Tag Archive for: Homelessness

New Task Force Has Early Success Focusing on Chronic Crime Among the Homeless

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan, City Attorney Mara Elliott, and San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit announced successful felony prosecutions today stemming from a recently-formed task force to address the issue of chronic criminal offenders within the unhoused population in the City of San Diego. The San Diego Accountability Renewal and Community Health Task Force (SD ARCH) was formed late last year to focus on criminal offenses most negatively impacting unhoused individuals and surrounding communities. These offenses include repeated drug sales, drug use, theft and vandalism.


Four defendants have been convicted and sentenced in connection with the task force’s work. They include Frederick Johnson, 59, who was arrested for possession of methamphetamine for sale after officers found an ounce of methamphetamine plus an additional 13 vials of the drug in his van. Johnson was later re-arrested after he failed to appear in court and officers found more meth and five cell phones in a tent he was living in at Linda Vista Park.

In a second case, defendants Della Infante, 59, Angel Bernardo Reyes, 55, and Ramon Julio Byars, 44, were all convicted of sales of a controlled substance after undercover officers repeatedly bought methamphetamine from them. In the months prior to the incidents, there were more than 21 narcotics-related crime cases and over 25 arrests and citations for narcotics related incidents in the area around Sports Arena Blvd.

“It is unacceptable to allow blatant and repeated criminal activity to continue unabated without consequences,” said DA Stephan. “Offenders who commit the types of crime negatively impacting residents, business owners and other unsheltered individuals are a small but active percentage of the homeless population. Our goal is not to simply incarcerate members of that community but, instead, compel them to accept the treatment and services they need and thus, assist them in ending the cycle of crime and homelessness.”

“San Diegans have the right to expect us to use our powers as prosecutors wisely, focusing our resources of the most serious crimes, such as drug trafficking,” said City Attorney Elliott. “The progress we are announcing today reflects our commitment to that approach.”

“The San Diego Police Department is committed to addressing crime on our streets, particularly when it involves drug activity,” said Chief Nisleit. “The SD ARCH Task Force brings together a collective group to make an even greater impact. We are proud to be a part of this task force that will hold criminals accountable, provide resources to those in need and reduce crime in our communities.”

Two years of data show the overdose rate for people experiencing homelessness is 118 times higher than the general population. Being a victim of domestic violence, child abuse and human trafficking are found to high factors contributing to a person becoming homeless— especially for women and children.

“If we want our community to improve, we can’t allow open-air drug markets to rule homeless encampments,” DA Stephan said. “Unhoused people are already vulnerable and to further keep them in the clutches of addiction is cruel.”

“I want to strongly support the statement from our District Attorney that we cannot and will not allow open air drug markets on the streets of our city,” said Elliott. “Those experiencing homelessness or suffering from addiction are entitled to our compassion, but that does not give anyone a license to commit crimes in our community. We take drug offenses very seriously in San Diego because drug offenses often lead to the commission of more serious crimes.”

The SD ARCH Task Force is comprised of representatives from the District Attorney’s Office, City Attorney’s Office and San Diego Police Department and it meets at least once a month.


DA, 14 Mayors Work to Place Public Safety Initiative on the Ballot

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan was joined today by the mayors from cities across San Diego County as well as business leaders, crime victims and other concerned citizens in an effort to inform the public and boost signature gathering to place the Homelessness, Drug Addiction, and Theft Reduction Act on the November ballot. The measure would make communities, businesses, and streets safer and healthier by restoring the rule of law, holding repeat retail thieves and fentanyl dealers better accountable, and incentivizing individuals who are addicted and homeless to accept life-saving treatment.

The following mayors are all supporting the signature gathering effort: Vista Mayor John Franklin, Escondido Mayor Dane White, El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells, National City Mayor Ron Morrison, Chula Vista Mayor John McCann, San Marcos Mayor Rebecca Jones, La Mesa Mayor Mark Arapostathis, Santee Mayor John Minto, Oceanside Mayor Esther Sanchez, Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey, Carlsbad Mayor Keith Blackburn, Solana Beach Mayor Lesa Heebner, Encinitas Mayor Tony Kranz, and Poway Mayor Steve Vaus.


“This is a balanced, commonsense initiative that addresses the fentanyl crisis by going after drug dealers who are killing our loved ones and imposes stronger penalties for repeat offenders of organized retail theft, which is hurting far too many families and local businesses,” said DA Stephan. “We need responsible reform that allows judges to incentivize life-saving treatment for those struggling with severe addiction, holds repeat offenders accountable but also gives first, second, and even third chances for those who commit theft or possess hard drugs to be treated for addiction or mental illness. Voters should have the opportunity to debate and weigh in on this important initiative.”

The measure has collected more than 360,000 signatures from California voters to place it on the November ballot, but nearly 550,000 valid signatures are needed.

The ballot measure is designed to fix the unintended consequences and harmful impacts of Proposition 47, which passed in 2014 and— for example— made retail theft under $950 and drug possession of methamphetamine and fentanyl into misdemeanors no matter how many times the crime is repeated.

