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National City reacts to homeless drifting from San Diego

Bans are hard to enforce

Channel 8 story on homeless evicted by state from 805 in 2021.
Channel 8 story on homeless evicted by state from 805 in 2021.

San Diego's ban on camping on public property, which went into effect last summer, may have pushed more unsheltered people into National City. 

While the evidence is mostly anecdotal, National City officials have used it to help hammer out their own proposed ban, modeled after San Diego's and focused around health and safety. The ordinance would affect public areas within two city blocks of sensitive sites such as schools, transit, or waterways.

For Natalie Rashke, a parent of school age children who spent 2.5 years living out of a van or tent, such locations are vital. "How else was I supposed to get them there on time?" she asked city officials.

"There aren't resources for a husband and wife and four children. There's nowhere for us to go. Nowhere. Not anywhere. So then what do we do if we can't pitch a tent and sleep...and get them to school?"

Opponents at last week's city council meeting — including council members who were unaware the agenda item was in the forecast — sent it back for an overhaul that's expected by June.

Councilmember Marcus Bush made a motion to bring the issue back after further research, to immediately address unsafe conditions in encampments, and consider a comprehensive approach to homelessness that includes, among other things, the local rental market.

City attorney Barry Schultz defended the ordinance, saying by narrowing the focus to health and safety as they have, the city's ban can be enforced while not "criminalizing homelessness" or undermining the city's efforts at outreach. Under the city's proposal, if an encampment poses an immediate threat or unreasonable risk to any particular individual or to public health or safety, the ordinance will be enforceable regardless of shelter bed availability.

Such bans are hard to enforce since courts have found them to be illegal where there are no available shelter beds. And that's where things get sticky. A planned rescue mission and navigation center has not yet been built in National City, and the entire county is short on beds.

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"All of the shelters in general are packed," said Qiana Williamson, a member of the city's HOME team, which helps connect people to housing, aid, mental health and substance use services. 

"Someone asked me today, 'hey, I'd like to go into a shelter. Anywhere would do.' I can call tomorrow morning at 8 a.m., it's full."

Homelessness was rising in National City long before San Diego's ban took effect. In 2020, there were 125 unsheltered people found during the annual Point in Time count conducted by the San Diego Regional Task Force on Homelessness. It bumped up to 149 in 2022, and in 2023, grew to 159, but some said the number is likely far higher.

The encampments stretch along the 16th Street bridge above the 805 freeway southbound, and other nooks and crannies. "We find them in Caltrans areas, under bridges; they're pretty much everywhere."

Williamson said the HOME team will often hear things like, "'Oh, we're getting a break from San Diego, and staying here.'"

More information on the claim that people are coming from San Diego is expected when the Point in Time count for 2023 is completed, she said in response to council questions. "They are numbers reported from what we see and what we hear from homeless individuals."

From June through December 2023, the HOME team was able to help 89 people and place 25 into housing. Another 90 refused services, said Williamson.

"It takes time to gain trust," said councilmember Luz Molina. "I'm afraid that National City going from this — the approach the HOME team has taken — to now going towards a camping ban ordinance is a complete other direction that I'm afraid might derail" a lot of the success you have had to date.

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Channel 8 story on homeless evicted by state from 805 in 2021.
Channel 8 story on homeless evicted by state from 805 in 2021.

San Diego's ban on camping on public property, which went into effect last summer, may have pushed more unsheltered people into National City. 

While the evidence is mostly anecdotal, National City officials have used it to help hammer out their own proposed ban, modeled after San Diego's and focused around health and safety. The ordinance would affect public areas within two city blocks of sensitive sites such as schools, transit, or waterways.

For Natalie Rashke, a parent of school age children who spent 2.5 years living out of a van or tent, such locations are vital. "How else was I supposed to get them there on time?" she asked city officials.

"There aren't resources for a husband and wife and four children. There's nowhere for us to go. Nowhere. Not anywhere. So then what do we do if we can't pitch a tent and sleep...and get them to school?"

Opponents at last week's city council meeting — including council members who were unaware the agenda item was in the forecast — sent it back for an overhaul that's expected by June.

Councilmember Marcus Bush made a motion to bring the issue back after further research, to immediately address unsafe conditions in encampments, and consider a comprehensive approach to homelessness that includes, among other things, the local rental market.

City attorney Barry Schultz defended the ordinance, saying by narrowing the focus to health and safety as they have, the city's ban can be enforced while not "criminalizing homelessness" or undermining the city's efforts at outreach. Under the city's proposal, if an encampment poses an immediate threat or unreasonable risk to any particular individual or to public health or safety, the ordinance will be enforceable regardless of shelter bed availability.

Such bans are hard to enforce since courts have found them to be illegal where there are no available shelter beds. And that's where things get sticky. A planned rescue mission and navigation center has not yet been built in National City, and the entire county is short on beds.

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"All of the shelters in general are packed," said Qiana Williamson, a member of the city's HOME team, which helps connect people to housing, aid, mental health and substance use services. 

"Someone asked me today, 'hey, I'd like to go into a shelter. Anywhere would do.' I can call tomorrow morning at 8 a.m., it's full."

Homelessness was rising in National City long before San Diego's ban took effect. In 2020, there were 125 unsheltered people found during the annual Point in Time count conducted by the San Diego Regional Task Force on Homelessness. It bumped up to 149 in 2022, and in 2023, grew to 159, but some said the number is likely far higher.

The encampments stretch along the 16th Street bridge above the 805 freeway southbound, and other nooks and crannies. "We find them in Caltrans areas, under bridges; they're pretty much everywhere."

Williamson said the HOME team will often hear things like, "'Oh, we're getting a break from San Diego, and staying here.'"

More information on the claim that people are coming from San Diego is expected when the Point in Time count for 2023 is completed, she said in response to council questions. "They are numbers reported from what we see and what we hear from homeless individuals."

From June through December 2023, the HOME team was able to help 89 people and place 25 into housing. Another 90 refused services, said Williamson.

"It takes time to gain trust," said councilmember Luz Molina. "I'm afraid that National City going from this — the approach the HOME team has taken — to now going towards a camping ban ordinance is a complete other direction that I'm afraid might derail" a lot of the success you have had to date.

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Unitarian Universalist Justine Sullivan wants everyone to get along

“Our congregation’s strength lies in its ability to welcome everyone as they are.”
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Encinitas bent on curbing home gas appliances

Stymied by the courts, city proposes incentives instead of a total ban
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