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San Diego’s Camping Ban To Detain Homeless People

After six months of police enforcement, the city’s attorney’s office pursued just two cases. The person detained faces a more serious charge.

February 25, 2024

San Diego’s camping ban has made a huge impact and there’s no doubt over it. The enactment of specific legislation last summer coincided with a reduction in downtown homelessness, a rise in shelter requests, and an increase in encampments along riverbeds. Inspired by these outcomes, other cities are considering adopting San Diego’s approach, with some lawmakers advocating for the expansion of these regulations across the state.

It does not mean that residents are turning up in court to allow them to live in a tent. The city’s attorney’s office filed charges against two people only during the first six months of the ordinance for violating the ban. Besides this, eight cases were in review.

One person was arrested twice by the police and 30 tickets were issued during a similar period which means that the prosecutors had agreed to pursue less than 10 available cases.

Several factors must be responsible for these low numbers such as limited resources and the higher standard prosecutors need to meet when weighing if there’s enough evidence or not.
A former San Diego city attorney Jan Goldsmith said, “You do go cautiously when you don’t know what the parameters are. You don’t want to issue a bunch of cases that are all struck down.”

Homelessness also brings a sort of vulnerability with it. A former investigator with the U.S. Department of Justice Alfonso Esquer said that it’s not just a law but a very delicate law that requires sensitivity.

The 28-year-old man is among the people who won’t be punished. He is also the one who received the first camping ban ticket in August. A former San Diego County District Attorney named Paul Pfingst said that the prosecutors must be given time for the residents to adjust. Also, he believes that the number of cases is expected to rise with time.

San Diego’s complex system for monitoring shelter availability is managed separately by the city and the housing commission without real-time tracking. The chances are that this complex system can impact prosecutorial decisions under an ordinance where enforcement is dependent on the availability of open beds. Convictions under this ban may rely on shelter employees’ testimony confirming available space at the time of an individual’s detainment.

Besides this, the legal landscape is also in flux. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide whether homeless people have a right to sleep on public property and that too at a time when the people have nowhere to turn to. An appeal was signed by San Diego asking the justices to reconsider the earlier federal court ruling stating that the cities need to have shelter available before clearing the homeless encampments.

The absence of a camping ban charge does not mean that there’s no case at all. The only person arrested last year for the ordinance was the 58-year-old man who was not subjected to trial for sleeping outside but faced a felony for allegedly selling methamphetamine.

Also, there was no internal policy that could tell the prosecutors not to prioritize the ban. The office’s experience in court with a different ordinance used to target homeless encampments offers reason for caution.

The statement released from the agency said that the encroachment law of San Diego prohibits sidewalks from being blocked by personal property and prosecutors pursued nearly 75 of those and other related charges in 2022.

The camping ban has been defended by local leaders as one of many tools to address homelessness.

Councilmember Stephen Whitburn said, “People who assumed the goal of the ordinance was to arrest people may be surprised by the low number of prosecutions. However, its purpose was to have a clear law that encourages people to move out of encampments and into safer and healthier places.”

The recent months have seen hundreds of people relocating to the city’s new designated camping areas as the regional shelters do not have enough room for nearly everyone asking for a spot.

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The content provided in this article draws inspiration and includes quotes from various reputable sources, including news articles, government data, and interviews. Affordable Housing 411 strives to ensure accuracy and credibility, but the information presented may be based on some external sources. We encourage readers to refer to the referenced materials for more in-depth insights and verification.

Nelson Blake. “Few homeless people have been detained under San Diego’s camping ban. The number prosecuted is even lower”. The San Diego Tribune, February 25, 2024,
Few homeless people have been detained under San Diego’s camping ban. The number prosecuted is even lower. – The San Diego Union-Tribune (

Last Updated: September 20, 2021