homeless national city
Erin Miraz Bernier is one of several homeless residents who were removed from an encampment on 16th Street in National City. The group now stays on a nearby overpass. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Editor’s note: This is a slightly modified version of a section that originally ran as part of the Politics Report May 29, which is now available only to people who have donated to Voice of San Diego within the last year. It’s a must read for anyone who wants to closely follow local public affairs. Consider becoming a member here

The Downtown San Diego Partnership updated its monthly count of homelessness within downtown Friday and revealed a large spike. The group counted 1,157 homeless residents downtown – up from 875 in April and 721 in March.

That is roughly the same population of visible homeless individuals downtown as there were during the hepatitis A crisis that started in March 2017 – but this comes years after the massive mobilization to sweep tent encampments and shelter individuals and their belongings began. Now, for example, unlike 2017, Golden Hall, the convention area next to City Hall, is an official homeless shelter and seems like it will be for some time.

The Downtown Partnership uses a methodology of two residents per tent and two individuals per vehicle. There were 91 tents counted in Barrio Logan.

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria says it may get even worse before it gets better.

In a written statement, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said that it was all a very complex problem but that he is rapidly expanding the city’s leadership ranks on the issue and partnering with the county.

“A more compassionate approach means that homelessness may be more visible as we do the hard work necessary to expand supportive services, increase capacity in our shelter system and create more affordable housing,” he wrote. “As I talk to residents across this city, it’s clear that homeless is the No. 1 issue on people’s minds, and ending homelessness is my top priority. But the city can’t do it alone. I need all of us to step up and be part of the solution – and that means supporting affordable housing, shelter and services in your community.”

Nearby: National City Mayor Alejandra Sotelo-Solis is struggling with the encampments. She said a recent fire in one by the 16th Street overpass on the 805 was the last straw. It’s Caltrans land and she said that health orders during the pandemic, along with resource shortages, had forced them to allow the encampment. But with health orders easing and money flowing for abatements, the people needed to move.

“Cleanups aren’t the solution. We need to have housing first and mental health and substance abuse programs,” she said. “But it came to a head because of that fire. Homelessness is not illegal but the activities that take place in those communities is what is illegal.”

She said she was disappointed when she said only four of the individuals removed from the area took advantage of services and shelter that were offered.

But they weren’t exactly removed.

VOSD multimedia producer Adriana Heldiz found several camped on a nearby sidewalk.

Heldiz asked one woman, Erin Miraz Bernier, what she thought about the situation. Miraz Bernier said the group had become a welcoming family. But the cleanups have happened every day this week.

“You can’t say anything about it because it did get out of hand. Hopefully we learn from our mistakes,” she said. “No one wants to look at their window during breakfast and look at all that mess. People will complain no matter where you go.”

Another tent resident, Robert, who declined to give his last name, said he felt picked on and that the sidewalk where they ended up is more dangerous.

homeless national city
Robert and his friend David Corpus sit on the sidewalk on 16th Street in National City. There are some of the several homeless residents who were removed from an encampment nearby. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Sotelo-Solis said the homeless crisis in National City is second only (though closely related) to public safety and petty crime as the top concern of National City residents from whom she hears.

But she said she also hears from people right on the edge of ending up on the streets.

“I believe many in our community are one paycheck away from losing secure housing. It’s not just about upward mobility. For many, it’s about just stability,” she said.

Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently...

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