A man moves his belongings from one side of the street to the other so that it gets cleaned on July 10, 2023 in the East Village.
A man moves his belongings from one side of the 16th Street to the other on July 10, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

San Diego police have cleared multiple blocks of homeless encampments – that included dozens of tents and individuals – on the edge of downtown.

Police officials said the street sweeps were routine, but the timing is uncanny. This weekend, a controversial new encampment crackdown, pushed by Mayor Todd Gloria, will go into effect. Cops have always had the power to clear encampments, but the new ordinance clarifies that homeless people will not be able to camp near schools, homeless shelters or certain parks at all times. 

Over the past two weeks, police have used the city’s encroachment law – essentially, blocking a sidewalk – to clear Commercial Street, National Avenue and 16th Street of encampments.

Robert Brown, a San Diego High School graduate, has been homeless since 2020. He watched the camps get cleared. 

“Street by street, they just wiped these places out,” Brown said. “I’ve seen lots of crying and screaming. The cops come out of nowhere and then people have nowhere to go now.”

He watched many old and sick people be evicted, he said, with nowhere to go. 

“It’s horrible,” he said, then repeated himself solemnly: “It’s horrible.” 

Brown’s own story is instructive. When the sweeps started, he managed to secure a spot in one of the homeless shelters downtown to get away from the crackdown. That is exactly what Gloria has said he wanted to accomplish with the ordinance: to push people into shelters. 

The corner of 16th Street and National Avenue in the East Village on June 9, 2023.
The corner of 16th Street and National Avenue in the East Village on June 9, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

But Brown was lucky. Far more people ask for shelter than is available. An average of just 23 shelter beds are available on any given day, Voice of San Diego previously reported. 

Some 3,285 people live without shelter throughout the city, according to January’s annual homeless census

Most people have been displaced, said Michael McConnell, a homeless advocate, who spends a lot of time around the encampments that were cleared. He frequently films encounters between homeless people and police. 

“Where do those people go? A lot of them are just a few blocks away,” he said. 

Late Thursday, there appeared to be an increased number of people and tents settled on nearby bridges and blocks surrounding a parking lot across from the Metropolitan Transit System’s downtown headquarters and a post office on E Street in East Village. 

McConnell said he had seen sweeps like this many times over the years. People get moved. They come back. The cycle continues. He wasn’t convinced this latest sweep was related to the start of the new ordinance. 

“It’s certainly possible they’re getting a jump start. I don’t know the motivation,” he said. “The enforcement was very aggressive. I’ve seen it aggressive before. But it was more aggressive than I’ve seen in a while.”

The multi-block encampment on the border of East Village and Barrio Logan had grown larger in recent months, McConnell said. 

Police officials said it was a safety hazard. 

“The area posed a public safety hazard to pedestrians, vehicles, and public transit operating in the area. Teams began working in the area over the weekend to clear paths of travel and ensure safety of all residents,” wrote Ashley Bailey, a spokeswoman for the city, in an email. 

Police gave a similar rationale in May when they cleared the Commercial Street underpass once packed with tents.

A man walks past a mural on Commercial Street in downtown on May 18, 2023.
A man walks past a mural on Commercial Street in downtown on May 18, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

The new ordinance, set to go into effect this weekend, bans all camping in the city when shelter space is available. It bans camping in certain areas – at transit hubs, near schools and homeless shelters, and within some parks – 365 days a year. 

Under the new city law, homeless tents will be banned in the area where police have cracked down recently, which is close to both Alpha Project and Father Joe’s Villages shelters.

Brown, who grew up in Golden Hill, does not have positive predictions for how it will play out. 

“I think crime will go up, because people will get more desperate,” he said. “People will be more hungry. When people don’t eat, they do desperate things. Right now, they can get services.”

Will Huntsberry is a senior investigative reporter at Voice of San Diego. He can be reached by email or phone at will@vosd.org or 619-693-6249.

