New City Policy in Responding to Encampments of the Houseless Explained

by on October 1, 2021 · 0 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

There’s been a change in how the City of San Diego responds to encampments of the houseless. No longer will police officers respond to reports or complaints of camps, but instead they will be directed to a group partnered with the city, PATH (People Assisting the Homeless). PATH then will have up to four days to make contact with people in the camp to begin resolving problems.

All this was explained by writer Steven Mihailovich in the latest Point Loma Monthly magazine.

This is the current state of  complaints of encampments through San Diego’s Get It Done app. Long-time Community Relations Officer David Surwilo told the OBTC zoom audience that the goal is to get more cooperation from people living in the encampments by sending professionals trained in working with them; it’s also to prevent potential resistance to and confrontation with police officers.

Officer Surwilo stated:

“I know there was a lot of talk in the past that police officers should not be making contact first, that it should be outreach to be offered. So here’s our opportunity to see how this works.”

He also explained:

Hopefully, this new method with PATH will work and then [the police] can go on to other things instead of dealing with the homeless issue.

Surwilo did carve out some exceptions to the new.

If you see an encampment that’s in a canyon and they’re lighting a fire, I wouldn’t use Get It Done for that. I would actually call dispatch and let them know because that’s a fire hazard. That’s maybe not criminal, but that’s something we should probably be checking up on and trying to address.”

Reporter Milhailovich stated:

PATH, which launched in Los Angeles in 1984 and now operates in 140 cities across the state, said it established an outreach team in Ocean Beach in early March.

Under the new policy, PATH will have 24 hours to make contact with members of any homeless encampment reported on Get It Done. If unable to meet that obligation, PATH will be granted a 72-hour extension almost automatically, according to Surwilo.

If PATH does not contact the camp within the allotted time, the Homeless Outreach Team in the Neighborhood Policing Division will assume responsibility for the response. However, when PATH does make contact, it will not be required to share information with police about the people contacted and any progress achieved. …Surwilo advised patience with the new policy, saying that even for police, disassembling a homeless camp is time-consuming. For instance, people’s personal possessions have to be collected, tagged and taken to storage when impounded, even if they may seem like “junk” to an outside observer.

He added that the time is ripe for a new direction because police have been ordered to reset their “progressive enforcement” model with the lifting of some COVID-19 restrictions. Misdemeanor suspects, including those who are homeless, can be arrested by their fourth contact with police, after three previous engagements have produced warnings, citations and an offer of services.

It is very true that complaints about how San Diego police interact with people who are houseless have been consistent over the years. However, police behavior is mainly driven by policy and policy is set by the politicos. And law enforcement has been pushed to deal with a societal-wide problem and in the process, homelessness has been criminalized. This is true nation-wide, of course, and is not limited to our fair city.

We now live in an America that has the highest disparity between the very wealthy and the very poor for one hundred years. And as long as this huge gap between the rich and the poor remains, the manifestations of our social inequities will surface anywhere and everywhere.

As long as we tolerate homelessness, by not providing housing and other human needs, we’ll have camps of the houseless; and they’ll increase. So, don’t be surprised to see them in the parks or canyons or under freeways. They’re happening on our watch.

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