FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, Jan. 31, 2022
SAN DIEGO – Following a concentrated effort to connect residents camping along Sports Arena Boulevard to shelter and social services, Mayor Todd Gloria today announced that he has directed the City’s Environmental Services Department to conduct a cleanup operation to protect public health and safety for both the residents of the encampment and the surrounding community.
“The situation on Sports Arena Boulevard in the Midway community is wholly unacceptable,” Mayor Todd Gloria said. “The potential for an outbreak of disease and the threat to public safety compels us to act now. As we continue to provide shelter and wide array of supportive services to unsheltered people living in the neighborhood, we cannot wait for something terrible to happen before we take decisive action.”
“Thank you to the Mayor for the assistance that my staff and I have been advocating for,” said District 2 City Councilmember Jennifer Campbell, who represents the Midway community. “The situation in Midway is intolerable for all parties involved. It is inhumane to allow our unsheltered neighbors to live on our streets or under bridges. I hope those living on Sports Arena Boulevard will accept the services and shelter provided to protect the health and safety for all.”
The recent intensive outreach effort, led by People Assisting the Homeless (PATH) under the direction of the City’s Homelessness Strategies and Solutions Department and the San Diego Housing Commission, found 94 tent structures and an estimated 183 people living on Sports Arena Boulevard between Rosecrans Street and Pacific Highway. The outreach effort has also included the Regional Task Force on Homelessness, the County Office of Homeless Solutions, Family Health Centers of San Diego, Downtown San Diego Partnership, San Diego Rescue Mission and Third Avenue Charitable Organization. Goodwill and The Gildred Companies also assisted.
An after-action report (attached) details outcomes of the outreach operation, noting it resulted in 157 encounters with unsheltered residents and 457 instances of service. County personnel provided 62 people with CalFresh assistance and 56 people with MediCal assistance.
Seven people accepted placement into shelter – six of them in the Community Harm Reduction Shelter that Mayor Gloria and County Board of Supervisors Chair Nathan Fletcher opened nearby in December to serve residents who struggle with substance abuse and mental illness, and one at PATH Connections Housing in Downtown.
Outreach workers reported that residents of the encampment who engaged with them openly discussed their substance-use issues and accepted various services. Based on their observations, outreach workers said they are concerned about criminal activity happening in the encampment. The vast majority of people living in the area were hesitant to accept shelter placement despite knowing cleanup operations were imminent.
The City’s Environmental Services Department staff who have been through the area to collect waste, report a plethora of makeshift structures that likely have cooking fuels that pose a fire risk and items soiled with feces, urine, and food or pet waste. To protect public health, these items must regularly be removed and disposed. On one day during the outreach operation, multiple residents approached outreach workers and said that some residents were not accepting help because they were suffering from stomach illness, which was promptly reported to County public health officials.
Per the City’s standard practice, individuals are required to move their belongings from an area designated for cleanup to allow Environmental Services staff to remove waste, abandoned property and items that are unsanitary or in disrepair. Staff are trained to handle with care items believed to be personal belongings. All items are sorted to identify those that are deemed in good, usable condition or of irreplaceable personal value, such as paperwork, photos, bibles, journals and medication, and those personal belongings are taken to a City storage facility with notice left in the area for how to retrieve it.
Last year, Mayor Gloria reformed the procedures involved in encampment cleanups to include a less-visible police presence. Due to safety threats to workers during cleanups in this area in the recent past, officers will accompany Environmental Services staff during the cleanup. Currently, unsheltered residents are not being cited for illegal lodging or encroachment, but residents who refuse to move during the cleanup to allow this public health operation to proceed will be arrested.
Advance notice of the cleanup was posted along Sports Arena Boulevard on Friday.
WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING:
Tamera Kohler, CEO of the Regional Task Force on Homelessness:
“I appreciate the coordinated efforts of so many partners and advocates to provide an extensive targeted outreach effort. We must be very attentive to the residents and the community’s health and safety needs, treating everyone with dignity and respect, and offer clear information and openness on how the city must address the potential hazards posed to residents in this encampment and provide sustained services including cleanups and clearance when needed.”
John Brady, director of Lived Experience Advisers, an organization that elevates the voices of people who have experienced homelessness.
“Lived Experience Advisers fully supports regular trash pickup, as well as scheduled ‘abatements’ that require temporary relocation of encampments during cleanup. Our experience on the streets leads us to see this action along with other regular trash services as necessary to keep encampments sanitary and free of diseases. We encourage the city to provide trash receptacles as well.”
Dike Anyiwo, vice-chair of the Midway-Pacific Highway Community Planning Group:
“The community has felt the impact of this sprawling encampment for months now. Our planning group meetings are dominated by reports about illegal drug use, litter, violent assaults and theft of property from nearby homes and businesses. People here are desperate for action. We appreciate the efforts to move people living in this encampment into shelter and applaud the Mayor for this week’s cleanup operation. We hope the city will continue to work to clear the encampment completely.”