San Diego City Councilmember Monica Montgomery Steppe debating during Politifest 2023.
San Diego City Councilmember Monica Montgomery Steppe debating during Politifest 2023. / Vito Di Stefano for Voice of San Diego

When the San Diego City Council narrowly passed a camping ordinance in June, Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe was one of four “no” votes. At the time, she said she felt the ordinance – which bans homeless camps when shelter is available and at all times when no shelter is available in certain areas near schools, parks and shelters – wouldn’t accomplish what proponents said it would accomplish. 

During Politifest’s Board of Supervisors debate on Saturday, Oct. 7, Montgomery Steppe, who’s running for the board’s fourth district, took her opposition one step further. 

Telling individuals to leave a certain area if they aren’t going to take advantage of offered resources made sense, Montgomery Steppe said. But she said that was different than what’s currently happening. 

“What is happening on our streets right now? It is criminal, and I’m not going to support that, and I never will. But I do support order and structure as long as it is fair,” Montgomery Steppe said.  

In a follow up interview, she said she specifically opposes enforcing the ordinance when shelter is not available.

“If you are not able to offer a resource that is available, like a bed, and you are continuing enforcement, then that is a problem,” Montgomery Steppe said. 

That question is at the heart of a legal case that may work its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.  

In 2018, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned an Oregon city’s camping ban, ruling that western states could not cite homeless people for sleeping outside when no shelter options are available. The city, Grants Pass, has requested the Supreme Court step in. San Diego recently signed on to the case as a “friend of the court,” meaning it can submit arguments supporting Grants Pass. Attorney General Rob Bonta expressed worry about the possibility of a “pendulum swing” toward more punitive responses to homelessness due to a Supreme Court decision, even as he said he hoped it could offer clarity about the legality of such ordinances. 

Montgomery Steppe defended her opposition to the camping ban by saying San Diego won’t be able to police its way out of the homeless crisis and that shelters are routinely near capacity as it is. Given the disproportionate percentage of homeless people who are Black, she also expressed concern about the potential uneven enforcement of the ordinance. 

“Structure is important, rules are important, and laws are important,” Montgomery Steppe said. “We also know that the same system that puts out these laws do not apply them to every person equally.” 

She also said she believes the majority of the enforcement being done was possible even without the ordinance. Thus far, ordinance related citations have been rare. From the end of July when it went into effect to early October, police made one arrest, wrote seven citations and gave 135 warnings for the offense. In August alone, police made nine arrests and wrote 39 citations for encroachment, or blocking a sidewalk. 

Still, the enforcement of the ordinance, or the threat, seems to have already pushed some people out of downtown, where for decades homeless services have been concentrated.

“We are seeing … encampments in a lot of our different neighborhoods where folks do not have the resources that they would’ve otherwise had in downtown,” Montgomery Steppe said. 

Instead of ordinances like the camping ban, she floated what she called “affordable solutions” like rent subsidies for seniors at risk of falling into homelessness. The county launched a pilot program that did just that earlier this year and received ten times more applications than they were able to fund. Montgomery Steppe also stressed the importance of building new housing and the need to cut the red tape around housing construction.  

Jakob McWhinney is Voice of San Diego's education reporter. He can be reached by email at and followed on Twitter @jakobmcwhinney. Subscribe...

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  1. As a result of the Camping Ban I started feeding the homeless along El Cajon Blvd in City Heights as the homeless migrated there. Two weeks ago it took me 50 meal bags to cover my route. A week ago the City was doing a sweep and moving people out on one hour’s notice. I used 15 meal bags. Last Thursday, I used 50 meal bags, the homeless were all back in place.

    Mayor Gloria and the City Council’s Camping Ban is a giant Merry-Go-Round. We are spending a fortune so they can say, “See! We took care of the homeless problem.” No, you moved them out of rich condo areas into poor neighborhoods, they are still homeless.

    1. That’s fine, as long as they are gone from rich condo areas idgaf what happens to them. Next time there should be no notice and they should bring a garbage truck to get rid of the caravans of detritus these skels drag around the city too.

  2. What do we do with the hopelessly unemployable? What to do with those who are either mentally and/or physically challenged and either cannot, or will not, work even the most menial of jobs. What do we do with the homeless who refuse indoor shelter?

  3. So this woman wants to keep them on sidewalks outside our homes. What is her solution? Nothing. She is in office for years and has accomplished nothing. This is not a leader, this is a complainer. It is easy to complain, but leadership and problem solving require character that this person lacks.

  4. Maybe the blacks won’t be there. If they actually worked and acted like humanbeings instead of animals

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