Homeless tents downtown 2
Homeless tents on set up on 16th Street in downtown San Diego. Photo by Chris Stone

City Council members voted 5-4 to Tuesday to give final approval to the Unsafe Camping Ordinance that prohibits tent encampments in all public spaces throughout the city if shelter beds are available.

Tuesday’s second reading of the ordinance followed a June 13 meeting that ran late into the evening and ended with a 5-4 vote advance the measure, which was strongly favored by Mayor Todd Gloria and introduced by City Councilman Stephen Whitburn.

Their pro-ordinance efforts also involved asking the public to sign a petition and speaking on the issue at news conferences ahead of the council discussion. The ordinance also bans tent encampments at all times in certain sensitive areas — parks, canyons and near schools, transit stations and homeless shelters — regardless of shelter capacity.

Under an earlier amendment by Councilwoman Marni Von Wilpert, the ordinance won’t take effect until 30 days after the first safe sleeping lot is opened on 20th and B streets, to allow non-law enforcement social workers to be the first contact with homeless people.

Tuesday’s council agenda included a “request that Council District 3 work with the Mayor’s Office and City Attorney’s Office to address the questions and concerns that have been raised by committee members.”

The amendments include:

  • a comprehensive plan that includes expanding congregate and non-congregate shelter options, dedicated outreach and consistent enforcement
  • site control and money for new bridge shelters, safe parking, and/or safe camping to demonstrate there is availability of shelter
  • reflecting best practices, considering the input of the Regional Task Force on the Homelessness
  • a detailed plan for how enforcement would transition from current activity to what is contemplated under the draft ordinance
  • a revised proposal that includes all city parks
  • written enforcement and operations plan
  • a plan that identifies specific sleeping sites
  • legal analysis from the city attorney on the proposed ordinance, including which public areas within the city allow for enforcement when shelter is or isn’t available

Those voting no Tuesday were Council President Sean Elo-Rivera, Kent Lee, Monica Montgomery Steppe and Vivian Moreno. Those four also voted against the ordinance on June 13.

In a statement released Tuesday, Gloria thanked “the majority of the City Council for reaffirming its decision to pass the Unsafe Camping Ordinance and address the tent encampments that are posing a health and safety risk to the public.”

With city taxpayers funding over $200 million to provide homelessness services, “it is right and appropriate for us to set the expectation that people experiencing homelessness must avail themselves of the services we are providing,” Gloria said.

“Enforcement of the ordinance will coincide with bringing online hundreds more shelter opportunities through our Safe Sleeping program and my pursuit of measures to cut bureaucratic red tape to speed our homelessness response. I look forward to signing the ordinance into law this week,” Gloria added.

As they did earlier this month, some residents and activists on Tuesday spoke out against the Unsafe Camping Ordinance.

“You have blood on your hands,” one woman told the council. “Every homeless person that dies, is the fault of every person that voted yes.”

Homeless advocate Michael McConnell referred to a new Voice of San Diego article that contradicts Gloria’s claim that his office has expanded shelter capacity by 70%.

“This ordinance is just going to make things worse, we all know it,” McConnell said.

Updated at 5:35 p.m. June 27, 2023

City News Service contributed to this article.