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Number of tents and people drops dramatically after police renew enforcement at Midway homeless encampment

A photo from Jan. 31 shows a row of tents at a homeless encampment on Sports Arena Boulevard.
A photo from Jan. 31 shows a row of tents at a homeless encampment on Sports Arena Boulevard. The number of tents at the site has since decreased significantly.
(Hayne Palmour IV)

The Sports Arena Boulevard site once had about 100 tents and 200 people.

The number of tents and homeless people living in a large encampment on Sports Arena Boulevard in the Midway District has decreased dramatically recently since San Diego police renewed enforcing laws against camping on sidewalks.

About 200 people had been living in about 100 tents and makeshift structures on an industrial stretch of Sports Arena Boulevard between Rosecrans Street and Pacific Highway.

As of Feb. 18, about 30 tents and 50 to 100 people remained at the site. City officials did not have information on how many people had been arrested, cited or accepted a shelter bed.

Local businesses and an area community group had complained to city officials about the growing encampment over the past few months. In response, the city began a twice-weekly cleanup of the area the first week of February.

Some area residents and business owners had thought the camp on Sports Arena Boulevard would be cleared out.

People were not being cited or arrested because the city had paused enforcement Dec. 29 after shelters stopped accepting new clients. Intakes stopped out of concern that people in crowded shelters were vulnerable to the COVID-19 coronavirus as the Omicron variant increased local cases.

According to a federal court decision in 2018, homeless people cannot be cited for sleeping in public if no shelter beds or other alternatives are available.

Shelters began accepting new clients again recently as coronavirus cases dropped, and enforcement of laws against illegal lodging and encroachment resumed Feb. 14.

People are given warnings and offered shelter beds before being cited under a police tactic called “progressive enforcement.”

Homeless advocate Michael McConnell, who was at the encampment each day last week, called the police action “aggressive enforcement,” saying several police vehicles were arriving at a time and officers warned people that they would be arrested if they stayed.

“It’s obvious to me they’re going to clear the area,” McConnell said. “They don’t mind that there’s 100 camps across the city, but for some reason they don’t want them there.”

McConnell said he counted about 35 tents the morning of Feb. 18 and said the number had decreased by that afternoon.

James Flynn, manager of Walter Andersen Nursery just off Sports Arena Boulevard, estimated there were about 50 tents at the site early that day, with about 100 people still living there. McConnell estimated 50 people were still there.

“I’ve seen a big reduction in tents, but it’s still pretty bad,” Flynn said.

Flynn added that some of the tents that remained appeared dilapidated and possibly abandoned, and he saw people sorting through items that had been left behind.

He also said he was encouraged that the city was taking action at the site and trying to find shelter for people who had been living in desperate conditions.

“I know they couldn’t do it all at once, but it’s definitely going in a positive direction,” he said. “I do see a little bit of hope there.”

Cathy Kenton, chairwoman of the Midway-Pacific Highway Community Planning Group, said she was unaware that the number of tents on the street had declined, but she called it welcome news.

“It’s good not only for the community but for the folks who have been living out on the street who hopefully have found a safer location,” she said.

McConnell said he saw a few people cited, at least one arrested, and several people who took offers for shelter.

However, he was skeptical about whether those who accepted a shelter bed would remain there, and he said he saw one woman who had agreed to shelter early in the day return to the encampment later.


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