SAN DIEGO — A Point Loma town council meeting was standing room only on Thursday, as hundreds of residents came out to voice concern about the City of San Diego’s proposed 700-person homeless shelter near Liberty Station.
H Barracks, an abandoned military facility located just north of the San Diego International Airport, was identified as the next location for its “safe camping program” that city officials wanted to open to expand emergency shelter options for unhoused residents.
According to the city, the existing buildings would first be demolished, then tents and other facilities like bathrooms would be brought in.
However, speakers complained of the lack of communication from the city, and complained the location of the possible homeless encampment is too close to Liberty Station and several schools in the area.
“A tent city with 700 people on a strip of concrete next to the airport runways is inhumane, it’s not a good shelter and it’s not safe,” one resident said during the council meeting.
City representatives were not present at the meeting, leaving hundreds of residents looking for answers. The town council decided unanimously for a resolution opposing the proposal.
“We all feel threatened and to put 700 more of these individuals in that we have no idea what their background is, their option was jail or this encampment they are putting us and our children at risk,” another resident said during the meeting.
The city has said the plan is to use the encampment for roughly 5 years, while a clear water project is in the process to eventually take over the whole property.
In leu of showing up to the meeting, the city released this letter:
To: Peninsula Community Planning Board
I appreciated having the opportunity to participate at last Thursday’s PCPB ad hoc homeless committee, the first of what I hope to be many engagements on this proposal. As I mentioned at last week’s meeting, I am unable to attend tonight’s discussion. However, as you consider your vote on the matter, I wanted to address the concerns outlined in your proposed letter.
To start, some basic facts of the proposal:
· H-Barracks was identified as a medium-term option in the City of San Diego’s Comprehensive Shelter Strategy, which outlines short-, medium-, and long-term solutions to meeting the City’s shelter needs.
· San Diego Fire-Rescue and San Diego Police Department have used this site for training exercises. Long-term, this area will serve as a site for a Purewater facility, making any type of installation or use temporary in nature.
· For timeline, abatement and demolition of the existing structures must occur first. At the earliest, the City is looking at the end of calendar year 2024 for operations to begin.
To address the specific concerns outlined in your letter:
1. Public Safety and Youth Impact:
a. This is and will always be the City’s top priority with any shelter facility. The City will provide 24/7 security stationed on-site, in addition to security personnel provided by the service provider. Other on-site public safety measures include extensive lighting and privacy fencing.
b. City shelters have codes of conduct including no violence, weapons, drug use, or alcohol on-site.
c. This will be an enrolled, referral-based program only, meaning no walk-ups will be accepted nor are outside visitors allowed. Individuals must be referred through SDPD or an identified homeless services provider. City shelters are elective programs, meaning there is a mutual agreement and participation to seek services and help.
d. As occurred after opening the Safe Sleeping sites at the O Lot in Balboa Park and 20th & B in Golden Hill, the site is expected to reduce the number of nearby encampments and calls for services in the surrounding area.
e. Liberty Station is proposed to be part of Phase 3 implementation of the Unsafe Camping Ordinance, which prohibits encampments in the public right of way when there is shelter available. However, the ordinance has designated sensitive areas where encampments will be prohibited, regardless of shelter availability, out of concern for public health and public safety, including:
i.within two blocks of K-12 schools;
ii.within two blocks of a shelter (which H Barracks will qualify as);
iii.along Trolley tracks and transportation hubs;
vi.and waterways, like the San Diego River.
f. Expansion of shelters allows for more effective enforcement of the Unsafe Camping Ordinance by providing additional locations for individuals to receive shelter and services. The areas outlined in your letter – Liberty Station schools and parks – would see the benefit of this stepped-up enforcement.
2. Lack of Services and Health Risks:
a. Necessary services are provided on-site, including mental health resources, substance abuse counseling, case management, housing navigation, healthcare and medical care assistance, veterinary care, IDs, assistance with Social Security or Disability payments, and the basics, such as meals, showers, restrooms, and laundry.
b. Transit is provided to and from the site, including transportation to appointments and other services in Downtown or elsewhere. For context, transit services at other shelters are conducted several times a day and are intended to benefit clients at City shelters, but also to mitigate loitering and wandering into nearby communities.
c. The health and safety of clients on-site are of utmost priority. Any shelter services will be properly mitigated for noise pollution, weather conditions, and other potential impacts from the surrounding environment.
3. Negative Impact on Tourism and Local Businesses:
a. The simple fact of the matter is that these areas are already impacted by homelessness. H Barracks activates a blighted property, provides a safe and secure place for unsheltered individuals who would otherwise sleep on the streets, brings significant services and resources to the area, and comes with prioritized outreach and enforcement in the surrounding community.
b. Over the course of this next year, significant engagement will take place with the Airport, the Port, nearby retail and hotel owners, and other tourism and economic stakeholders to discuss security, resources, and impact mitigation. The lines of communication will exist as the site becomes operational, just as we do with adjacent stakeholders at other City shelters.
4. CEQA Compliance:
a. H Barracks will undergo significant environmental review for both the planned permanent Purewater facility and any temporary homeless resources that are constructed. This includes:
i.Requisite CEQA review
ii.Permits and approval from the California Coastal Commission
iii.Permits and approval from the City of San Diego’s Development Services Department
b. The abatement of lead and asbestos in the existing structures will be performed in compliance with all regulations by a certified abatement contractor with oversight by the City of San Diego’s Environmental Services Department’s Asbestos, Lead, and Mold Program.
The H Barracks proposal stems from extensive assessments of potential sites throughout the city already conducted earlier this year. This assessment considered two key criteria: 1) the size of the available parcel, and 2) the need in the surrounding community. H Barracks is City-owned land sizable enough to host a robust set of services and resources on site. You know better than most of the growing presence of encampments in the Peninsula area. H Barracks provides a site for those individuals to go, get connected with services, and placed on a path to permanent housing. And it enhances the City’s ability to enforce its prohibition of camping in the public right of way.
I am reassured that we share the common goal of expanding shelter capacity to support our unsheltered community, providing them with the necessary services to get them on a path to permanent housing. I look forward to continuing this discussion in the months to come.
Deputy Director of Community Engagement
Office of Mayor Todd Gloria
City of San Diego