As his latest step to fulfill his commitment to take a more compassionate and transparent approach to addressing homelessness, the City of San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria today announced a number of significant changes to policies governing how the City handles homeless encampments and unsheltered people’s belongings.
The changes were driven by Mayor Gloria’s insistence that all policies affecting unsheltered residents be based on dignity and compassion. They are aimed at providing transparency and consistency to reduce negative impacts of City sidewalk-cleanup activities on people experiencing homelessness.
“While the City has an obligation to make sure we don’t have another communicable disease outbreak like hepatitis A among our homeless population, we can do so with compassion and while respecting their dignity,” said Mayor Todd Gloria. “As we work every day on solutions to connect folks to permanent housing, shelter, and supportive services, these changes apply a measure of respect and compassion that will reduce the trauma for those San Diegans experiencing homelessness.”
After San Diego’s deadly hepatitis A outbreak in 2017, the City has an obligation to ensure that its sidewalks are clean to protect against future public health threats. Other cities with large homeless populations have seen outbreaks of typhus and other infectious diseases due to unsanitary conditions in encampments.
Mayor Gloria has committed to a new compassionate approach that will keep the public right-of-way clean and provide less uncertainty for unsheltered individuals.
The changes, most of which are already in effect, include:
- Suspension of cleanups and enforcement during inclement weather
- Suspension of cleanups at night
- Easier means to retrieve personal items removed during cleanups
- Clearer and more consistent noticing of cleanup schedules
- Reduction of law enforcement visibility
- Coordination of cleanup activities with outreach activities to ensure that unsheltered residents are offered shelter and services ahead of the cleanups.
These changes were developed under direction of the Mayor by the City’s Homelessness Strategies Department, incorporating feedback from persons with lived experience, relying on homelessness experts and national and regional policy, and including ideas and input from the City Environmental Services and Neighborhood Policing departments. The changes that involve installing new signage will be implemented over the next several weeks.
Details on each of the changes are as follows:
Inclement weather cleanup suspension: The City’s Environmental Services Department will not conduct cleanups of items that may belong to people left on the sidewalk or in canyons during poor weather conditions such as rain, hail or extreme cold. The Police Department will also suspend issuance of certain citations.
Elimination of nighttime cleanups: Cleanups will be confined to daylight hours only. allowing unsheltered people the chance to arrange their sleeping areas as safely as possible before nightfall.
Storage and retrieval of personal items: City crews conducting cleanups are responsible for saving and storing items that may have personal value, such as jewelry, photos, identification or legal documents. Staff will post clearer and more detailed instructions for how to contact the City so items can be delivered back to their owners.
Clear and consistent noticing. City crews will establish a regular cleanup and sidewalk sanitization schedule and post it in high-need areas to provide better advance notice. For larger-scale, less-frequent cleanups, such as those that may be required in parks or canyons, the Parks and Recreation and Environmental Services departments will work with Homelessness Strategies staff to include service-provider outreach in the planning process to focus resources in that area as part of a concerted advance effort.
Trauma-informed presence. City teams will have less visible police presence during cleanups. Although police officers will be present to preserve the peace, protect city crews, and be available for incidents that may arise, they will reduce their visibility by avoiding use of emergency lights, relying instead on City truck safety lights, and positioning the police vehicles further from the site. These changes are aimed at making it clearer that the activity is for public-health purposes, not enforcement.