Midway District

Astonishing Sight: Homeless Encampment Explosion in Midway District

The area in the Midway District has long been the site of encampments, but even long-time homeless advocates say it’s never been to this extent

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It’s certainly not what you would expect in a city calling itself, “America’s Finest.”

Over the past three weeks, there has been an explosion of homeless encampments in the 2500 block of Sports Arena Blvd between Rosecrans Street and Pacific Highway.

The area in the Midway District has long been the site of encampments, but even long-time homeless advocates say it’s never been to this extent.

Michael McConnell estimates there are more than 100 encampments currently set up and he blames the problem on an endless cycle of encampment sweeps.

“All they’re doing is moving people from one river bed to a sidewalk, to a canyon, to another sidewalk, whatever it is. It’s just that constant moving people around,” said McConnell, a long-time San Diego homeless advocate.

But as it turns out, right now abatement and relocation efforts by the City of San Diego are actually on pause due to a COVID-19 outbreak at local shelters.

“The current increase in COVID cases has put a strain on shelter resources, making enforcement and other tools to get persons experiencing homelessness into shelter more challenging. With case numbers slowing, we hope to have full use of shelters soon. The ultimate goal is to work to address these encampments and assist people before they reach a size and magnitude that is necessary for this type of effort,” said Ashley Bailey, Strategic Communications Officer of Public Safety & Homelessness.

McConnell also says there has been a recent effort by Caltrans to conduct encampment sweeps near freeway overpasses that could be contributing to the recent problem.

Caltrans has not yet responded to an NBC 7 request for comment, but a “Notice To Vacate Illegal Campsite” was posted last week on an overpass near SR 94 and 19th street. The notice ordered all personal property and camp debris to be removed by a given time.

McConnell, who has long been critical of city efforts to provide shelter to the homeless, says the solution is to provide better housing and services.

“We have to expand the options we’re offering people. We need to make them quality. We need to give people hope that they’re actually going to lead to something better,” said McConnell.

City spokesperson Baily says that’s exactly what the city is doing.

“During the past three weeks, the city, with support from the San Diego Housing Commission, has coordinated a multidisciplinary, focused outreach effort with more than eight services providers offering various resources and shelter to unsheltered residents living in the area. Teams are scheduled to be working in this neighborhood for at least the next month, and the effort will be reevaluated as necessary. The initiative’s goal is to strike a balance between a compassionate approach to connecting folks with shelter and supportive service and the need to protect both our unsheltered neighbors and the community from the spread of public health risks like hepatitis A and shigella and other dangers of living on the streets,” said Baily in an email response to NBC 7.

Meanwhile, Midway District business owners are growing frustrated with the growing encampments.

“We have people run into our business, ask to use the bathroom, stay in there for an hour. We’ve had people that have overdosed out here,” said Brian King, owner of Pacific Highway Auto Repair.

King says nearby property owners and business groups have come together and reached out to the city for solutions.

“I think there’s enough resources in the state and in the city to come up with a good plan to take care of these people,” said King.

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