A new ordinance to keep people from camping or sleeping on the streets of Imperial Beach has sparked controversy as city leaders said it's part of their plan to help keep the community safe and clean, while others are concerned it's another attack on the homeless.
The ordinance will “regulate and prohibit camping, lodging or sleeping on public property in the City.” It will also be illegal to obstruct public property such as sidewalks, streets or right-of-ways through the storage of personal property.
While the ordinance does not explicitly target homeless people, a San Diego homeless advocate said that’s exactly what the new rules do.
“When I see their comments about encampments and sanitation, of course it’s about homelessness. They can pretend all they want,” homeless advocate Michael McConnell said.
“It’s not right for people to just be restricted like that, you want to lay down somewhere, this is your city too," resident Nakia Lavender said.
Imperial Beach is not alone.
“We see a growing trend across the country with criminalizing homelessness,” McConnell said. “A lot of communities don’t want to take the harder route of proving long-term solutions, investing in the affordable housing and services that people need.”
NBC 7 Investigates recently looked into the amount of citations and arrests used for the City of San Diego’s homeless population.
“Bottom line: The court said you can’t cite for sleeping between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.,” said attorney Scott Dreher in a June interview. “So in 2014, someone in the police department figured out they can use the encroachment statute regardless of the time of day.”
In September 2018, an elderly homeless man named Walter Howard walked outside of a 7-Eleven store in downtown San Diego. Two San Diego Police Officers approached Howard moments after he set his backpack down on the sidewalk.
Howard received an encroachment citation for setting down his backpack on city property.
Dreher said by using that logic, homeless individuals would be forced to carry their belongings with them at all times, never allowed to set any items on the ground.
Imperial Beach's new ordinance could be used in the same way.
“It’s targeting homeless people basically for a small little beachside city, which at the last homeless count had 12 homeless people,” McConnell added.
The Imperial Beach ordinance was introduced at a City Council meeting on Sept. 4 and adopted on Sept. 18 by unanimous vote. IB Mayor Serge Dedina and the four councilmembers West, Spriggs, Aguirre and Patton were present.
Council agenda minutes show Aguirre expressed concern about public health and safety while discussing the ordinance.
“This is a city that just last month voted against another public restroom in their city. How much do you really care about sanitation and public health if you’re voting down a public restroom?” McConnell told NBC 7.