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Homelessness Strategies and Solutions

Encampment Clean-Up and Abatement

The City of San Diego’s main focus is always on offering services and shelter and connecting individuals to longer-term housing through increased outreach efforts.

The City has a responsibility to maintain public health and safety. Part of that duty includes making sure public right-of-way and parks are clean and free of litter and trash, keeping sidewalks available for safe passage by not allowing amassing of trash or other items.

The following details how the City’s Environmental Services Department notices and addresses encampments per San Diego Municipal Code - Chapter 6, Article 3, Division 4.

Before the Clean-up

Advance Noticing

The City is obligated by SDMC 64.0406 to provide advance notice of any cleanings that will occur in a specific area so that individuals may remove their belongings.

Notices must adhere to the following:

  1. Must be posted on each tent or structure and in any other distinct areas of the encampment.
  2. Must be posted a minimum of 24 hours before the clean-up will begin.
  3. Clean-up may occur after the 24-hour period. The abatement may occur within 48 hours of the posted Notice of Clean-Up without posting a new notice. If is delayed longer, a new notice must be posted. 
  4. Abatements may not occur between 9 p.m. and 5:30 a.m.
  5. Clean-ups will not occur on inclement weather days

Expedited Abatement

An expedited abatement will follow the same procedures as a normal abatement, however, may occur after giving a minimum of 3 hours before the clean-up will begin. Expedited abatements will occur if the City is given direction by the County of San Diego or other governmental authority that a clean-up is required to preserve public health and safety or the encampment poses a significant risk to property damage, bodily injury or death. 

During the Clean-Up

City Environmental Services Department staff are trained to differentiate between valuable or irreplaceable personal property and soiled materials or waste. Staff identify, record and impound abandoned personal belongings that are irreplaceable or of value. They carefully document items that are identified to be discarded and if an individual returns to the area during the clean-up to retrieve personal belongings from the area being abated, they will be permitted to do so.

Law enforcement is asked to accompany City Environmental Services Department crews conducting cleaning activities to maintain safety for the workers and be available to intercede if issues arise. They are also able to promote shelter and assistance opportunities, connect individuals experiencing homelessness to other services, or get medical assistance should it be necessary.

Sorting of Items

All abandoned items are sorted first to identify those items that have a perceived value or are of irreplaceable personal value, including, but not limited to ID’s/paperwork, photos, bibles, jewelry, journals, medication, etc. Any remaining items soiled with moisture, food, human waste, pet waste, insect infestation, drug paraphernalia or in disrepair are then discarded. Bicycles are also impounded if they are in ridable, or close-to ridable condition however, bikes that are missing major components like wheels or handlebars are discarded.


City staff document the process by: 

  • Taking photos or video of camps and waste on rights of way and public property before crews begin to clean.
  • Taking photos and recording all items (as listed above) to be impounded for safekeeping which the individual can retrieve later.
  • Taking photos of the insides of tents that contain wet items or food, human or pet waste that is going to be discarded for health and safety reasons.
  • Taking photos of the abated area following the efforts of City staff.

After the Clean-Up

Retrieval of Belongings

A notice is posted for individuals who may be returning to an area following a clean-up about how they can retrieve valuable property (as defined above) that was impounded for safekeeping as a part of a clean-up. Items are stored for 90 days. 

Individuals can contact 858-694-7000 and a City employee will return their items to them.