Laying Down The Law: City Resumes Enforcement at Large Homeless Encampment in Midway District

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The city of San Diego is once again enforcing laws against homeless encampments after a several-month pause due to COVID-19 concerns at local shelters.

San Diego police officers were out early Monday morning making contact with unsheltered people living in tents at a large encampment on Sports Arena Boulevard between Rosecrans Street and Pacific Highway.

According to a city spokesperson, 17 people were contacted by officers, with four people accepting shelter services.

Elizabeth Shaw was one of them. She was worried she wouldn’t be allowed to take her dog if she moved to a shelter, but eventually jumped into a Homeless Outreach Team van with a friend.

“We’re being told that we’re being taken to a shelter where we both could go with our dog, and that we’re going to stay together, they said, so, we’ll find out,” Shaw said.

Meanwhile, Tina Toliver said she has been homeless for the last year and was concerned about her personal property. A friend helped her move belongings into storage.

"They asked me if I would like to go to the shelter downtown, that’s the one that’s hard. It’s hard downtown for a single female, especially by yourself, really by yourself. And so, I said yes," Toliver said.

But while the large encampment has clearly thinned out compared to several weeks ago, it’s clear many people have no intention of moving to a shelter.

The city is using what it calls a "progressive enforcement" model.

First, encampments will be offered shelter. Those who refuse services will then get a warning, followed by an infraction citation, then misdemeanor citation, followed by potential arrest.

On Monday, eight people were given a verbal warning for violation of illegal lodging and/or encroachment. Three people were given an infraction citation. One person was given a misdemeanor citation. One person was arrested for an outstanding misdemeanor warrant for theft.

“There has been a significant focused outreach effort over the past month to engage individuals and offer services and shelter in the Sports Arena area. The City continues to emphasize a compassionate approach; however, it will balance that with the need to address the health and safety issues that persist in encampments,” said Ashley Bailey, Strategic Communications Officer for Public Safety and Homelessness, City of San Diego.

But homeless advocates say the model is far from compassionate and believe it criminalizes homelessness.

"They move people from here into shelters, shelters put them out, so it’s like a revolving door. Nothing is working. They’re checking boxes,” said Tasha Williamson, community activist.

Meanwhile, nearby business owners are happy the encampment is thinning out but are fearful of the population being left behind.

“Those here are aggressive and appear to have mental health or drug issues,” said one business owner, who did not want to be identified. The business owner said a homeless person defecated on his property last week.

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