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Homeless advocates to protest citywide encampment ban

City Council's proposed law would ban all homeless encampments. Homeless advocates gather outside city hall Tuesday to protest the ban.

SAN DIEGO — San Diego advocates and people experiencing homelessness are protesting at City Hall Tuesday at 12 p.m. against the proposed citywide encampment ban. 

People experiencing homelessness are speaking out and saying how the ordinance, if passed, would impact them. 

Advocates say that the ordinance would violate the 8th amendment.

Many of those unsheltered may soon be faced with more potential arrests if the city council and mayor approve a law to ban encampments in city parks, near schools as well as on all sidewalks if they refuse going into a shelter if beds are available.

The proposal has drawn criticism from some advocates and others for what they say is criminalizing homelessness.

"The idea that we're going to hand an unsheltered person a ticket or arrest them and that's going to magically end their homelessness is a falsehood. These people are typically just booked and released. Even if they're convicted, they have no other alternatives but to live on the street. So all these citations and arrests are doing is complicating their ability to end their homelessness," said Attorney Coleen Cusack, who represents unsheltered people in San Diego who have been arrested and cited for homeless-related offenses. 

Cusack says the city is "basically setting up a poverty-apartheid in San Diego where people who are poor are not even allowed in some areas of the city without being subjected to arrest."

But for City Councilmember Stephen Whitburn, the councilmember that introduced the ordinance, the encampment ban is a needed first step in a multi-step plan to not only address homelessness but also to ensure that streets and sidewalks are safe, a place where pedestrians can walk without having to dodge tents, trash, and people fast asleep on the pavement.

"The idea is to ensure that people who are currently experiencing unsheltered homelessness, find a way to get into a shelter, a safer, healthier place, and also to create a more healthy and safe environment for our neighborhoods," Councilmember Whitburn told CBS 8.

Whitburn says that means safety for everyone, not only the unsheltered.

"We have young school children who are walking to classes on a sidewalk, who find themselves blocked by an encampment who have to walk out into the street into traffic to get around the encampment or go on to school. We have people in wheelchairs, who have every right to expect that they can get from point A to point B on a sidewalk and they can't because there are tents blocking the sidewalk. That's not right, either. We have a right to have a city that is safe, that is healthy, and where people abide by basic simple rules. And that is what this ordinance will do."

Added Whitburn, "If people, despite having opportunities to go into shelter or safe sleeping or housing, decide that they want to stay on the sidewalk, then it is perfectly reasonable for us to say you can't do that."

But with shelter space at less than 1,800 beds and more than 4,801 people on the streets - that number likely much higher, Whitburn says the city must continue to create more safe shelters for the unhoused.

"There is no question that we need more shelter," says Whitburn. "It's why I am working toward a safe sleeping initiative where we would take a parking lot and screen it off for privacy and put bathrooms, security, and provide opportunities for people to move from the street and into those safe sleeping locations. So we absolutely need to create more shelter opportunities. And we would not enforce in most instances unless a person was offered an available shelter bed."

The mayor's office told CBS8 that the full city council vote on the ordinance is taking place on June 13th. If approved, the Mayor will need to sign off on it before it goes into law. Councilmember Whitburn's Office estimates that to be sometime near the beginning of summer.


WATCH RELATED: Will more homeless people be arrested if San Diego's encampment ban is passed? (Apr 26, 2023)

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