The City of San Diego

SHAMROCKS 5/30/23: San Diego City Council, Mayor Gloria, County Board Chair Nora Vargas, County Supervisors Terra Lawson-Remer & Joel Anderson

For coming together to support the San Diego Housing Commission’s application for Homekey funding that if approved would quickly house 480 people currently living on the streets who are a growing percentage of seniors, youth, and individuals deemed as chronically homeless. This effort would provide immediately available beds coupled with supportive services from the County including mental health and addiction treatment. Additionally, Supervisor Anderson has asked the County to do a feasibility study of placing tiny homes at San Pasqual Academy to provide additional infrastructure for foster youth. This collaboration to pursue and deploy funding that is made readily available from the state specifically for the purpose of housing youth, seniors, and the chronically homeless is a constructive step and one strategy among many that must be implemented to start the process of reducing homelessness.

Mayor Todd Gloria and Councilmember Stephen Whitburn

For their proposed unsafe camping ban, which would make it illegal for encampments to be within 2 blocks of a school, homeless shelter, waterway, and some parks, regardless of whether any shelter beds are available. While we continue to urge law enforcement to protect innocent people from the criminal element and violent criminal behavior that revolves around the homeless population, this proposed unsafe camping ordinance is necessary to reduce encampments and unsheltered homelessness. It also reinforces the critical need for more immediately available beds, which we are prepared to help bring online as we’ve done in the past. That said, we applaud Councilmember Whitburn and Mayor Gloria for taking steps to reduce unsheltered homelessness and increase public health and public safety. To be clear, we do not in any way endorse the “criminalization of homelessness.” Rather, we fully support the City of San Diego’s ability to connect our homeless neighbors to lifesaving resources off the streets to reduce homelessness and protect public health and public safety. Should City Council not approve this proposed ordinance, we will reverse this shamrock to a shipwreck.    

2/21: After parents installed lights at a city-owned park so their kids could play softball after dark, the City of San Diego informed them they could not use the lights, even though the parents covered all costs to improve the city’s asset. It appears the city is more focused on removing safe and healthy opportunities for youth rather than focusing on removing the criminal element surrounding the homeless population. Few activities are more safe, healthy and enriching than competing in youth sports. Few things are more dangerous than failing to address the continued criminal behavior surrounding San Diego’s unsheltered homeless population. Additionally, in January, unsheltered homelessness in downtown San Diego reached an all-time high for the sixth consecutive month. The January count of 1,939 is nearly three times the number of people who were unsheltered in downtown only 2 years ago. Current efforts by the City of San Diego to provide lifesaving shelter is nowhere near the scale required to reduce homelessness. We urge the Mayor and City to treat this tragedy as the crisis that it is and significantly ramp up the shelter beds in the City. Reducing the criminal element by removing criminal behavior and the criminals who are committing crimes will immediately reduce the number of people on the streets while also protecting the public and those who are literally homeless, such as youth and seniors. We remain focused on providing strategies and funding to help the City of San Diego, the County and every other city throughout the region to reduce homelessness. However, removing opportunities for youth to participate in sports rather than removing the criminal element is, in our view, significantly missing the mark.

SHAMROCK: The County of San Diego and City of San Diego earned a shamrock for their support of Urban Street Angels to add 20 new immediately-available beds for youth experiencing homelessness. The County provided funds to cover construction and capital costs to make these beds possible, and the cost per bed to do so was economical. It was a solid investment. The City of San Diego, through the San Diego Housing Commission, is providing funding to operate the beds, meaning Urban Street Angels can provide supportive services and staff to help youth not only move off the streets, but also keep them off the streets by connecting them to education, employment, and housing opportunities to completely improve the trajectory of their lives. Maximization of the asset occupied by Urban Street Angels and this effective use of government dollars to add urgently-needed shelter beds for youth is exactly what should be done time and again throughout the County to reduce homelessness. And it should be done at scale so that significantly more than 20 youth can move off the streets once and for good.

SHIPWRECK: On December 21st about 4:30pm at the corner of 19th & Commercial, an individual outside of a large homeless encampment was wearing a bullet proof vest. He proceeded to chase people with a hammer. This incident occurred directly in front of the Youth Assistance Coalition, which aids hundreds of youth per year in overcoming homelessness. Law enforcement was called and arrived within 5 minutes but by then the individual had left on a bike. PD said at that point there was nothing they could do because the incident was over. The incident can be viewed here.

