Downtown San Diego

What a few hours in East Village looks like since homeless encampment ban

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In downtown San Diego, residents, homeless individuals, city crews and nonprofit services navigate the new ordinance on the streets amid the larger, more complicated crisis.

At one intersection in the East Village meets residential housing, abandoned buildings, industrial businesses and rows of encampments located on the freeway bridge. Within a couple blocks exists a microcosm of the massive problem plaguing the city.

The city of San Diego police department has begun enforcing the homeless encampment ban.

Anneke Durbin and Amanda Lawrence told NBC 7, they have been homeless for a long time.

“We’re out here because of the situation that led us to here. And it’s not being a drug addict. It’s not spending your money on the wrong thing. The cost of living has gone up. I couldn’t afford my rent no more,” said Lawrence.

The women tell us they've had to move locations often because of the city's encampment ban and angry business owners.

 “I’ve been struggling to try and get into housing or on a hotel voucher. Myself and my husband, so that I can get my kids back. But I’m still on waiting lists to get anywhere,” said Durbin.

The ban prohibits camping on sidewalks if there is enough shelter capacity. But regardless of space, it's completely banned within a two-block radius of schools, homeless shelters, public parks, canyons and river beds.

Thursday, downtown resident Georgio Kirylo was on his walk home when he ran into the two women and NBC 7.

“It’s devastating to see people dying on the street every single day,” Kirylo said.

He told NBC 7 things have gotten so bad that he's started a neighborhood watch comprised of several community groups.

“We have children on the street. We have businesses on the street. It’s unsanitary and it’s dangerous. Our cars are being broken into. There’s fires being started,” Kirylo said.

The San Diego Downtown Partnership's Unhoused Care Team were helping Durbin and Lawrence move to a shelter, but told NBC 7 there was no space for them. So Durbin and Lawrence said they're trying to avoid warnings that can lead to tickets and arrests.

“For being homeless? We are asking for help. You know I’m not a drug addict. I’m out here. I’m just struggling. Struggling to get back on my feet,” said Lawrence.

The city of San Diego recently opened a safe sleeping parking lot that can shelter 150 people in the Golden Hill neighborhood near Balboa Park. Another lot is expected to open in the fall, which the city said can hold 400 people. City leaders have said they don't expect change overnight, but data is showing some improvement.

The Downtown Partnership counts the people living on the streets each month and recorded more than 2,100 people in May. By June, there were about 400 fewer people and 200 fewer than that in July.   

NBC 7 has heard from officials in Chula Vista and La Mesa who say they have seen more homeless people in their area since enforcement of the encampment ban started.

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