Homelessness in San Diego

‘Assault on Homes and Lives': Faith Leaders Denounce Enforcement At Midway Encampment

The group of faith leaders was present as city crews conducted their twice-weekly cleanup of the site along Sports Arena Boulevard in the Midway District

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A group of San Diego faith leaders and social activists showed up Thursday at the well-publicized homeless encampment in the Midway District denouncing recent enforcement as an "assault on homes and lives."

"I can’t imagine how anyone could see this and not have their hearts broken open and recognize the brokenness of the system,” said Rev. Dr. Beth Johnson with the San Diego Poor People’s campaign.

Johnson said she was at the site to help call attention to the homelessness issue and give a face to the people living at the encampment along Sports Arena Boulevard.

The group of faith leaders was present as city crews conducted their twice-weekly cleanup of the site. Typically during the Tuesday and Thursday cleanups, police will ask people living to temporarily move their personal belongings across the street as crews move in with shovels and large brooms to haul away trash and unsanitary debris.

"I would characterize it as inhumane, as disrespectful, as disregarding the humanity of the people here. These are people’s homes, this is where they live," Johnson said.

Any potential solution is complicated, according to Johnson, but she said the needs and dignity of people need to be recognized.

"What I’ve heard residents say is, have there be a space that is safe for us to go to, to relocate to, that includes our families. We don’t want to split up family units, that also includes their companion animals, so it’s a multi-pronged approach. It’s a social service approach," Johnson said.

The city resumed its so-called progressive enforcement model at the encampment on Monday after a pause related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the model, police will first offer shelter services to people at the site.

On Thursday, at least one person was seen loading his personal belongings into a police truck for storage. That man accepted shelter services.

Those who refuse services face two separate citations, followed by potential arrest. For some, the citations are not making an impact.

"I have four encroachment tickets, and one 'not holding their leash in my hands' ticket. So, I have $1,100 in tickets," said Tina Toliver.

Toliver, who has been at the Midway District encampment for the past year, said she’s a veteran receiving benefit pay. She returned to San Diego with her two dogs after living in Arizona.

"Why did I come back? I came back because they said housing was affordable. It hasn’t been affordable since I’ve been here," Toliver said.

Toliver said she was denied entrance into the VA shelter because they would not accept her dogs, one who often misbehaves.

A city spokesperson told NBC 7 city shelters do accept well-behaved animals.

Meanwhile, two county health workers were present at the Midway encampment on Thursday. Every week, county health specialists team up with the city’s Homeless Outreach team.

Two nurses passed out 40 hygiene kits and 10 Narcan kits, used for narcotic overdoses, according to a county spokesperson.

The city says it will pause its enforcement on Monday for the in-time homeless census count scheduled next Thursday. Homeless advocates are fearful the count will not be accurate because recent enforcement has caused people to disperse. In fact, the Midway encampment has thinned out significantly over the last week.

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