San Diego bills itself as “America’s Finest City,” but it hasn’t worked out that way for the more than 3,200 homeless people who live there. Take Christine Wade, 31, a homeless woman who shared a tent with six children.
Wade’s tent was pitched in an asphalt parking lot. She says it was far better than their previous home — a shelter where rats ate through the family’s bags of clothes.
“It’s peaceful here,” Wade, 31 and eight months pregnant, said in an October interview at the campground.
A 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. Spiraling real estate values have contributed to spiraling homelessness, leaving more than 3,200 people living on the streets or in their cars.
Most alarmingly, the deplorable sanitary conditions help spread a liver-damaging virus that lives in feces, contributing to the deadliest U.S. hepatitis A epidemic in 20 years.
“Some 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 recommendations it gave the city over the past decade to address homelessness.
San Diego has struggled to do that. Two years ago, Mayor Kevin Faulconer closed a downtown tent shelter that operated for 29 years during winter months. He promised a “game changer” — a new, permanent facility with services to funnel people to housing.
But it wasn’t enough.
The result? Legions of Californians without shelter. A spreading contagion. And an extraordinary challenge to the city’s sunny identity that threatens its key tourism industry.
For now, San Diego again is turning to tents. The campground where the Wades lived served 200 residents but 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 housing. But to deal with…