By Akerele Christabel 3:58 pm PST

In response to the controversial encampment ban that is projected to come into effect on July 30, 2023, the San Diego City Council has passed a law allowing the establishment of safe sleeping sites for homeless people. This announcement came in on Thursday, June 29 just after the encampment ban ordinance was passed. The Unsafe Camping Ordinance makes tent encampments illegal in certain public areas if shelter beds are available.

The plan is to pitch up to 136 tents to accommodate up to 150 unsheltered people at the lot at B Street and 20th near Pershing Drive. The safe sleeping sites will be operated by the city’s Housing and Community Development Department in conjunction with Dreams For Change, an NGO. The site is equipped to provide a number of services to homeless people, including safe and secure sleeping accommodation, access to showers and restrooms, laundry facilities and others.

The man behind the project, Mayor Todd Gloria, addressed the media in a news conference where he declared the establishment of the safe sleeping sites.

“The safe sleeping site is not just a safe place to sleep, it’s a place for people experiencing homelessness to be connected to the services they need to get off on their feet,” San Diego Mayor Todd said.

Still basking in the ingenuity of his plan, he added that:

“The quickness with which we’ve stood up this site should be the standard for a crisis this urgent and underscores my pursuit of measures to cut bureaucratic red tape and speed our response to homelessness.”

The safe sleeping sites will operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and will be staffed by security guards. People will be transported to the site by a referring agency, which includes People Assisting the Homeless (PATH) or the San Diego Police Department.

Having opened the first safe sleeping site on Thursday, June 29, the city will go on to open another safe sleeping site. The second will be located in Balboa Park, at Lot “O” near the Naval Hospital, and can accommodate about 400 tents, a massive upgrade to the Golden Hill site.

As it concerns the encampment ban, the tents will count as available beds. When the encampment ban goes into effect at the end of July, available tents will be considered the same as a shelter bed and any unhoused person will be in violation of the ordinance if they refuse a tent.

Police will first approach the hundreds of homeless people living in tents in Downtown San Diego and offer them shelter. If they decline, they will receive a warning. In the second encounter, police will issue a misdemeanor citation, and the third encounter will result in an arrest.

The passage of the law to establish safe sleeping sites is a major step forward in San Diego’s efforts to address homelessness. The city has a long history of clearing homeless encampments, but this new approach is designed to provide homeless people with a safe and secure place to sleep while also connecting them to the services they need to get back on their feet.

Apart from combating homelessness, Mayor Todd believes that the safe sleeping sites will solve a wide array of other societal problems. He says:

“This is about preventing disease. This is about preventing canyon fires. This is about keeping homeless people safe from the violence and exploitation of predatory drug dealers.”

The safe sleeping sites policy have been welcomed with gratefulness from the city’s homeless people who at one time or another have been victims of the perils that come with homelessness.

A beneficiary of the city’s Alpha Project shelter, Kathy Parker spoke to NBC San Diego. Until recently, Parker was living with her husband in a tent downtown after being evicted from their apartment last year. Three weeks ago, her life changed when her husband was killed on these same streets. She decided to seek help from the Alpha Project shelter. Parker hopes that it won’t take a tragedy like hers for others to take refuge in the city’s initiative.

The safe sleeping sites are a welcome addition to San Diego’s efforts to address homelessness, but they are not a complete solution. The city still needs to build more permanent housing for homeless people. However, the safe sleeping sites are a good first step and they will provide much-needed relief to homeless people in San Diego.