Fire at Spring Valley homeless encampment raises concerns - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Fire at Spring Valley homeless encampment raises concerns

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SAN DIEGO (NEWS 8)  — A brush fire at a Spring Valley homeless encampment exposed fire crews to unsanitary conditions on Sunday. 

The incident has some wondering what is being done to stop large homeless encampments from getting out of control.  

San Miguel firefighters may have been exposed to Hepatitis A while fighting the fire as the crews found several buckets filled with urine and feces. 

"There's a stream that runs down in the bottom of the canyon and they're using that to bathe in and basically as a toilet," said San Miguel Battalion Chief Andy Lawler. 

One firefighter was hurt after stepping in one of those buckets and falling.  

The department consulted with hazmat because of the unsanitary conditions. 

"It puts the firefighters at risk for a health hazard," said Lawler. 

As the City and County continue to combat a Hepatitis A outbreak some wonder why more isn't being done - to clean up these encampments  

"I think the most important thing to realize is homelessness in itself is not a crime," said San Diego County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Ryan Keim. "Its not a problem you can arrest your way out of." 

Keim says just clearing out an encampment won't fix the problem 

"There is crime associated with homelessness, [such as] drug use and theft. We do address those on a daily basis," said Keim. "What you have to realize is if you clean up a camp and move it or you take someone into custody and they're released, the same thing is going to keep happening. 

San Diego Police agree the issue is challenging 

A spokesperson says since the Hep A outbreak started they have more teams going out into the homeless community to try and connect the homeless with vaccines and other resources.  

But as far as breaking up the encampments: it's complicated. 

A federal lawsuit was filed against the City in July accusing it of unfairly targeting homeless people in enforcing its encroachment law: a law that prohibits placing objects in the public right of way. 

There were two previous lawsuits as well. 

The outcome of one banned officers from arresting or ticketing someone for illegal lodging after 9 p.m. unless there is a bed available in a shelter and the person refuses it.  

The city also weighed in on the issue saying it partners with community groups to clean up encampments, but as far as getting rid of any property on city streets – because of another lawsuit - they must give a 72-hour notice before removing anyone's belongings. 
 
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