This type of behavior and threat of violent crime alone is a shipwreck. The fact it occurred within steps of the Youth Assistance Coalition is unfathomable. There is no reason youth who are trying to overcome homelessness should also have to deal with this type of violent and traumatizing behavior.

“This type of criminal behavior and lack of action to prevent and eliminate it is entirely egregious. What kind of society are we living in where someone on the streets is wearing a bullet proof vest and then starts chasing people with a weapon?” asked Dan Shea, Executive Committee Member of the Lucky Duck Foundation.  

“Enabling street habitation and encampments supports and perpetuates this type of behavior. Unfortunately this is not the first occurrence outside of the Youth Assistance Coalition. A permanent police presence to prevent this type of behavior and to intervene immediately when these types of incidents occur is critical,” said Heather Lezon, Founder & Executive Director of the Youth Assistance Coalition. “Allowing people to stay on city streets is the beginning of the problem. I plead with the City of San Diego to protect our youth.”

Screenshot from the video
Screenshot from the video

SHAMROCK: County of San Diego’s funding for shelters & the Cities who pursued it. San Diego County’s commitment to make $10 million available to all 18 cities throughout San Diego County to increase shelters provided much-needed funds to add urgently-needed beds. The cities of San Diego, Oceanside, and Vista pursued and secured these funds because of their plans to add immediately available beds. Additionally, because the County of San Diego made an underutilized parking lot available in the Midway District, a 150-bed mental health bridge shelter was opened in September of this year. Similarly, the city of Oceanside is converting a shuttered high school into a shelter. Activating underutilized government properties as these jurisdictions are doing is critical, cost-effective, and timely, and other cities and elected officials should follow suit.

SHIPWRECK: City of San Diego’s record-setting unsheltered homelessness. Since 2012, the Downtown San Diego Partnership has conducted a monthly count of unsheltered homeless individuals. During six of the last ten months, the count has reached new record highs, including an all-time high of 1,704 in November of 2022. Additionally, the count of homeless individuals on the streets of downtown has exceeded 1,000 people for 18 out of the last 19 months. The last time their count exceeded 1,000 people in a month was December of 2017, just ahead of the Hepatitis-A outbreak and crisis, which resulted in the deaths of 20 San Diegans. The sharp and ongoing increases in unsheltered homelessness in the heart of San Diego County is entirely unacceptable and has resulted in a public health and public safety crises. Downtown is arguably the epicenter of tourism, business, conventions, civic events and other activities and reducing homelessness and criminal behavior in this area is imperative for a myriad of reasons. A record-high alone is a shipwreck; record-high numbers in six of the last ten months is a tragedy and catastrophe of epic proportions. This sharp increase in unsheltered homelessness and subsequent illegal and dangerous activity has created daily unsafe and harmful circumstances for those who work, live or visit downtown. For example, the Youth Assistance Coalition is located downtown and aids hundreds of homeless youth every year who are trying to overcome homelessness. Instead, the youth they serve have been put in harm’s way due to limited public safety and sharp increases in unsheltered homelessness and criminal behavior immediately surrounding its building.

SHIPWRECK: Homeless deaths, drug & fentanyl use, and persistent criminal activity. Nearly 500 unsheltered people died on the streets in the last year, including 113 unsheltered people who died in San Diego City due to fentanyl overdose. Five years ago, the number of homeless fentanyl deaths was two. While the Executive order signed by San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria to provide stronger enforcement may help, the number of deaths and overdoses is heartbreaking and reinforces the need to provide significantly more immediate and lifesaving pathways off the streets. It also reinforces the critical need to have a coordinated plan and effort across local, state and federal organizations to dramatically improve our regions efforts to reduce homelessness. This includes meaningfully more shelter beds, compassionate but accountable intervention and enforcement along with urgently needed services. The enforcement must include efforts to reduce criminal behavior including but not limited to drug and sex trafficking and the use of fentanyl and other illegal and deadly substances. Although theCity of San Diego has said it intends to use the Old Library to add 25-30 beds, the City can’t “nibble” at the issue by adding only 25 to 30 beds when the old library can easily handle significantly more. Bureaucratic delays due to environmental reviews and other factors is akin to stating people are better off living on the streets.