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We all know homeless tent encampments in San Diego are growing. What’s new is that we are finally beginning to talk about the tents and what they mean, writes Scott Lewis.
For many unhoused people, tents bring a sense of safety, community and dignity. That’s why many choose a tent over a shelter.
“It turns out, unhoused residents are a lot like people who have homes. They want privacy. They want, though, to be close to community. They like pets. They like being together with loved ones. And yes, some of them like to do drugs or drink. All of these things, however, can be restricted or difficult in a congregate setting,” like a shelter, writes Lewis.
Mayor Todd Gloria also recently acknowledged some homeless residents prefer outdoor tents over shelters. But even though Gloria knows some residents don’t like shelters, shelters will remain part of the city’s strategy for dealing with homelessness.
That’s because they indirectly provide city officials with an enforcement tool. When there are shelter beds open in the city, officials can compel homeless residents to pick up their tent and move on.
Gloria and other city officials have also argued that tent camps can create public health risks. They often cite a devastating 2017 hepatitis A outbreak and a smaller 2021 shigella outbreak — and the need to prevent future health crises tied to sanitation issues that disproportionately affect people living on the street.
But it’s clear San Diego’s homeless strategy isn’t working, argues Lewis.
“Sometimes when you are fighting something, you have to channel its energy rather than keep trying to destroy it,” he writes. “The personal tents are not good. But they represent a human desire to take care of oneself and to build community. The tents reveal not a desire to be on the street but a very human desire to build a home.”
Court Says City Violated Homeless Man’s Rights
The appellate division of the San Diego County Superior Court on Wednesday affirmed a previous judge’s decision to toss a case involving a man accused of camping overnight in Balboa Park. In the process, it concluded that the San Diego city attorney’s office violated Matthew Houser’s constitutional rights by removing itself from the discovery process.
In 2019, Houser’s legal counsel, Coleen Cusack, asked the city attorney for the relevant evidence but prosecutors directed her to the San Diego Police Department. The police, in turn, produced only a portion of the evidence Cusack was entitled to and told her to seek the rest from prosecutors.
The city attorney’s office under Mara Elliott’s leadership stopped overseeing requests for evidence in infraction cases years ago. Her office said the decision was made in part thanks to a cost-benefit analysis, citing an explosion in tickets. City prosecutors said they were following the district attorney’s lead and acting in the public interest.
After the trial court dismissed Houser’s case, Elliott’s office appealed. On Wednesday, the appellate court rejected the city’s argument that, because infractions are less serious and more numerous, prosecutors can depart from established laws that ensure defendants receive evidence that might clear their name.
As Jesse Marx wrote last year, San Diego’s hands-off approach effectively turns police into prosecutors and makes it harder for defendants to get a fair trial.
Cusack, who’s spent years working on Houser’s case, was ecstatic with the ruling. She began a thread on twitter with “VINDICATION.”
Escondido Residents Want More Climate Action
Escondido leaders are at odds, once again, about whether to consider implementing more climate action. At a recent meeting, one councilman said more climate action is not a priority, especially because the city is facing a huge budget crisis.
Some residents and environmental groups, however, argue that the city could be doing more in a budget-friendly way, writes Tigist Layne for the latest North County Report.
Escondido has made strides in climate action like joining the Clean Energy Alliance, implementing an organic waste recycling program and replacing more than 1,000 streetlights with energy-saving LED lights.
But residents and advocacy groups are taking issue with the lack of smaller efforts like planting more trees, establishing a climate commission and reducing single-use plastics — things that would be financially possible for the city.
In Other News
- NBC 7 reports that police agencies in San Diego County will no longer investigate their own fatal officer-involved shootings. Every law enforcement agency has signed a memorandum that will bring in investigators from other jurisdictions.
- Meanwhile, San Diego police officers are leaving the force in near-record numbers, NBC 7 also reports. The head of the police union said the departures weren’t the result of one issue but the city’s vaccine mandate pushed some over the edge.
- Sempra Energy is paying out record profits to investors on heels of SDG&E customer bill spikes. (inewsource)
- An LA Times columnist argues that two San Diego museum expansions breathe new life into old infrastructure, including one that critics had called “a tremendous mistake.”
This Morning Report was written by Will Huntsberry, Jesse Marx and Tigist Layne. It was edited by Megan Wood.