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In this Nov. 8, 2017, photo, a boy plays as the sun sets over donated tents for homeless families lined up on a parking lot in the city sanctioned encampment in San Diego. A parking lot in San Diego’s famed Balboa Park has acted for the past two months as an unusual triage center. Scores of tents, mobile medical units, portable toilets and showers were brought in to meet the needs of hundreds of people affected by a societal problem that has bloomed into a deadly disaster: Homelessness. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

SAN DIEGO Christine Wade found a haven in the tent she shared with six children, pitched in an asphalt parking lot.

It was, at least, far better than their previous home in the city, a shelter where rats ate through the family bags of clothes and chewed on 2 year old Jaymason stroller. Roughly 50 of the encampment 200 residents were children, so Wade kids had plenty of playmates.

peaceful here, Wade, 31, who is eight months pregnant, said in an October interview. coffee first thing in the morning. We can hang out here in the daytime. I mean what more could you ask for? tent, of course, is not a home. But for these San Diegans, it is a blessing.

Like other major cities all along the West Coast, San Diego is struggling with a homeless crisis. In a place that bills itself as Finest City, renowned for its sunny weather, surfing and fish tacos, spiraling real estate values have contributed to spiraling homelessness, leaving more than 3,200 people living on the streets or in their cars. outbreak of its kind in 20 years. Deplorable sanitary conditions help spread the liver damaging virus that lives in feces.

of the most vulnerable are dying in the streets in one of the most desirable and livable regions in America, a San Diego County grand jury wrote in its report in June reiterating warnings it gave the city repeatedly over the past decade to better address homelessness.

San Diego has struggled to do that. Two years ago, Mayor Kevin Faulconer, a moderate Republican, closed a downtown tent shelter that operated for 29 years during winter months. He promised a changer a new, permanent facility with services to funnel people to housing.

The result? Legions of Californians without shelter. A spreading contagion. Endless political disputes over what can and should be done and mounting bills for taxpayers. Struggling schools and other institutions. And an extraordinary challenge to the city sunny identity that threatens its key tourism industry.

For now, San Diego again is turning to tents. The campground where the Wades lived was only temporary; this month, officials are opening three industrial sized tents that will house a total of 700 people.

There are plans afoot to build less makeshift housing. But to deal with the immediate emergency and operate the giant tents, the city had to take $6.5 million that had been budgeted for permanent homes.

Democrat Councilman David Alvarez cast the only vote against the plan. we actually invested in a homeless strategy, we would not be here today being asked to warehouse 700 people in giant tents, he said.

Republican Councilwoman Lorie Zapf mother was mentally ill and died homeless in Los Angeles. She agreed with Alvarez that the tents were not a perfect solution to San Diego crisis, but she could not in good conscience pass up a chance to get people off the streets.

need to do anything we can to stop this tsunami of people who are ending up on our sidewalks, she said.

people of San Diego need to decide what they want the city to look like, said Gordon Walker, who took the helm this summer of the San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless amid praise for his efforts in combatting chronic homelessness in Utah. Department of Housing and Urban Development during the Reagan administration. could go either way here. The real issue is we don have enough housing. year, the number of people living outdoors in San Diego jumped 18 per cent over the previous year,
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according to an annual count taken in January. More than 400 makeshift shelters sprung up downtown, covering sidewalks across from new high rise apartment buildings that have climbed in lockstep with the booming biotech heavy economy and soaring rents, among the nation highest. A studio apartment goes for around $1,500 a month, on average.

Most of the homeless, like the Wade family, did not migrate to San Diego to live on the streets but are local residents who became homeless in a city where rents increased nearly 8 per cent in a year. High rise buildings have replaced discount residential buildings that offered single rooms for rent, housing people living paycheque to paycheque. Nearly half of the 9,000 rooms have disappeared since 2003.

In October, as the hepatitis death toll climbed and the city declared a homeless emergency, Faulconer and the non profit Alpha Project opened the Balboa Park campground where the Wades found shelter. The city installed public washing stations, opened 24 hour restrooms and scrubbed streets with a bleach solution.

Police also cracked down, issuing hundreds of citations, largely for illegal lodging. Within weeks, the nearly 400 tents and tarps downtown were gone. Those who work with the homeless say they simply scattered.

could be like a campfire when all the embers are spread out. It either dies out or it catches other areas and makes a bigger fire than we originally had, said Dr. Jeffrey Norris, the medical director of Father Joe Villages, which runs a clinic that treats 2,800 homeless annually.

The number of encampments hidden in the brush and bamboo along the banks of the San Diego River doubled.

being used as a toilet, said Zapf, whose council district includes the river, bays and beaches.

The San Diego River Park Foundation mission is to preserve the river, a green ribbon that starts from snowmelt in the mountains east of San Diego and builds as it snakes through a valley of cottonwood groves and continues under freeway overpasses by shopping centres.

The foundation spent $115,000 removing 250,000 pounds of trash left by the homeless camps this year. Litter is carried by the river, which feeds into the Pacific at a popular dog beach.

Director Rob Hutsel said he gets asked by potential donors about the foundation plans to create a 52 mile long river park and trail system: about the homeless? Don build a park. It just bring in more. parks are good, he said. shouldn be any thought about building a park. That so unfortunate. Britton operates an organic coffee roasting business and coffee shop, Cafe Virtuoso, in the Barrio Logan neighbourhood. The winter shelter was nearby, and Britton was among those who supported its closure two years ago because it drew throngs of homeless people to the area.

But when it closed, the problem exploded. Tents, tarps, shopping carts, needles and trash spilled into the street, making it difficult to drive to her cafe.

Her customers cars would get bashed by bottles or sprayed with urine. People locked themselves in the bathroom to do drugs. One Saturday, Britton dressed up to give a tour but had to scrape piles of human feces off the sidewalk first. Another morning, a man flashed a knife and glared when she asked him not to put a tarp next to her cafe parking fence.

She issued pepper spray to her 14 employees.

it gets out of hand, the girls know to grab the pepper spray and do what you have to do, she said. reality is I am here to protect my customers and employees. It not my job to give you a bathroom and free water. And clean up when you just peed on my door. Really? This is hard enough. I don need to be doing that. the city started cleaning up the streets, business has increased by 20 per cent. She now welcomes the giant tents two of which are within a block of her business if people eventually end up in permanent housing.
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