City of San Diego Gets Inaction “Award” for Downtown Street Violence

The Lucky Duck Foundation bestows another “Shipwreck” designation (related to homelessness) upon city government officials
A homeless encampment on the north side of Commercial Street near 19th Street in downtown San Diego. (December 23, 2022)

A local nonprofit is calling out the city of San Diego for ineffectiveness and inaction toward street violence associated with homeless encampments in downtown San Diego.

The Lucky Duck Foundation cites an incident where a man wearing a bullet-proof vest was chasing people with a large hammer within a homeless encampment at the corner of 19th and Commercial streets at 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 21, 2022.

That incident is emblematic of a bigger problem of street violence, says Lucky Duck Foundation Executive Director Drew Moser.

“We’re not suggesting the criminalization of homelessness, rather, that criminal behavior should not be tolerated,” Moser says.

On Dec. 7, 2022, the Lucky Duck Foundation launched a public initiative called “Shamrocks & Shipwrecks.” This one-of-a-kind “awards” program spotlights regional politicians and political bodies that demonstrate both “progress” (Shamrocks) and “ineffectiveness and inaction” (Shipwrecks) related to homelessness.   

The City of San Diego fared worst on that initial list (two Shipwrecks, one Shamrock). Now, San Diego is the first political body to receive a follow-up Shipwreck, coming just days before Christmas.

The incident in question was captured on video. The hammer-wielding man didn’t strike anyone. 

An eyewitness to the event says law enforcement responded to a call and arrived in five minutes but by then the individual had left on a bicycle. The police reportedly told the eyewitness their hands were tied in making an arrest after the fact.

In an appearance on KUSI-TV, Lucky Duck Foundation Executive Committee Member Dan Shea specifically calls out San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria and San Diego Police Department Chief Dave Nisleit.

“This type of criminal behavior and lack of action to prevent and eliminate it is entirely egregious,” Shea says. “What kind of society are we living in where someone on the streets is wearing a bullet-proof vest and then starts chasing people with a weapon?”   

The encampment in question is proximal to the Youth Assistance Coalition. Founded in 2017, the YAC’s mission is to break negative patterns of youth experiencing homelessness.

YAC founder and executive director Heather Lezon is pleading with the City of San Diego to protect local youths.

“Enabling street habitation and encampments supports and perpetuates this type of behavior,” Lezon says. “Unfortunately this is not the first occurrence outside of the Youth Assistance Coalition.” 

She says the area outside her organization’s building at 19th and Commercial is consistently covered with feces, trash, needles and drugs.

Lezon believes a permanent police presence is critical to prevent violent and illegal activity, and immediate intervention is necessary to prevent similar incidents.

Asked for a response to the Lucky Duck’s latest Shipwreck designation, a spokesperson for San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria declined to reply on the record.

The south side of Commercial Street near 19th Street. (December 23, 2022)

Most experts agree that creating more housing opportunities is critical for abating homelessness and it’s domino effects on the public. In 2022, the city made multiple small measures of progress. 

Most recently, on Dec. 20, Mayor Gloria announced the opening of a 33-room Seniors Landing bridge shelter. It’s a converted hotel in Little Italy that will exclusively house seniors.

Seniors Landing was spurred on by a report that one in four San Diegans experiencing homelessness are 55 or older and more than 40 percent are becoming homeless for the first time.

Mayor Gloria has added or brought online a total of 600 shelter beds and “invested in” 900 bridge-to-home dwellings in 2022, according to numbers supplied by his office. 

Regardless of city-directed efforts, a monthly count by the nonprofit Downtown San Diego Partnership shows there is a record number of unsheltered people living in tents and on city streets. 

In November, DSDP reported there were 1,706 people living unsheltered just in downtown (within the 92101 boundary). It was the sixth straight month that number increased.

The San Diego Regional Task Force on Homelessness recently reported that the number of people becoming homeless is far outpacing the list of people that do get off the street and find housing each month.

Incomplete figures from the  San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office show that at least 499 people who were homeless died on the streets in 2022 (not including December).

Related directly to the City of San Diego’s recent “Shipwreck” for street violence, there have been scattered other incidents recently reported in the media.

On Dec. 17, surveillance video at Royal India restaurant on Market Street in the Gaslamp Quarter caught a disturbing attack perpetrated in broad daylight.

The restaurant owner was with a female guest on his patio when a man, naked from the waist down, broke through a gate and began punching the woman in the head. 

A bystander intervened and scared the intruder away. The attacker was reportedly later arrested by the police. 

San Diego isn’t the only city facing myriad problems related to homelessness. Newly elected Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass declared a state of emergency on homelessness on her first day in office.

Bass enacted an extensive program in mid-December that sought to move significant numbers of unsheltered Angelenos into hotel and motel rooms.

San Diego Mayor Gloria has not opted to declare a state of emergency. 

The Lucky Duck Foundation intends to continue to monitor local political progress and call out the positive and the negative with its Shamrocks & Shipwrecks initiative.

Lucky Duck partners with the Tuesday Group, a consortium of high-powered local businesspeople who meet on a weekly basis, to keep score and dole out Shamrocks & Shipwrecks.

To make a suggestion about political progress or ineffectiveness on homelessness issues, click on Shamrocks & Shipwrecks. SDSun


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