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. Way to go, SDPD. We know it isn’t easy dealing with these misguided whiners but the vast majority of San Diegans are behind you.

    1. I agree!. Drug addicts (homeless as a result) are not more important than citizens who abide to the rule of law, pay taxes and want public spaces respected and used as designated.
      These drug addicts don’t have the right to occupy the streets, defecate/urinate all over for all of us to tolerate.

      1. What a cruel and ignorant comment. Come volunteer down there to witness evicted seniors and whole families. You’re creating a villain where there’s just another human down on their luck. Step up to help.

        1. You’re enabling, not helping. Whatever void in your life you are trying to fill, it will not work.

        2. Laura, that’s a small % but as long as people like you feed into the idea that it’s families on the street I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. Last time I went to a Padres game did not see one family or vets. Did see lots of whacked out people, people selling drugs and crazies. Not sure what world you are living in but please, take off the blinders.

          1. How do you know that you didn’t see a vet? We (vets) don’t wear signage identifying us as vets. So, are you sure that you didn’t see any vets?

          2. I’m a black woman and I’m a homeless veteran who camps near the stadium. You probably saw me and thought I was some crackhead because you’re racist and hate the homeless.

              1. We need a new approach. No one should be sleeping on sidewalks. Free housing does come with rules. Don’t like the rules? Buy your own home or go to a different place. Life doesn’t promise us an existence with no accountability.

  2. There is homeless camp starting up near Linda Vista Rd and Genessee, right in front of an elementary school!!

    1. The people who are being evicted from downtown are still homeless, they still need a place to go. All of you cheering the Mayor’s actions have not thought about the consequences of kicking people off the street. Over 500 people have to go somewhere. If they show up in your neighborhood, thank Mayor Gloria.

      Before someone asks, yes they are showing up in my neighborhood of City Heights. I started out feeding about 10, now I am over 50. As to why, “There ain’t no “Human Garbage” in my neighborhood. If there is a need, I will feed.

      1. The type of person to buy a homeless guy a sandwich but video yourself giving it to him.

  3. Great! On Monday I attempted to ride the trolley from East County to 12th & Imperial. Our first delay was approx 5 min while a women was removed from the track. The 2nd, was a 20 min delay just prior to 25th and Commercial that ended with an announcement that the trolley was being taken out of service. This senior took that 1+ mile walk to the transfer station being forced to walk in the street as the sidewalks and Commercial itself were totally blocked with encampments. The human feces, drugs, alcohol, fighting … was everywhere. As someone who worked with the homeless for over 20 years, leaving the situation as it is is not healthy or kind for anyone.

  4. Grapes of Wrath. Why don’t they caravan to downtown La Jolla. There is great food and a spectacular view. Dan Smiechowski is a candidate for Mayor of San Diego. Sarcasm and truth offend so many of my superior constituents.

  5. VOSD picked a 20 yr old to complain about the plight of living on the streets. mentions a recent HS grad but apparently HS did not prepare him for the harsh realities of life. he’s growing up in a time where young people think everything should be given and not earned. Sorry Mr Brown, time to grow up.

  6. I was down there this week during the Clear The Streets action. It wasn’t just the young homeless, it was also the old and sick as mentioned in the article. The are now homeless dogs.

    Their humans get kicked out, during the move the dog panics and runs away. Later they try to go back to their “Home” and its gone. They wander the street looking for someone they know :-((( The Humane Society Says their shelters are filling up with lost dogs due to clearing the streets.

    Thank you Mayor Gloria for kicking Old People and Puppies down the road.

