Homeless residents set up tents on Commercial Street in downtown San Diego. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Mayor Todd Gloria announced on Monday that controversial homeless camp clean-ups will continue but with changes he believes will make them more orderly and compassionate.

Gloria said Monday that he had directed city staff to establish a regular clean-up and sidewalk sanitization schedule that offers more advanced notice than the three hours typically provided, to better clarify how homeless San Diegans whose belongings are confiscated can retrieve those items and to decrease the visibility of police officers aiding sanitation workers. He also reiterated orders he gave weeks ago barring clean-ups at night or during inclement weather.

So-called abatement operations where homeless San Diegans are required to move to allow for cleaning dramatically ramped up on former Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s watch. In recent years, homeless San Diegans have often complained about the unpredictability of those clean-ups and described instances where they lost belongings such as bicycles and tents.

Gloria has said he wants the city to show more compassion and give homeless San Diegans more predictability.

“While the city has an obligation to make sure we don’t have another communicable disease outbreak like hepatitis A among our homeless population, we can do so with compassion and while respecting their dignity,” Gloria wrote in a press release. “As we work every day on solutions to connect folks to permanent housing, shelter and supportive services, these changes apply a measure of respect and compassion that will reduce the trauma for those San Diegans experiencing homelessness.”

Voice of San Diego recently revealed that the frequency of clean-up notices and operations hadn’t dramatically changed since Gloria took office in December and that homeless camps have increased across the city. The announcement also follows a tragic crash earlier this month where a driver plowed into a downtown homeless camp, killed three homeless San Diegans and injured several others.

In the wake of the crash, Gloria’s office said the city intends to give homeless San Diegans more clarity on clean-up efforts, including more detailed instructions to retrieve items that city workers collect during clean-ups and to post cleaning schedules in areas where they are frequently conducted. He also wants to deploy service providers to offer resources to homeless San Diegans who may be affected by upcoming larger-scale clean-up operations in places such as city parks or canyons.

Gloria’s office said he has also said that while police will need to be on hand for clean-ups to protect crews, they will stop flashing emergency lights and park police vehicles farther from homeless camps to lessen the appearance of enforcement action.

Advocate John Brady of Voices of Our City Choir, who once lived on the streets, said he advocated for that latter changes among others.

Brady said many homeless San Diegans recognize the need for the clean-up efforts but have long questioned the city’s approach to them. He believes the changes could result in fewer clean-up operations and more effective engagement with homeless people.

“One of the things that we were really focusing on is, what are the negative impacts on the community? One of them is unpredictability. Another one is what appears to be targeted harassment or inconvenience where sweeps were happening more than once a day or multiple days a week in the same location,” Brady said. “For a lot of people that are living and working on the street, that really creates difficulty for them because they can’t schedule around the services. It raises the tension level.”

Brady is also among the advocates urging Gloria to dial back police enforcement affecting homeless San Diegans, a change he pledged while running for mayor.

Even before Gloria took office, enforcement that had soared under Faulconer had been reduced due to the pandemic and limits on misdemeanor jail bookings.

Data obtained by VOSD after public-records requests shows enforcement in the initial few months of Gloria’s term was largely consistent with the final months of the Faulconer administration.

More recent data documenting enforcement of crimes associated with homelessness suggests some change may be underfoot. Weather could factor into the adjustments since Gloria has directed police not to write tickets for some violations during harsh, cold or rainy conditions.

Police reported writing 26 tickets for encroachment from March 1 through March 15, essentially blocking a city sidewalk. Police reported writing 50 such tickets during the first two weeks of January and 64 the first two weeks of February.

Gloria has yet to announce a major overhaul of enforcement affecting homeless San Diegans. He has asked consultant Matthew Doherty, the former leader of the agency responsible for coordinating the federal government’s response to homelessness, to provide specific recommendations this spring on enforcement and the police department’s role in addressing homelessness.

Doherty is likely to recommend that police play a less significant role in the city’s homelessness response.

That would represent a significant shift from the prior administration. Faulconer, who is now running for governor, ordered dramatic increases in both enforcement of violations associated with homelessness and efforts to clear homeless camps as the city’s homeless population grew.

Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

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