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SAN DIEGO – San Diego City Council on Monday unanimously declared a shelter crisis, a move aimed at tackling longstanding issues related to housing and homelessness in the community.

“Our rents take up too much of the average person’s income,” Councilmember Stephen Whitburn said. “We have seen homelessness increase to a level that none of us have seen before.”

The declaration has been made twice before in recent years by city leaders in October 2017 and March 2019, respectively. In essence, it allows the city to wipe away strict housing, health and safety compliance so unhoused residents can get into shelters faster.

Data collected by the Regional Task Force on Homelessness found that last year, there were 4,143 sheltered individuals throughout the region with many living in emergency shelters, transitional housing and safe havens within city limits. A point-in-time count from the previous year identified more than 7,600 people experiencing homelessness, including 65% of that population living in the city, a staff report shows.

The city also has seen growing demand at its Bridge Shelters. Given health concerns tied to COVID-19, a recent shigella outbreak and inclement weather, city staff say there’s “a health and safety risk” for the community’s unsheltered population.

But some public speakers Monday were calling for more action to help those in need.

“A broken record,” one person said. “Study after study after study, but no solutions. No one is coming up with a solution.”

Whitburn, who represents District 3, which includes downtown, Little Italy and Hillcrest, among other areas, said it’s a complicated issue. As such, he said council is working harder than ever to address it.

“This city council in the past year has approved every single affordable housing project that has come before it,” he said. “We are that committed to ensuring that we get people from the streets and into housing.”

He and other council members want to expand permanent housing and shelters as part of the upcoming budget. Something that’s recently been a challenge since Whitburn said the city stopped accepting newcomers into shelters in mid-December due to the surge of COVID-19 cases.

“That’s one of the reasons why we’ve seen more and more people unhoused in the last couple of months,” he said.

But with cases decreasing, he said shelters will be opening doors once again, but much needs to be done.