SAN DIEGO — San Diego City Council on Tuesday evening voted 5-4, passing an unsafe camping ordinance, or homeless encampment ban, which has drawn polarized opinions.

The homeless encampment ban will go into effect 30 days after the first safe sleeping lot is set to open on July 1.

Enforcement will consist of a three-step approach:

  • First: Offering a shelter and giving education about the ordinance
  • Second: Offering shelter and education again, as well as the issuance of a misdemeanor citation
  • Third: The person will be offered a shelter bed yet again, but an arrest would be made

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria released a statement Tuesday on the decision.

“I want to thank the five members of the City Council for voting to support the Unsafe Camping Ordinance. When presented with the opportunity to take action or do nothing, Councilmembers Whitburn, LaCava, Campbell, von Wilpert and Campillo chose to act. As a result, we will now have another tool to help get people living in encampments off the street and connected to shelter and services while providing relief for communities across San Diego who are impacted by unsafe and unsanitary encampments. It is a necessary step designed to strike a balance, ensuring the well-being of both the unsheltered population and our broader community. I want to especially commend Councilmember Whitburn for championing this ordinance, which I look forward to signing into law,” Gloria said.  

Earlier Tuesday, the majority of the 220 people who signed up to give their public comment on the ordinance spoke out against it. Council chambers were packed and two overflow rooms were also filed as Tuesday’s afternoon meeting began at 1 p.m.

However, city leaders including Gloria, Councilmember Stephen Whitburn, who brought the ordinance to council, have been vocal in their support of the ordinance. 

“How can the city proceed with criminalizing the homeless when we don’t have enough beds,” one person said during public comment.

“Encampments are unsafe and unsanitary, we cannot allow them to proliferate, period,” Gloria said.

Gloria held a press conference with several city leaders, downtown residents, business owners and others to voice their support on the ordinance before the City Council meeting began Tuesday.

The passed ordinance will prohibit tent encampments in public spaces in the city if shelter beds are available. It would also ban encampments entirely, at all times, regardless of if shelter beds are available, in parks, canyons, near schools, transit stations and homeless shelters.

Another measure was also discussed during Tuesday’s meeting, which is a strategy to get more shelter beds. It was not up for a vote Tuesday, but if approved in the future, it would add safe sleeping sites, add 600 beds to increase shelter capacity from 1,784 to 2,384. Still, those against the homeless encampment ordinance ban said it is not enough.

“We must not forget our end goal is not shelter, our end goal is housing for every San Diegan, this strategy addresses a short-term need not a long-term need and as long as we only focus on the short term, we will never solve the problem,” one person said during public comment.

“We can help people get back on their feet and we can have reasonable regulations on encampments,” Whitburn said.

Gloria explained that in the coming fiscal year, the city will spend more than $200 million on housing, shelters and services for people experiencing homelessness.

“With this massive investment in solutions, the residents of the city deserve results and those living on our streets, in our parks and in our canyons, have an obligation, I would say a responsibility, to say yes to the assistance that we are offering,” Gloria said.

“Our bleachers are not beds and our parks are not homes, and the conditions that these encampments present are unsafe and unhealthy and it’s time we reclaim our parks for their intended use,” Jill Wyatt, president of Peninsula Youth Sports, said during the mayor’s press conference Tuesday.

The highly-debated vote comes after a new report showed a 32% increase in the number of homeless in the City of San Diego, with a record number of 2,100 people living on sidewalks and in vehicles in the downtown region.

“This is a tough issue, there’s no question, but what’s tougher is inaction, what’s tougher is status quo, allowing our neighborhoods to continue to have encampments and all its associated impacts, that is a worse option,” Gloria said.

The Padres organization has also spoken out in favor of the ordinance.

“The Padres organization remains dedicated to the wellbeing of our city and its residents, we fully support this ordinance as a step toward balancing community needs, ensuring safety and accessibility and providing compassionate care for those experiencing homelessness, while prioritizing the safety of our guests at Petco Park,” Caroline Perry, chief operating officer with the San Diego Padres, said during the press conference prior to the city council meeting Tuesday.