SAN DIEGO (CN) – San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer joined top city officials in an empty city-owned parking lot Wednesday to announce plans to turn it into a campground for homeless San Diegans looking to escape the deadly hepatitis A outbreak blanketing the region.
The parking lot, which is down the street from where hundreds of homeless people had set up encampments in downtown’s East Village before being kicked out by city employees who needed to sanitize the streets, will hold enough tents to house more than 200 people and will be run by local homeless service provider Alpha Project. It is scheduled to open Monday.
Couples will be allowed to sleep in the same tents and people will be allowed to bring their pets, Alpha Project president and CEO Bob McElroy said following the news conference. The site will have 24-hour security, shower and restroom facilities and a storage area.
“While we work to open more shelters, this transitional camp area will provide hundreds of homeless men and women a safe and clean space as an alternative to living on the sidewalk,” Faulconer said in a statement.
“No one should be sleeping in a public place in unsanitary conditions.”
The camp site will serve as a transitional temporary housing option before the city gets its bridge tent shelters up and running this winter. Three military-style industrial tents will be pitched in the East Village, the Midway area in Point Loma and in Barrio Logan and will house over 700 people in addition to providing meals, shower and restroom facilities and access to service providers. The city plans to open the first tent in December.
In the meantime, homeless San Diegans have camped out on city streets despite facing citations, arrest and prosecution for violating local ordinances aimed at maintaining the public right-of-way. They have said they have nowhere else to go, though homeless shelter capacity is at little over 90 percent and can accept more people, according to the mayor’s office.
Wednesday’s announcement comes months after San Diego City Councilman Chris Ward, who is chair of the Select Committee on Homelessness, first asked Faulconer and the City Council in March to create “care zones” where homeless people could reside without fear of arrest for encroachment or illegal lodging on city streets.
Ward also asked the homeless committee over the summer to consider bringing a proposal to the City Council for park and camp zones where people could pitch tents or live in their cars, but funding and implementation plans have not yet gone before the full City Council.
Ward again raised the issue in an emergency homelessness response plan issued nearly two weeks ago.
Following Wednesday’s announcement, Ward told Courthouse News a camp site could have been opened sooner but that he does not want to focus on the past. He said he wants other city-owned lots to also be opened up to camping for homeless residents, including the parking lot at the San Diego County Credit Union Stadium (formerly Qualcomm), which could help draw people camping along the San Diego River into a more sanitary living situation.
Ward said now that people have an alternative option to camping on city streets in violation of local ordinances they can no longer say there is “no place to go.”
“I’m optimistic and absolutely believe this is a good-faith effort to address the emergency housing crisis,” Ward said.
“It’s a creative out-of-the-box action, and while there might be a few hiccups along the way, we hope this works and can be expanded.”
The announcement also follows a shelter crisis designation by the City Council this week and updated figures from County Health and Human Services which show there have been 481 hepatitis A cases in the county with 70 percent – or 337 of those affected – being hospitalized.
Seventeen people have died after contracting the disease. Cases linked to the San Diego outbreak have been reported as far away as Maricopa County in Arizona, and cities such as San Francisco are opting to vaccinate their homeless population to prevent the spread of the disease.
More than 40 cases in San Diego are awaiting confirmation, according to county officials.