El Cajon

San Diego's homeless encampment ban may be affecting East County communities

NBC 7 spoke with a local group helping those in need since the early 1900s and they will continue to do so

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Homeless populations are increasing in several East County cities, including Lemon Grove and La Mesa. But it might be too early to tell if the increases are a direct result of the City of San Diego's encampment ban.

City of La Mesa staff confirm to NBC 7 that their Homeless Outreach and Mobile Engagement team has observed: “minimal fluctuations in La Mesa’s unhoused population, with a slight increase in new individuals temporarily passing through the area."

La Mesa is one of several cities that’s part of a group whose leaders hope to create a regional plan to address homelessness. Grecia Aguilar, the city’s communications manager, told NBC 7 they will have a more solid idea of the impact once the city of San Diego intensifies its enforcement of the ban.

But until then, a local group in La Mesa, with deep roots in city history, has been doing this work all along.

The La Mesa Thrift Shop has served people in need since the great depression, according to Suzie Sterling, a shop volunteer and president of the La Mesa Community Welfare Association.

“San Diego is a lovely place to come to. I mean if I was homeless I’d probably head west come Winter,” said Sterling.

She said she is very familiar with long-time members of the homeless population but has noticed a shift.

“Actually just recently we’ve seen an increase in the homeless people hanging around the downtown,” said Sterling. “Most of the time they're respectful enough to just move on but you see the residue of what they’ve left in the bushes and on the ground.”

It’s unclear if this is a result of the city of San Diego's encampment ban pushing and displacing unsheltered people out to other communities. But on the other hand, the city of San Diego has long been the main support for shelters and services. Mayor Todd Gloria has voiced his concern for the need in other cities outside of San Diego.

Monday, for the second year in a row, the San Diego Regional Task Force on Homelessness gathered mayors throughout the region to come up with a united plan or effort moving forward.

In El Cajon, an encampment ban is in effect. Mayor Bill Wells told NBC 7, there has not been an increase in homeless individuals. He said they actively refer those in need to available services and shelter.

As for the La Mesa Thrift Shop, they continue to help those in front of them.

“ I think good people are everywhere trying to help if they can facilitate somebody getting off the street,” said Sterling.

Sterling said their daily donations and sales help other non-profits and homeless individuals, as well as residents who are in need of groceries and money in emergencies.

“It’s just a small little drop in the bucket compared to what could be done and what needs to be done,” said Sterling.

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