Sigma stands outside his tent in the East Village on June 14, 2023.
Sigma stands outside his tent in the East Village on June 14, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

The city’s got a lot to do before it can start clearing homeless encampments with a new policy that will become law in two weeks. 

The ordinance which bars camping in all public spaces when shelter is available – and in certain locations such as some yet-to-be specified parks and near schools even when it’s not – is officially set to take effect July 29. 

That date is coming up soon. But before police can crack down on encampments a few details need to be ironed out. That includes officials identifying which parks will be covered by the ordinance and which school areas are a priority. They also need to put up signs before the crackdown can begin.  

That’s just a sample of the city’s to-do list, but there’s a whole lot more.  

San Diego police Capt. Shawn Takeuchi leads the team of the Neighborhood Policing Division, which will  spearhead enforcing the ordinance.  

The division, which already works primarily on homeless-related calls, is preparing to begin enforcing the ordinance. But they also need help and direction from other departments.  

Takeuchi said the department also must coordinate with City Attorney Mara Elliott’s office to understand the boxes police must check to make a case that an alleged violation should be prosecuted. 

Kids walk near a homeless encampment on National Avenue on June 14, 2023.
Kids walk near a homeless encampment on National Avenue on June 14, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

He said police are also working with City Council offices, the city’s data team and other stakeholders to nail down which parks and school areas police should initially focus on. They’re collectively looking at Get It Done complaints and seeking feedback from city officials. 

The city needs to identify specific parks because the ban doesn’t apply to all parks. The ordinance says the parks officials identify must have a “substantial public health and safety risk.” 

Mayor Todd Gloria’s office has thus far not identified parks or school areas where enforcement could begin – or that may be under consideration.  

City spokeswoman Ashley Bailey said officials are conferring with Elliott’s office before making final decisions. 

The City Attorney’s Office has already weighed in on some points. In a memo issued before the City Council’s initial vote on the camping ban the office made a series of recommendations on other steps the city should take before moving forward. 

In her May 30 memo, Senior Chief Deputy City Attorney Heather Ferbert suggested the city also produce a training bulletin to teach officers how enforcement will work and set guidance on what officers need to make the call that an encampment poses a public health or safety threat, among other steps. 

While officials tackle their long to-do list, Bailey wrote that city-funded outreach workers have been educating unsheltered people living encampments near schools and parks that enforcement “may begin in the next 30 days.” 

For now, confusion abounds in areas on the edge of downtown long considered the epicenter of the region’s homelessness crisis.  

The ordinance bars camping within two blocks of shelters and more than 850 of the city shelter beds that unhoused people vie for daily are now clustered in the East Village and Barrio Logan neighborhoods. Other services are concentrated there too, a dynamic that has for years spurred homeless people to settle in those areas.  

Consistent enforcement in the area could transform the city’s longtime homeless service hub, where unsheltered residents’ belongings and trash now spill over sidewalks and onto the street. 

For now, it’s unclear when police might crack down there.  

The past couple weeks, unsheltered people who stay in the area told Voice of San Diego they don’t know exactly what to expect next. They aren’t sure how to prepare or whether a crackdown could be coming soon. 

Sigma, 41, said people staying in his area have only been told that they should be ready for whatever may come next. Sigma, who prefers to use his street name, said police and outreach workers have yet to offer specifics that might help unsheltered residents plan their next moves. 

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. This article is trying to find problems with something that everyone agrees with. VOSD has spent years fighting this and lost and now they won’t let it go. Hard to watch.

    1. I agree. Obey the law. I cannot walk down Fourth, Fifth or First Avenues from Bankers Hill to Centre City without walking in the road. Unacceptable. Not only are the public sidewalks blocked especially between Date and Cedar Streets where they intersect said avenues. This is a violation of the law. There is also drug paraphernalia, containers of alcohol and what I fear is urine, faeces and mounds of trash. These areas are Hepatitis A breeding grounds. We have been there before. The United States is a republic based on respect for the rule of law. Our political ‘leaders’ evidently don’t believe that. It is time to clean house.

  2. Cheap meth, cheap fentanyl, free NARCAN, dog tests positive for meth, marijuana and Ritalin after visit to OB dog beach, no prosecution for drug use, indecent exposure, property crimes, theft, threatening behavior, free housing, free food, free healthcare, meanwhile, 60% of San Diego homes cost over $1 Million, and we wonder why the homeless population keeps growing? It’s a dwindling spiral – the kind that leaves skid marks on the toilet bowl no matter how many times you flush it.

  3. Dan Smiechowski as a candidate for San Diego Mayor advocates for the building of more mental wards to incarcerate these people for rehabilitation and the safety of society.

  4. To be fair, the author makes very good points. It is a complex issue to regulate. I guarantee you that the city will likely be sued by 1 or more groups if they don’t enforce it the right way and put up adequate signs about enforcement. The city might be sued regardless of what they do. I think it is well written and nicely summarizes the challenges the city will have to overcome in order to begin enforcing this law. I see no evidence that the VOSD writers are either for or against this. They are just stating facts here.

  5. I read the other day that permits for ‘safe camping’ by Balboa park only extend to this winter, so what is the ding dong point of installing amenities when it’s already July and they’ll take it all down in six months?

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