In downtown San Diego, amidst a complex crisis, residents, homeless individuals, city crews, and nonprofit services are navigating a new ordinance on the streets.
An intersection in the East Village brings together residential housing, abandoned buildings, industrial businesses, and rows of encampments along the freeway bridge. Within a few blocks, a microcosm of the city’s significant issue is evident.
The San Diego police department has initiated the enforcement of a ban on homeless encampments.
Anneke Durbin and Amanda Lawrence shared with NBC 7 that they’ve been homeless for an extended period.
“We find ourselves here due to the circumstances we’ve faced. It’s not about substance abuse or spending money recklessly. The cost of living has risen, and I couldn’t afford my rent anymore,” explained Lawrence.
The women revealed that they frequently change locations due to both the city’s encampment ban and frustrated business owners.
“I’ve been struggling to secure housing or a hotel voucher for myself and my husband, so that I can regain custody of my kids. However, I’m still on waiting lists everywhere,” said Durbin.
The ban prevents camping on sidewalks if there’s available shelter space. However, it’s entirely prohibited within a two-block radius of schools, homeless shelters, public parks, canyons, and river beds.
On a Thursday, Georgio Kirylo, a downtown resident, encountered the two women and NBC 7 during his walk home.
“Seeing people dying on the streets every day is heart-wrenching,” Kirylo expressed.
He informed NBC 7 that the situation has deteriorated to the point where he’s established a neighborhood watch involving various community groups.
“Our streets have children and businesses. The conditions are unsanitary and perilous. Car break-ins are frequent, and fires are being started,” Kirylo elaborated.
The Unhoused Care Team from the San Diego Downtown Partnership was assisting Durbin and Lawrence in relocating to a shelter. However, they informed NBC 7 that there was no available space. Consequently, the women are striving to avoid warnings that could lead to fines and arrests.
“For being homeless? We’re seeking assistance. I’m not a drug addict. I’m here because I’m struggling, working to get back on my feet,” Lawrence stated.
Recently, the city of San Diego introduced a secure sleeping parking lot in the Golden Hill neighborhood near Balboa Park, accommodating 150 people. Another lot is set to open in the fall, with capacity for 400 people. City leaders acknowledge that change won’t happen overnight, but there are signs of improvement in the data.
The Downtown Partnership conducts a monthly count of people living on the streets. In May, the count exceeded 2,100. However, by June, the number dropped by around 400, and then decreased by an additional 200 in July.
Officials from Chula Vista and La Mesa informed NBC 7 that they’ve observed an increase in homelessness in their areas since the enforcement of the encampment ban commenced.