot in Solana Beach that is the priciest affordable housing project in the state.
  • Instructors at MiraCosta College’s Technology Career Institute in Carlsbad are printing thousands of 3-D medical supplies, including face masks, face shields and decontamination boxes. And a Carlsbad student teamed up with his chemistry teacher to manufacture hand sanitizer for donation to a local food bank, shelter and hospitals.
  • And finally, I can’t stop thinking about this New York Times piece about how China ended its lockdown in Wuhan and the return to normalcy is anything but normal.

Kayla Jimenez

Kayla Jiminez was a staff writer for Voice of San Diego. She covered about communities, politics and regional issues in North County as well as school...

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