SAN DIEGO (CN) – A bipartisan pair of San Diego City Council members called Monday for the former Chargers football training facility to be used as a temporary homeless shelter as a hepatitis A outbreak that has plagued the region now spreads across the country.
Council members David Alvarez and Lorie Zapf called on the city to explore using the former San Diego Chargers’ training facility to house the growing population of people living along the San Diego River.
The proposal is the latest in a flood of ideas and solutions being tossed around in San Diego, which this year has experienced one of the worst outbreaks of hepatitis A since the vaccine used to prevent the liver disease became available.
San Diego’s outbreak, spread through fecal matter contamination, has mostly impacted the city’s growing homeless population and illicit drug users. The epidemic has left 20 dead and 544 infected.
California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency due to the outbreak last month, following local states of emergency declared by the city and county of San Diego.
The San Diego County Board of Supervisors extended its regional state of emergency declaration Monday.
Rob Hutsel, president and CEO of the San Diego River Park Foundation, said Monday his group has seen an 80 percent increase in homeless encampments along the river since last year, up to 101 encampments in 2017 over 56 last year.
Hutsel also said his group has picked up 250,000 pounds of trash near the riverbed since January and that 98 percent of the trash along the river can be attributed to homeless sources.
Concerns have been raised over possible contamination of the San Diego River with the hepatitis A virus, though the county and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control have emphasized none of the reported cases in San Diego are tied to the river. The agencies have said testing the water for the disease would be a waste of money, although the amount of human fecal waste in San Diego’s waterways has increased over the past year, according to Alvarez.
Alvarez and Zapf both emphasized their concerns about the environmental impact of trash and human waste flowing into the San Diego River and out to the Pacific Ocean. But they also recognized there aren’t enough places to house San Diego’s growing homeless population.
“I think this problem of the river exemplifies the problem at large that we have in San Diego. Just because you can push people along from one part of town doesn’t mean the problem gets resolved, it just puts pressure on other parts of town,” Alvarez said.
The councilman noted the city’s crisis designation loosened requirements for getting homeless people into temporary shelters, allowing the city to use vacant facilities or properties as shelters.
Zapf said the city is faced with a homelessness and housing crisis that must be dealt with swiftly.
“Do I think it’s the best place to house them? No. But we have very little options right now,” Zapf said.
“The key word for these shelters is temporary. We need to have longer term permanent solutions but we have a crisis right now.”
A spokesman for San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said in a statement to Courthouse News the mayor would determine if Chargers Park is needed to shelter additional homeless people once the three military-style bridge tent shelters are up-and-running later this year.
“Hundreds of individuals and families are already being helped by the transitional camp area and safe parking program that opened last month and three temporary bridge shelters with wraparound supportive services will serve more than 700 people per day when they are up and running in a few weeks. These locations were preferred by the homeless service providers, could be opened quickly, and are close to public transit.
“Chargers Park does not have direct access to transit or other homeless services, but once the temporary bridge shelters are operational the mayor will assess how things are going and we may consider other locations for homeless services,” the spokesman said.
While San Diego’s hepatitis A crisis has gotten national attention, it’s far from the only outbreak spreading across the country: A Huffington Post report from over the weekend found cities including Santa Cruz, Los Angeles, New York and the state of Michigan have seen an uptick in cases as the Centers for Disease has reported a shortage in vaccines due to the outbreaks across the United States.
In San Diego, more than 90,000 hepatitis A vaccines have been distributed.
While some cases tied to San Diego’s outbreak have been reported in Maricopa County, Arizona, and San Francisco, other outbreaks across the nation this year have mostly affected men who have sex with men.