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Another record high for number of homeless in downtown San Diego

The number of homeless people in downtown San Diego reached a record high for the fourth straight month in November, according to a count conducted by the Downtown San Diego Partnership.

November’s count found 1,706 people sleeping on sidewalks and in cars along downtown streets, up from 1,660 from October and increasing the monthly average for the year to 1,485.

The partnership, a nonprofit that advocates for downtown’s economic prosperity and cultural vitality, has conducted the monthly count for 10 years.

The increase comes at a time when patience appears to be growing thin in addressing the homeless population, which has increased despite more shelter beds and outreach efforts this year.

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria’s Communications Director David Rolland said the number of homeless beds has increased by 40 percent and more safe parking lots for homeless people who live in vehicles have opened during Gloria’s administration.

“While the city is successfully getting people off the street and into permanent housing every day, the fact remains that more people are falling into homelessness than the region’s homelessness response system can serve,” he said. “As the Regional Task Force on Homelessness recently reported, for every 10 people that we house in our county, 13 fall into homelessness due largely to sky-high housing costs.”

Rolland said Gloria will make an announcement about policies addressing homelessness in the coming days.

Alpha Project President and CEO Bob McElroy said the increase in homeless people on the street is very noticeable, and discouarging.

“This is the worst I’ve ever seen it,” he said. “We’re doing far more shelters than we’ve done in the past, but the need is just overwhelming.”

The Alpha Project operates four city-funded shelters, with the two largest in industrial tents in downtown San Diego. One shelter had 276 people Tuesday and the other 125, and McElroy said they usually are near or at capacity.

“It’s the first time in three and a half decades of doing this that I’m discouraged,” he said. “We’re trying to swim upstream. I’m perplexed, and I don’t really know what to do.”

McElroy said he shares the frustration of many residents and business owners in and around downtown who are tired of seeing encampments lining city streets.

Among the loudest voices complaining about the situation is basketball legend Bill Walton, who lives near Balboa Park and has has spoken out about the city’s perceived lack of enforcement of laws prohibiting encampments in parks and public places.

Most recently, Walton posted a video on Instagram where he encouraged people to put signs on homeless encampments that read, “This encampment brought to you by Todd Gloria.”

“Maybe then, Todd Gloria and the city will help people find a brighter, safer and healthier path,” he said.

McElroy said he has heard other people express similar frustrations.

“I absolutely understand everything Bill Walton is dealing with, and all the downtown businesses,” he said. “Everybody is frustrated and angry.”

About two weeks ago, a man who has been using YouTube to chronicle his road trip across California posted a 30-minute video called Homelessness is Ruining San Diego. The video posted by Nick Johnson had 209,000 views and showed many sidewalk encampments in downtown San Diego.

“Residents and business owners are being held hostage, and there’s not much they can do about it, either,” he said.

His video included an interview with a woman who lost her job as a nurse during the pandemic and now is homeless and using drugs in National City. In another interview, he talked to a woman who said she moved her business out of downtown, and she suggested giving aid to homeless people has made the situation worse because it makes their lifestyle more comfortable.

In the latest count from the Downtown San Diego Partnership, the largest population of homeless people was in East Village, which had 760 people. The southwest area of East Village had the most homeless people, with 437 individuals.

While the overall downtown population has steadily grown over the past few months, the numbers in individual neighborhoods have been erratic over the year. East Village had a high of 846 people in September, with a low of 598 in July.

The second-largest downtown population in November was in the City Center neighborhood, which had 235 people, a decrease from 284 in October. There were 33 people in the Columbia neighborhood, 44 in the Marina neighborhood, 114 in the Cortez neighborhood, 54 in the Gaslamp neighborhood and 466 in an area the partnership refers to as the outside perimeter.

The Downtown San Diego Partnership also operates a Clean & Safe program, an Unhoused Care Team and a Family Reunification Program that provides transportation to connect homeless people with family members or others in a support system

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