San Diego opens second safe sleeping lot in Balboa Park for homeless residents

SAN DIEGO — Outreach workers started to check unsheltered people into the city of San Diego’s second safe sleeping lot on Saturday after it officially opened for use.

The second lot, which sits on city property at the edge of Balboa Park near the Naval Medical Center, has space to accommodate up to 400 tents. According to city officials, the safe sleeping site, called the “O Lot,” already has a waitlist of more than 100 unhoused San Diegans.

“Whether families, moms with kids, younger people, seniors, single adults, this is for everybody who wants to come off the sidewalk,” San Diego City Councilmember Stephen Whitburn told FOX 5 on Saturday.

Similar to the first, the “O lot” provides those living in the site with meals, showers, laundry and on-site social services. However, the lot has been upgraded with taller, larger insulated tents and new wooden flooring.

“This is an opportunity for them to come into a safe healthier place where they can stabilize, get a good night’s sleep, they can get good meals,” Whitburn said.  

The opening of the new lot comes as the number of unhoused San Diegans living in downtown ticked up in September to roughly 1,370, according to the monthly count from the non-profit Downtown San Diego Partnership. Although, it remains below the peak reached in May.

“We have a long way to go, but this second safe sleeping site will help us bring our numbers down even further,” Whitburn said.

While advocates are appreciative of the new option, they warn that it’s “a drop in the bucket” of what’s needed to address the homelessness crisis in the city, especially as the city continues to contend with shortage of shelter beds to meet the demand of those who seek them.

“We have to have need places for people to live, not a dirt lot,” advocate Michael McConnell told FOX 5. “That’s why I say it’s a temporary band-aid — maybe better than being on the sidewalk but not a solution to homelessness.”

He added that long-term solutions look like creating more permanent housing options that have services available, such as case management, job training and more. This could be shared housing or tiny homes that have low barriers, such as regulations that prevent someone from living in a unit due to past evictions.

“To take people right from the street to housing if you can, that doesn’t work for everybody and there is certainly not enough housing to do that, but that is the most efficient and effective,” McConnell said. “They can get back on their feet and get better and get on to a more productive life.”

City officials are working to open a third safe sleeping lot near the airport at a former fire training facility. According to Whitburn, the city plans to open the site in 2024, although an exact date has not been announced.

“Every day that somebody is in this safe sleeping site is one fewer day than they are on the sidewalks in our neighborhoods,” Whitburn said. “We want people here as long as it takes to get them stabilized and back on their feet.”

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