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Clothes hanging on a fence and belongings can be seen on a sidewalk in the East Village on Jan. 12, 2023.
Clothes hanging on a fence and belongings can be seen on a sidewalk in the East Village on Jan. 12, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

Mayor Todd Gloria and downtown City Councilman Stephen Whitburn on Thursday unveiled a series of plans to attack visible homelessness amid increasing public exasperation with the city’s foremost crisis. 

With Gloria’s blessing, Whitburn said he will next month introduce an ordinance banning camping on public property when shelter options are available. If the City Council approves it, encampments will also be barred at all times within two blocks of schools and shelters, certain parks and along trolley tracks. 

Gloria said the city will also pursue a safe campground program championed by Whitburn to accommodate unhoused residents uncomfortable with traditional shelter options and resume enforcement April 1 of the city’s controversial ban on vehicle homelessness

The overarching goal, Gloria said, is to remove encampments that are “bad for people living, working, and going to school around them” and threaten economic activity.  

“We will enforce accordingly, to clear sidewalks, move tent encampments and get folks the help that they need to get back on their feet,” Gloria said. 

Mayor Todd Gloria speaks to members of the press at the Old Central Library that has been converted into a new shelter for women in downtown on Jan. 26, 2023. The new shelter has 36 beds and is being operated by Imperial Counties under contract with the City’s Homeless Strategies and Solutions Department and National Alliance for Mental Illness of San Diego.
Mayor Todd Gloria (right) speaks to members of the press at the Old Central Library that has been converted into a new shelter for women in downtown on Jan. 26, 2023. Councilman Stephen Whitburn stands behind Gloria. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

Gloria also said he’s working on a 2024 ballot measure to streamline the process to open new homeless shelters and “untie our hands when it comes to addressing the impacts of homelessness on San Diego’s quality of life.” 

The announcements come amid whisperings among local politicos about the near-term unveiling of a 2024 homelessness-focused ballot measure from former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer. 

Faulconer spokeswoman Aimee Faucett said Thursday that the former mayor is not running for mayor and “is solely focused on a citizen’s initiative to provide real solutions for our homeless crisis.” 

Faulconer was critical of Gloria’s plans. 

Gloria has said he expects the new ordinance, if approved, to be enforced by police. 

Lt. Adam Sharki, a San Diego police spokesman, said the department supports Whitburn’s proposal and “will do our part to ensure its success.” 

The announcements, though, coincide with a police staffing shortage and increased overtime spending that Police Chief David Nisleit recently said forced cuts to overtime for officers focused on addressing quality-of-life crimes, a move that has stymied enforcement of Gloria’s October order that unhoused residents take down their tents during the day. 

The city already has laws on the books that it has aimed at homeless camps. For years, the city has used encroachment and illegal lodging laws not written to directly address unsheltered homelessness in its current iteration.  

Police data shows officers last year wrote 925 encroachment citations and made 513 arrests for encroachment or illegal lodging using the city’s “progressive enforcement” model of offering shelter and warnings before citations or arrests. 

Whitburn’s vision to also add more safe places for unhoused people to sleep reflects the need to add dramatically more options if it expects to make a visible dent in street homelessness. Gloria said Thursday his administration will also continue to work to add more options, noting that the city has already added hundreds of additional beds since he took office. 

But the shelters that already exist are often full – and unhoused people seeking beds often struggle to access them

A 2018 federal appeals court ruling barred the citing of homeless people for sleeping on sidewalks if no other shelter is available and a 2007 legal settlement prevents police from ticketing or arresting homeless San Diegans if shelters are full.  

For now, the city has nearly 1,800 shelter beds. By comparison, a downtown business group’s late February tally of people sleeping on the street downtown and its outskirts alone hit 1,837 and a regionwide point-in-time count last year tallied about 2,500 unsheltered residents.   

Most of the nation’s prominent homeless service experts discourage using enforcement as a tool to try to address surging street homelessness, including when shelter is offered in the process. 

Gloria’s team has defended the city’s approach, arguing that its goal with enforcement has been to clear public rights of way and avoid public health crises. He and Whitburn have also emphasized the need for more shelter options to accommodate different needs.    

Ann Oliva, lead author of the city’s 2019 homelessness plan and now CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, told Voice of San Diego last fall that she would discourage the city from continuing its current enforcement approach. 

“Criminalizing and ticketing already-traumatized people who do not have money to pay rent is not a strategy or a solution. In fact, it runs counter to the city’s vision as expressed in its Community Action Plan,” Oliva wrote in a statement. “Without safe and affordable housing and services, people will continue to perish on the streets, no matter how many times they are arrested or ticketed.”  

Attorney Ann Menasche, who has been leading an ongoing class-action lawsuit challenging city crackdowns against people living in vehicles, has a similar perspective. 

“When people have good programs, people line up around the block to get into them,” Menasche said. “They’re being treated like wayward children and that’s not the story. We’re in a housing crisis.” 