    1. Nobody has a *right* to live anywhere they want without paying for it. Period. I get that there might be seniors and disabled people that became homeless because of the cost of living in San Diego. Guess what. Time to move to somewhere cheaper! If you can’t afford it here, that doesn’t give you the right to destroy the city for the hard-working taxpayers and property owners that do live here and pay for it. Maybe the homeless advocate McConnell should be creating jobs for the homeless instead of loafing around all day video-taping police officers just trying to do their jobs. That would require real work though, not just complaining and whining. As someone stated above, the majority of these people are drug addicts or have mental health problems. How do I know? because they frequently are using drugs or defecating on my property, that’s how. The “fell-gooders” come by every Friday to give them a meal and then leave. Where do you think they go to the bathroom after the meal? Why don’t the “feel-gooders” feed them in front of their own homes in their neighborhoods instead of mine if the they care so much, huh? Furthermore, if you can’t feed or house yourself, you have no business having a pet in the first place! If you’re homeless, you shouldn’t have a pet. If you became homeless when you had one, you should turn it over to the humane society. The bottom line is that the majority of San Diego wants the excuses to stop and the homeless to get off the streets. I think the campground shelters with tents are a great idea. Homelessness should be a temporary thing. Housing first isn’t going to work here because San Diego doesn’t have enough housing for people with jobs and lots of money who want to buy housing. Until the workers needs are met, the homeless are dreaming if they think they are going to get a free San Diego home. And why should they when so many people who contribute to society instead of taking from it can’t afford one? I wholeheartedly support SDPD and the mayor for taking action to address this issue that has gotten completely out of hand and is destroying our city and state.

      1. I guarantee you I have the right to love wherever I want in America, my home.

        You speak of packing up and moving like it’s so cheap and easy. I bet you’ve never struggled a day in your life.

        As for the rest of your rant, people lose their homes for various reasons: abuse, job loss, fires. Not everything is drugs and being irresponsible.

        The homelessness problem will continue so long as homeless people are generalized as drug addicts and treated like vermin.

  7. It’s hard to say if this is the best policy, all I can say is what I see. I work in east village and recently had to as is often the case during Ball games, walk to my office through the areas with encampments. I had to cross the bridge over the 5 freeway and because the encampment was blocking the entire length of the bridge I had to walk in the street. A little girl with her dad, going to the game had to do the same. That should not be happening. It’s simply not safe for pedestrians to cross bridges over the traffic area because the homeless (or the unhoused, the houses challenged, pick you euphemisms) are blocking the entire length of the pedestrian walkway. I’m not even going to get into the smell and unsanitary conditions of these areas. Not clearing them is not doing the homeless any favors either. I do sympathize with the critics though. It’s one thing to clear these camps, it’s another to figure out where these people will then go to next.

  8. The homeless have no one to blame but themselves for their own willing, knowing, and VOLUNTARILY ACQUIRED “LIVING STATUS”! Live irresponsibly (being a substance abuser!), refuse to get mental health needs addressed, and being financially irresponsible is WHY THE HOMELESS REMAIN SUCH! I have NEVER seen a homeless person with a gun at their head, or a knife at their throat forcing them to become or remain homeless!

    1. Ignorant, hateful comment. No one wants to be homeless and not every homeless person is a drug addict.

    2. But we’ve all seen people with eviction notices who became homeless, when a developer bought the building they lived in, then bulldozed it to make way for new apartment complexes catering to wealthy young YIMBYs.

  9. It’s odd that a municipal corporation that has for decades prohibited residential development while simultaneously inviting homeless with free stuff is surprised/confused that it resulted in a housing shortage and homelessness problem. The solution is simple: start building housing and stop inviting homeless. Also, get a job and most of your problems will go away.

    1. You can’t get a job without an address. People don’t just magically fluttered out of homelessness.

      What’s it like to have such an easy life that you would be unaware of this very obvious thing?

    2. Give us one instance where the city of San Diego ever “prohibited residential development”. Which decades are you referring to? San Diego is one of the most developer friendly cities in America. Most of our politicians are funded by developers.

  10. How many tent spaces still unoccupied in the Mayor’s new safe sleeping parking lot near Balboa Park? Last I heard there was barely anyone there. Time to send ’em all to the parking lot until it’s full. Letting people live in tents on our public streets isn’t fair to anyone.

