San Diego’s ordinance against homeless encampments goes into effect; enforcement to begin July 31

A San Diego police officer tapes a notice of cleanup and property removal to a homeless couple's tent in Ocean Beach in 2019.
A San Diego police officer tapes a notice of cleanup and property removal to a tent belonging to a homeless couple camping near the beach in Ocean Beach in 2019.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Enforcement is planned to be progressive, from a warning to a citation to possible arrest, with a homeless person offered shelter each time.


Police will begin enforcement Monday, July 31, of San Diego’s new ordinance prohibiting homeless encampments in public spaces throughout the city if shelter beds are available.

The law, called the Unsafe Camping Ordinance, officially passed the City Council on June 27 and was signed by Mayor Todd Gloria on June 29. It officially goes into effect Sunday, July 30.

The ordinance also bans encampments at all times in certain sensitive areas — within two blocks of schools or shelters and at all city parks, waterways, canyons and transit stations — regardless of shelter availability.

“As the Unsafe Camping Ordinance takes effect, I encourage unsheltered people to take advantage of our new safe-sleeping site or available shelter beds,” said City Councilman Stephen Whitburn, who introduced the ordinance. “These options are much safer and healthier than living on sidewalks or in parks.

“I also look forward to all San Diegans having safer and healthier neighborhoods where public areas are used for their intended purposes. Together, we can improve the quality of life in communities across San Diego.”

Critics say the law criminalizes homelessness and won’t solve its greater causes.

The ordinance was not to take effect until 30 days after the first safe-sleeping lot was opened June 30 at 20th and B streets in order to allow non-law enforcement social workers to be the first contact with homeless people.

How the law will be enforced remains somewhat murky. Officers in the San Diego Police Department’s Neighborhood Policing Division have been trained in a progressive enforcement model and will “continue to provide education and outreach to homeless residents about the ordinance,” according to a representative of Whitburn’s office.

Gloria has said enforcement will begin closest to schools and shelters and expand outward.

Police have described the planned progressive enforcement as a three-encounter process, with a homeless person offered shelter each time.

On the first encounter, an officer would inform the person about the law and give a warning. On a second encounter, the officer would confirm that the person already has been warned and then issue a misdemeanor citation. A third encounter would lead to an arrest, though officials said an officer still could take a person to a shelter rather than jail if the person has a change of heart.

With city taxpayers funding more than $200 million for homelessness services, “it is right and appropriate for us to set the expectation that people experiencing homelessness must avail themselves of the services we are providing,” Gloria said. “Enforcement of the ordinance will coincide with bringing online hundreds more shelter opportunities through our safe sleeping program and my pursuit of measures to cut bureaucratic red tape to speed our homelessness response.”

— The San Diego Union-Tribune contributed to this report.


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