Dozens more homeless San Diegans settled on downtown streets last year than in the previous three years, according to a prominent business group’s monthly count.

In December, the Downtown San Diego Partnership discovered a nearly 60 percent spike in unsheltered homeless compared with December 2014.

In East Village alone, the group reported an 86 percent rise in homeless on the streets. Three other downtown neighborhoods – Core Columbia, Cortez and Marina – also saw increases.

The Downtown Partnership also reported a higher annual monthly average in unsheltered homeless downtown for all of 2015 than in the previous year.

These statistics could foreshadow the results of the annual Regional Task Force on the Homeless count set for early Friday.

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The two counts are different. Volunteers for the Regional Task Force on the Homeless descend countywide once a year to count the number of people they see sleeping in tents, cars and makeshift structures, and on streets and sidewalks. Then they add in the number of people the region’s shelters reported were sleeping there on the same night. The total they report is the one most commonly cited regionally and helps drive decision-making about the resources thrown at local homelessness.

The Downtown Partnership count, however, is conducted  in the early morning hours of the last Thursday of every month. It simply focuses on unsheltered homeless residents found in five downtown neighborhoods. The numbers fluctuate each month based on the time of year, available services and scores of other variables.

The increase in homelessness for all downtown neighborhoods from January 2014 to January 2015 was 20 percent in the Downtown Partnership count. Last year’s regional homeless count revealed a 26 percent surge in people living on downtown streets during roughly the same period, though the two groups don’t necessarily use the same boundaries for downtown neighborhoods.

Dolores Diaz, executive director of the Regional Task Force on the Homeless, cautions the Downtown Partnership numbers offer just a snapshot of a complex regional challenge.

The homeless can move frequently throughout the year, and while one count may show a significant spike in one downtown neighborhood for a time, an adjacent one could see a drop during the same period or even weeks later. And downtown is just one part of a much larger county.

For example, San Diego County saw a less dramatic increase in homelessness countywide – 3 percent –from 2014 to 2015, according to the Task Force’s count.

Yet the rise in downtown homelessness was clear – and the Downtown Partnership numbers point to another likely boost in those numbers this year.

The reasons for the most recent year-over-year rise in downtown homelessness aren’t straightforward.

East Village, in particular, has long been a hub for homeless services, and the city is in the midst of a shift in its approach to emergency shelter beds. The winter tents that once housed up to 350 people have been replaced with a year-round interim shelter at St. Vincent de Paul Village, which adds up to 250 emergency beds when certain weather benchmarks are met. More passersby are also donating tents to homeless people in anticipation of El Niño downpours. The reason could also be idiosyncratic. Groups like the Downtown Partnership count each tent as housing two people when they tabulate the number of homeless downtown.

There’s also some anecdotal evidence to go with the increases the Downtown Partnership has discovered.

Homeless advocates and those who live on the streets told me they’ve spotted more tents and tarps dotting downtown streets in recent months, particularly in East Village. There seem to be more tents – and more homeless people overall – gathering downtown.

Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle
Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle
Homeless tents in downtown San Diego.

They’ve seen more homeless people taking refuge outside downtown buildings, too.

Here’s one example captured by NBC 7’s Wendy Fry on Wednesday night:

    This article relates to: Government, Homelessness, Nonprofits/Community

    Written by Lisa Halverstadt

    Lisa writes about San Diego city and county governments. She welcomes story tips and questions. Contact her directly at or 619.325.0528.

    J Sim
    J Sim

    I would really like to see the City do something about this problem.  Evereyone knows it's a huge problem, and every few months there's a news article about it.  But what is going to be DONE about it??

    I live downtown San Diego, and just last evening while walking the dog I had the unpleasant experience of seeing a homeless camper taking a poop in the bushes across the street.  Pants down and squatting right there in full view.  That cannot be legal, right?!? Why do we residents just have to take it?  It's like we just accept it that some people get to live outside the law ("it's part of city life" we say). 

    The photos in this article are completely representative and are not over-the-top at all: basically yep that is exactly what is looks like, and nothing seems to be done about it for those of us who live downtown (I mean, ACTUALLY live here, in residences in our downtown neighborhoods)  Whole sides of certain streets cannot be used in the evenings by any pedestrians because the homeless have set up their tents and beds in a big long row.  It smells like urine and feces even during the day after they've picked up their camps.  Then in the evening then they return again to repeat. 

    The only place vagrants either behave themselves or are pushed out is in Little Italy.  Spend some time downtown and you'll notice that Little Italy is distinctively devoid of vagrants. What is Little Italy doing that the rest of downtown is not?  

    My heart aches for those that are homeless and need help, and so I feel terrible. But I am also angry about having to simply just take it: I've been harrassed, I've seen people expose themselves, and I know I've walked by/through human urine and waste and none of it my choosing. I am NOT bothered by an occasional bum asking for some change.  I'm not upset by someone obviously mentally ill yelling obscenities at himself because he cannot help himself. I'm upset when people don't have to follow the law.  When they can do whatever they want, and when the City doesn't do anything about it to protect their citizens. 

    I want to see those who want help to be able to get real help. But I also want to live in my neighborhood and feel safe walking my dog at night, and not to not worry about the health risks of human feces lying in the bushes across the street. We are thousands of residents who deal with these issues in our neighborhoods, in front of our apartments, with our families and our children, every single day, and the City of San Diego should not allow this to happen. 

    George in BayHo
    George in BayHo subscriber

    San Diego should not be tolerating any of this.  A sidewalk is not an appropriate campsite; we are enabling vagrancy, filth, and excrement in the middle of our city.

    Either provide proper mandatory shelter, or give them one-way bus tickets.

    William Charles
    William Charles

    @George in BayHo You are so right! I'm sick and tired of the homeless people making our city filthy... we need to have a no-tolerance policy for using our public areas as urinals. We need to use the same "broken window" policy that Giuliani used to clean up New York City in the 90's!