Removing Tents and Criminalizing the Houseless Are Not Solutions; Housing Is

by on February 24, 2023 · 2 comments

in Homelessness, San Diego, Veterans

A tent is a tent, but for many it’s the safest, most private space someone may have while experiencing homelessness.

By Amy Denhart / SD Union-Tribune Op-Ed / Feb. 21, 2023

Imagine having everything you own taken from you at a moment’s notice and being forced to scramble to find a place to sleep night after night, week after week.

More and more of our unsheltered neighbors are subjected to this life as homelessness increases and housing costs skyrocket across San Diego. Our officials respond by ordering homeless residents to take down tents during daylight hours, a misguided policy intended to prevent encampments from forming.

But such policies not only strip people of their most important valuables and dignity, they also fail to forward a real solution to ending homelessness: getting people into a permanent home.

While shelters can play a valuable role in giving people a safe place to stay, they’re not a long-term solution. Many people may decide to live on the streets rather than in a shelter. And there are many reasons for this. People want to stay connected to family, partners or pets. Or they wish to avoid the worry of having belongings lost or stolen.

Even when people are open to short-term shelter, there are barriers in the way: local shelters may be full or have qualifications, such as sobriety, that the individual may not meet.

A tent is a tent, but for many it’s the safest, most private space someone may have while experiencing homelessness. When encampments are removed, people lose more than their belongings or shelter, they lose stability and trust in their community. Service providers are frustrated because encampment removals disrupt efforts to engage and build trust among their clients experiencing homelessness. And legal advocates decry the violations of constitutional rights that protect people from unlawful seizure of property, as well as cruel and unusual punishment.

In fact, criminalization can actually make housing less accessible; one 2019 study in San Francisco found that criminalization “perpetuates homelessness” by “systematically [limiting] homeless people’s access to services, housing and jobs, while damaging their health, safety and well-being.”

This is not a sustainable cycle. If we wish to end encampments, we must offer a real alternative: permanent, safe and supportive homes that give people privacy and dignity.

Communities across the country are already rethinking their approach to encampments and finding more humane, supportive solutions that provide resources to people experiencing homelessness and offer a roadmap for how we ensure no one is without a home.

Last year, in response to the growing Magnolia Avenue encampment site in El Cajon, San Diego County’s Department of Homeless Solutions and Equitable Communities coordinated a multi-sector response that included engaging directly with the individuals living there and addressing their immediate needs. The Department of Homeless Solutions and Equitable Communities and volunteers helped people secure emergency housing assistance and allowed them to transition into permanent apartments by developing plans with caseworkers.

An approach combining collaboration, outreach, shelter, supportive services and permanent housing is exactly the approach recommended by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. For instance, 83 communities across the country have vowed to end veteran homelessness, in collaboration with the Department for Veterans Affairs, through an approach that focuses, first and foremost, on giving every veteran a home.

This is how we end encampments. Not by raiding tents or by criminalizing people at their most vulnerable. But by working, as a community, to ensure everyone has safe, warm homes where they can live independently and with dignity.

Denhart is the director of Funders Together to End Homelessness San Diego. She lives in Golden Hill. Please go to the original for important links.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

retired botanist February 24, 2023 at 4:40 pm

A thoughtful piece, thx for writing it. I don’t have much faith in the VA right now vis a vis dipping deeply into this effort, but it would be a great use of their resources and intent.


sealintheSelkirks February 26, 2023 at 11:02 am

Well, some people think they have a solution. A recent article about that:
Thirty million people just got a food stamp cut, GOP governors are slashing school lunch programs, and we’ve all seen the price increases at the grocery store that is mainly caused by corporations increasing their ‘shareholder’ dividends and stock buy-backs. It sure isn’t the farmers who are making the money except maybe the wealthy that own Big Ag.

Can’t wait until Florida Gov. DeSatan…oops, excuse me a slip of the fingers on this keyboard. I meant to say Gov. DeSantis… gets to be president. He’ll take care of this homeless problem I’m sure. Just like he’s doing in Florida with so many other things.
I hope you all will like this:


A 14 minute youtube short.

A comment: Homelessness is not a disease, you can’t catch it. It doesn’t cost you anything to show kindness and compassion to others, with no exceptions.



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