    1. So you solution is to dump all the homeless into an unsupervised parking lot on the edge of town, where the women, children, and elderly will be robbed and attacked?

      1. The new “campground” parking lot is fenced in and supervised by the organization the city contracted with to run the facility. It’s not “unsupervised”. That doesn’t make it a safe place to stay. Camping in blacktop in a city provided tent in 100 degree heat can’t be a comfortable way to live.

  11. People seem to forget that directly next door to the Alpha Project is Monarch School, a K through 12 school. Those students have had to walk past all these encampments to get to school everyday, dodging needles and feces in the street, because the sidewalks were inaccessible. It’s about time they cleared the area.

  12. The motivation is for sanity purposes
    Not sanitary actually both. It’s insane for us to just sit back and allow people shooting drugs and living on the street in areas you spend million for a tiny condo. This is why people are moving from California . Most them btw are drug addicts they need to go to a detox then sober living then job placement . 1000s are successful at doing this each year we need to make this programs more accessible. Get sober take advantages of programs be normal or leave the county . Simple as that

  13. Questions:
    1. Did you see the two wheel chairs in the picture – What are the police going to tell those people “load up your wheelchair with tent an belongings and start wheeling toward Balboa Park?” “Jump in your car and go find a job?”
    2. Should they move to a state with less homelessness? https://worldpopulationreview.com/state-rankings/homeless-population-by-state California 415/100,000 -> Mississippi 38/100,000.
    3. Do you think urban planning and housing regulations are a factor? “…According to estimates from Zillow … the value of a typical single-family home in Mississippi is $144,074…”. San Diego’s median house price $910,000.
    4. What is the likelihood of AI replacing low paid jobs and increasing homelessness in San Diego?
    5. Will low paid workers (like high paid workers) start leaving California, and what effect will that have on government. i.e. less services, less schools, teachers, employees etc.

  14. As the SDPD implements Todd’s homeless ban ordinance and individuals exhaust its three strikes your out rule, we’ll see a wave of homeless folks being arrested. Where do the police plan to take them when they’re arrested? The downtown County jail is already overcrowded and in the midst of an ongoing scandal over jail deaths. What does the County Sheriff have to say about the city taking hundreds of homeless folks to jail? Will the county supervisors and taxpayers stand for the city using the jail as its dumping ground?

    1. They need to go to jail. If the conditions of the jails are like you say, then there will be more room soon.

  15. I would just like to pour out that we have a solution at hand, we simply refuse to make a change. Housing is a major issue that can be solved by converting unused commercial real estate into housing. Commercial buildings may require communal showers and bathrooms but they could house thousands of people. All that is missing is political will.

  16. It’s about time Tiny Todd and Elmo started protecting the rights of taxpayers who own homes and businesses and pay for these sidewalks.
    Anyone who’s been to East Village knows it’s 1 in 1,000 that are clean and down on their luck. The overwhelming majority are vagrants and druggies.

  17. Loving all the comments and points of view. Elected’s could make note of these forms of participation and not just “paid” protesters at city hall. Inept politicians, their time is counted. Oddly, I feel for SDPD and youth workers who are cleaning the mess! Do homeless supporters ever clean? I think unsanitary conditions have been linked to mental illness. Out county is mentally ill. Personally, I just like clean streets cuz I am Mexican. Its sadder to see the homeless removed, just so a dog can poop there; urban dog owners equally insane, or lonely, or in need of love. Just call the migra, swiftly and stealthy, they remove peeps.

  18. What is the jurisdiction? This seems to be a state issue because homeless get EBT – food stamps and a cash allowance. Do they need an address? Whose address are they using? The church or the liquor store? State legislators need to demand the state release homeless demographic data. Real data from the welfare program, not the inaccurate “point-in-time” homeless count conducted by volunteers. I have a hunch that their numbers are wrong, by 50%. Just a wild guess, usually takes over a decade to prove.

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