Menasche, whose case challenges the constitutionality of the city’s vehicle habitation ordinance, said Voice – not the city – informed her of Gloria’s plan to resume enforcement next month.  

Members of the Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Team talk with a woman living in a tent on Commercial Street just after sunrise on Monday, June 13, 2022. / Photo by Peggy Peattie for Voice of San Diego

Voice previously revealed that the city had stopped enforcing the ordinance during the pandemic and then quietly decided not to resume that enforcement due to the class-action lawsuit.  

Gloria said Thursday that the city decided to resume enforcement after ramping up safe camping options for people living in cars.  

Menasche has argued that only one existing lot can accommodate people living in RVs and that the lots don’t work for people who may have unique circumstances such as owning multiple vehicles.  

She expected the end of the moratorium could allow lawyers working on the case to find additional witnesses to speak to the impact and inequities of the city’s vehicle habitation ban. 

“They’ll be developing our record even more,” Menasche said. 

Faulconer, Gloria’s predecessor and champion of another yet-to-be detailed homelessness ballot measure, was unsurprisingly also unimpressed with Gloria’s plans – but for different reasons.  

Aimee Faucett, Faulconer’s onetime chief of staff, said the former mayor’s initiative “deals with compassionate solutions for the homeless and at the same time protects and preserves the safety and quality-of-life of our communities.” 

She said it will focus on giving unhoused San Diegans the right to shelter, but also “an obligation to use the shelter.” 

Gloria made similar pronouncements about the need to use shelter on Thursday. 

“When we ask you to come off the street and we have a place for you to go, no is not an acceptable answer,” Gloria said Thursday. “The sidewalk is not a home.” 

Faulconer argued in a statement that Gloria’s announcement was a reaction to his work on a homelessness ballot initiative.  

“It was a last-minute reaction to the fact that a strong coalition has formed to take this issue to the ballot. Most people don’t believe City Hall will ever take bold action on their own,” Faulconer wrote. “It’s time to give voters the power to tell City Hall to provide more shelters and services, enforce the law, and clean up the encampments in all of our public spaces.” 

Gloria spokeswoman Rachel Laing countered that all the plans discussed Thursday had “been in development for at least several months,” including the proposed encampment ban and ballot measure. 

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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  1. Powerful people coalesce around more important people. There is no one in this city who has run more, run harder, run smarter and probably knows more than some guy with a long-disfigured name. That guy is not the American brand! My grandfather refused to change his name at Ellis Island out of pride in his heritage. Your ancestors had no pride, and you are the voters in charge. All I can say, is ….well I can’t because this will not be posted!

  2. Mayor Gloria ran on a platform of taking care of the homeless problem. Once elected he proceeded to ignore the homeless while he took care of his campaign contributing developer friends. Predictably the homeless population exploded. Now he is back to the old school, “Roust them out! I don’t care where they go, but I don’t want them here!!”

    If the Republicans were to run candidates who were sane and centrist, there is a good chance they could win the Mayor’s job and several of the City Council seats. The current crop of people have no clue.

  3. Remember: Homeless people don’t cause homelessness, politicians do.

    When politicians upzone property to enrich landowners and increase property taxes, they encourage developers to buy up the property, evict tenants out of existing affordable housing, bulldoze it, then build new “market rate” high end apartments and condos. In the meantime, many of the evicted tenants end up living on the streets, or in our canyons and riverbeds.

    Then the politicians wring their hands and ask “Where did all these homeless people come from?” They just need to look in the mirror. Voters need to throw them out of office when they run for reelection or higher office.

    1. Addiction then homeless or homeless then addiction…everyone keeps leaving out the mental health problem and the drug problem. We need to stop calling them all homeless when most are addicted and can’t live in buildings where it is not allowed.

  4. Back in 2018, Faulconer campaigned against a local ballot initiative that would have provided $900 million for affordable housing and supportive services for the homeless. AT the time, it was estimated that that initiative would have provided 7,500 units. He now offers “a solution” to the homeless problem. What a tragic joke!

    1. I do not want to pay many more billions to provide housing to drug addicts when perfectly adequate housing already exists for them at penitentiaries.

  5. I read all the comments. Go back to square one! Politicians in San Diego are like the 1960’s series the Untouchables. Lesson is you cannot mess with power for all of you are nothing. Candidates as myself who selflessly pursue public service and have a committed written platform are ignored, disparaged and worse. “You break it, you own it.,? Colin Powell

  6. One more small item. I was just walking down Balboa, Ave toward PB and off to my left were 17 Target shopping carts above a homeless city complete with high tech barbeques, a communication center, furnishing and all sorts of gadgets. Welcome to sanity! And you vote for these people. I question your sanity.

  7. All these vagrants should be camping in Gloria’s living room and pitching a tent on that lawyers lawn.

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