• Thu. Dec 8th, 2022

San Diego to clean up Sports Arena homeless camp

A sprawling homeless encampment of nearly 100 makeshift tents and structures will be cleared by city crews on Tuesday morning, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria announced Monday.

“The situation on Sports Arena Boulevard in the Midway community is completely unacceptable,” Gloria said in a press release. “The potential for an epidemic and the threat to public safety compel us to act now. As we continue to provide shelter and a wide range of support services to homeless people living in the neighborhood, we cannot wait for something terrible to happen before we take decisive action.

Many homeless people were among hundreds of people who fell ill during a local hepatitis A outbreak that began in November 2016 and left 20 people dead and hundreds hospitalized. More recently, an outbreak of shigellosis that began last October was first identified among homeless people. A total of 53 cases were linked to the outbreak, which was declared on January 14.

Hayne Palmour IV / For San Diego Union-Tribune

(A row of tents at a homeless encampment on Sports Arena Boulevard in San Diego on Monday, Jan. 31, 2022.)

The homeless encampment that needs to be cleared is on a stretch of Sports Arena Boulevard that runs east of Rosecrans Street and up to Pacific Highway. The stretch is in an industrial section with much less traffic than other sections of Sports Arena Boulevard, leaving the large encampment invisible to many in the area.

However, the camp did not go unnoticed by everyone. Dike Anyiwo, vice president of the Midway-Pacific Highway Community Planning Group, said the nearby community has been impacted by the growing encampment for months.

“Our planning group meetings are dominated by reports of illegal drug use, littering, violent assaults and theft of property from nearby homes and businesses,” he said in the press release. from the city. “People here are in desperate need of action. We appreciate the efforts being made to move people living in this encampment to shelter and commend the mayor for this week’s cleanup operation. We hope the city will continue to work to completely clean the camp.

Outreach teams led by People Assisting the Homeless have been in contact with people in the encampment with the aim of sheltering them and connecting them to services ahead of Tuesday’s planned action. Teams found 94 tent structures and around 183 people on the street.

Amie Zamudio, homeless outreach director for Housing 4 Homeless, hugs Steven Lawshe, 63.

Amie Zamudio, director of Homeless Outreach for Housing 4 Homeless, hugs Steven Lawshe, 63, who says he grew up in San Diego and is now homeless, as she tries to help him on Sports Arena Boulevard in San Diego on Monday, January 31. 2022. Zamudio said she was going to offer Lawshe a hotel room, paid for by Housing 4 Homeless, for the night.

(Hayne Palmour IV / For San Diego Union-Tribune)

Of those, only seven agreed to go to a shelter, six of whom accepted help at the new community-based harm reduction shelter that opened in December less than half a mile away. The new shelter focuses on homeless people with addiction and mental health issues. The seventh person who left the camp has accepted a bed at the PATH Connections Housing shelter in downtown San Diego.

Homeless lawyer Michael McConnell said the low number of people who have accepted shelter means the clearing of the encampment will result in people moving from one site to another, with no real long-term help.

“It’s not new,” he said. “It’s just to push people. That’s what they do.

McConnell said he had heard that people living in the Sports Arena Boulevard encampment had previously lived on Caltrans property or along the San Diego River in Mission Valley, but had moved due to cleanup actions in these areas.

A notice posted on a pole indicating the area where a homeless encampment will be cleared by the city.

Hayne Palmour IV / For San Diego Union-Tribune

(A notice posted on a pole stating that the area with a homeless encampment on Sports Arena Boulevard will be cleaned up by the city on Thursday in San Diego on Monday, Jan. 31, 2022.)

He believes Tuesday’s action will be just another case of “mole swooping”, with people simply moving from place to place. McConnell wonders why the city isn’t opening a safe, secure camping site for homeless people who refuse shelter to provide them with a safer environment away from city streets.

Other people see cleaning as necessary and long overdue.

According to the press release, outreach workers who met people at the site were concerned about criminal activity in the camp, and said many had told them that people were not accepting help because they suffered from stomach diseases. County public health officials have been notified of their condition, the statement said.

Members of the city’s Department of Environmental Services who had collected trash from the site said they found makeshift structures likely containing cooking fuels that posed a fire hazard, according to the news release. Crews also found items soiled with feces, urine, food and pet waste.

Chris Williams, 47, organizes his things in his tent set up in a homeless encampment.

Chris Williams, 47, who says he is waiting for housing and looking for a job, organizes his things in his tent set up at a homeless encampment on Sports Arena Boulevard in San Diego on Monday, Jan. 31, 2022.

(Hayne Palmour IV / For San Diego Union-Tribune)

Despite the low number of people who accepted shelter, the outreach effort connected many people with services that could provide other types of help. According to the city, outreach workers had 157 encounters with people at the camp and had 457 instances of some type of service. County staff provided CalFresh assistance to 62 people and MediCal assistance to 56 people.

The outreach was led by the city’s Department of Homelessness Strategies and Solutions and the San Diego Housing Commission with participation from PATH, the regional homelessness task force, the office of the Homeless Solutions County, San Diego Family Health Centers, Downtown San Diego Partnership, San Diego Rescue Mission, and Third Avenue Charitable Organization. Goodwill and The Gildred Companies also provided assistance.

According to Gloria’s policies, the homeless are not cited for illegal lodging or encroachment, but people who refuse to move during the cleanup will be arrested.

Those present at the camp will be asked to move their belongings from the area to allow environmental services personnel to remove waste, abandoned property and objects that are unsanitary or in poor condition. Items left behind but deemed valuable, personal and in useable condition will be taken to a city warehouse and instructions on how to retrieve them will be left at the site.