Tents lined up along 17th street in downtown San Diego on Aug. 18, 2021. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Hundreds of volunteers hit the streets last week to count the region’s homeless population.

While the results won’t be announced for weeks, our Lisa Halverstadt reports that street homelessness and the despair tied to it appear to be surging in the city. More tents and makeshift shelters are popping up throughout the city.

A sobering fact: The suffering of those living on the street appears to be reaching a new high – and as Halverstadt found, deaths of homeless residents are also rising.

Partial data on deaths of homeless residents investigated by the county Medical Examiner’s Office last year shows drug overdose deaths spiked 85 percent in the city in2021, an increase that drove an overall year-over-year increase in deaths among the city’s homeless population.

This has led downtown power brokers to push the city to pursue a concept many wouldn’t have gotten behind in the past: city-sanctioned safe villages where homeless residents could stay in their own spaces and receive services on site.  

Mayor Todd Gloria has for months been cool to the concept but told Halverstadt he’s eager to hear more details from the downtown business group lobbying for it – namely, suggested locations and staffing plans. While the Downtown San Diego Partnership pulls together those details, the mayor said his team is focused on finding new sites for shelter and housing. He also noted that the city and county last year converted a shuttered Midway District store into a shelter for people with addiction and mental health challenges. He said he’s eager to do the same elsewhere if the city can find workable properties.

Read Halverstadt’s story here. 

Politics Report: The Hotel Lawsuit That’s Still Alive 

Hotelier Bill Evans raised eyebrows in 2019 when his family business filed a lawsuit alleging that local labor leaders were holding public lease agreements hostage. In effect, he argued, certain unions were threatening the financial viability of non-unionized hotels and development projects by raising “sham” environmental and land use concerns. 

Representatives for Unite HERE Local 30 and the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council pushed back. They said their concerns were legitimate and made on behalf of the public and working-class people. 

A federal judge dismissed the case before it got off the ground, ruling that the local unions appeared to be engaging in constitutionally protected speech. What Evans had portrayed as a conspiracy was considered the normal workings of politics in a democratic society. 

We reported at the time that the case was dead. Turns out it’s not. Andrew Keatts and Jesse Marx dig into the issue in the latest Politics Report. 

Also, money is pouring into the AD-80 special election and the Housing Commission’s top exec, Rick Gentry is out. 

You’ll find all of that in the Politics Report — a rad weekly roundup of the region’s politics for Voice of San Diego members

Over on the podcast: New York Times economics reporter Conor Dougherty joined Andrew Keatts to talk about the politics of housing and what the elusive solutions look like in real life. In a story last year, Dougherty used the Clairemont neighborhood in San Diego as a focal point for California’s changing suburbs. 

In Other News

  • A recent recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is causing some confusion about masking locally. The CDC is recommending that all people in San Diego County mask up when indoors, reports Fox 5. That’s confusing some people because the state says that those who are fully vaccinated don’t need to wear masks indoors. 
  • The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that transit ridership is up. San Diego’s Metropolitan Transit System saw a decrease of weekday ridership of more than 70 percent in 2020 when restrictions related to COVID were first implemented. 
  • San Diego Unified Superintendent finalists shared their priorities for advancing equity for students and more at a recent forum. The school board plans to announce its top pick by mid-March. (Union-Tribune) 

This Morning Report was written by Lisa Halverstadt, Jesse Marx and Andrea Lopez-Villafaña.

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