A San Diego Police car sits across a homeless encampment in the Midway District on Sept. 28, 2021. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Mayor Todd Gloria announced Monday that he has ordered a major clean-up of a Midway District homeless camp that has grown dramatically over the last year.

Gloria said the city has notified residents staying along much of a stretch of Sports Arena Boulevard between Rosecrans Street and Pacific Highway that they will need to move Tuesday to allow city crews to clean the area. By one count in January, the growing camp documented in an NBC 7 story last week included 94 tents and an estimated 183 people.

The clean-up operation follows a five-day homeless outreach effort in mid-January that included city outreach contractor People Assisting the Homeless, the county and several other organizations. During the operation, dozens received services, but just seven moved into shelter – a total likely throttled by the spike in COVID cases that has largely halted city shelter intakes and residents’ concerns about both recent outbreaks and shelter conditions. Gloria’s office described a hesitancy “to accept shelter placement despite knowing clean-up operations were imminent.”

The large-scale clean-up that had been expected the week after the outreach operation was postponed by rain and a past legal settlement requiring the city to give residents ample notice before proceeding.

Gloria’s office on Monday tweeted that his team was determined to proceed with the clean-up after outreach workers learned multiple people had a stomach illness and reported that residents were “living in unsafe and unsanitary conditions.”

Midway business and property owners have also raised concerns.

“I refuse to wait until we have another public health crisis—or some other tragedy—before addressing the unsafe conditions at this encampment,” Gloria tweeted.

During a visit to the camp during the outreach operation in January, a couple residents told Voice of San Diego they didn’t oppose city clean-up efforts long considered controversial as long as they came with adequate notice and care for residents’ valuables. They also questioned why the city didn’t put out trash cans so they could throw away debris themselves.

Della Infante, 57, has earned the nickname “Ma” because she looks after others in the camp, including seniors and young women. Infante said she has for years awaited a housing voucher that would provide subsidized rent to help her get off the street. For now, she feels a sense of responsibility for others staying at Midway camp.

“I don’t want to leave anyone out here,” Infante said.

Homeless advocate Amie Zamudio, who has put dozens of homeless residents up in hotel rooms during the pandemic and has regularly visited the Midway camp, said many people staying in the camp want to move off the street — and want trash service while they remain in Midway. 

“They are not service resistant,” Zamudio said. “We have people that are waiting on housing matches that don’t have anywhere to go that are sitting in tents.”

Lisa Halverstadt

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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