“Neighborhood markets are the lifeblood of our communities,” said Neighborhood Market Association President Arkan Somo. “Proposition 47 unleashed a tidal wave of theft and violence that harms our small business owners, their employees and families, and most importantly, our customers. This proposed ballot measure will give law enforcement the tools it needs to keep all of us safe. “

Unintended Consequences of Prop 47 and current laws include:

  • Homelessness increased 51% in California while decreasing 11% in states with more balanced laws.
  • Homeless individuals in San Diego County are dying of drug overdoses at a rate 118 times higher than the general public.
  • Overdose deaths from illicit fentanyl have more than tripled, claiming more young lives in San Diego County than any other cause.
  • Organized retail theft has exploded, resulting in massive economic losses, losses of jobs caused by store closures, and losses of essential goods for struggling neighborhoods.
  • Fentanyl dealers who cause overdose deaths generally receive minimal consequences under the law.
  • Drug Courts that offer effective treatment have lost their ability to incentivize those who commit crimes driven by addiction to engage in treatment.

A recent survey showed that more than 85% of voters across every political party and each demographic support reforming Proposition 47.

“This initiative is a balanced approach that gives our justice system the tools they need to protect our communities from criminals while also providing an opportunity for people suffering from addiction to get back on their feet,” said Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey. “Current policies have contributed to the rise in crime and homelessness throughout the state over the past decade, but this initiative will help reverse those trends and make California a safe place to live and do business once again.”

“As a retired San Diego Police Officer and Detective with 29 years of law enforcement experience, I possess a firsthand understanding of the adverse effects of Proposition 47 on the lives of Californians,” Santee Mayor John Minto said. “This initiative is a crucial step towards addressing the rising challenges of homelessness, drug addiction, and theft that plague our communities. Californians, including the residents of Santee, are demanding relief from the escalating lawlessness that has driven up the cost of goods statewide.”

Oceanside Mayor and retired public defender Esther Sanchez said, “The unintended consequences of Prop 47 took out the highly successful drug court program, leading to increased drug addiction and crime and in effect tying the hands of law enforcement protecting our neighborhoods and businesses. This citizens’ initiative gives back tools our communities need to help residents, many times family members, face their addictions and crimes while offering support and a path toward a life with positive options, such as family reunification, a home and jobs.”

The Homelessness, Drug Addiction, and Theft Reduction Act would allow for stronger penalties for those engaged in the trafficking of hard drugs or for repeat offenders of retail theft. It will still give first and second chances for those who commit theft and possess hard drugs to be treated with a misdemeanor. However, on the third conviction, there’s a requirement that drug treatment be completed to earn a misdemeanor or be held accountable for a felony creating a new category of “Treatment Mandated Felony.” A fourth conviction results in a felony crime.

This initiative will also allow aggregation of multiple thefts to reach the $950 threshold to charge a felony theft so that those that are gaming the system can be stopped. The initiative addresses the fentanyl crisis by allowing harsher penalties fentanyl drug dealers whose actions lead to overdose deaths.

Signature gathering for the Homelessness, Drug Addiction, and Theft Reduction Act will take place in the coming weeks across the county and the public is encouraged to seek out opportunities to sign the petition.

San Diego’s Homeless Court Continues to be a Model for the Nation

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said today that San Diego County’s Homeless Court Program continues to be a model for the nation as out of state officials come to observe the monthly court sessions to learn and possibly implement a similar program in their region.

During the September Homeless Court Program graduation, the District Attorney, Public Defender, and Superior Court Judges from Multnomah County in Portland, Oregon, observed the unique court hearing that took place at the Center for Employment Opportunities where more than 50 previously unhoused individuals had their non-violent misdemeanor cases and fines dismissed and cleared.

“The Homeless Court Program graduation is a time to acknowledge the hard work that individuals experiencing homelessness undertook to accept and engage in services including treatment, education and job training to become productive members of society,” said DA Stephan. “Homeless Court partners consider all the hours of treatment, community service, training, and education they have gone through to get their lives back on track. If they’re being held back by infractions, traffic tickets, and minor offenses that took place because of their homeless circumstances, the court deems those fines and fees satisfied to remove hurdles so that they can obtain a driver’s license, get a job, find housing, and continue a positive momentum through life.”

[WATCH a video of the September Homeless Court Program, HERE]

The Homeless Court Program graduation in September was the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic that the program was near the maximum of 60 participants per month.  There were over 50 participants, more than 200 separate cases and about $140,000 in fines and fees dismissed. Individuals often have multiple cases, such as one person who had over 50 cases of mostly trolley ticket violations.

“Homeless Court is not just a court session, it is a restart, a new beginning, for graduates to move forward in their life,” said Matthew Wechter, Public Defender Homeless Court Team and Court Liaison. “Instead of fines, fees, or jail time, Homeless Court dismisses cases and satisfies fines as a recognition of the hundreds of hours that these graduates have spent to address the root issues that brought them to the justice system in the first place. Our credo is: ‘You take a step; we take a step.’ Removing legal barriers of low-level cases, warrants, and fines is key to success when a person has taken those steps. The court is merely getting out of their way. San Diego continues to be an American Bar Association model jurisdiction to the nation – exemplifying the best practices and providing technical assistance to new programs across the country.”

The first Homeless Court Program in the nation began in San Diego in 1988 and it’s a collaboration between the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender, the San Diego City Attorney, the Superior Court, and local service providers like the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), that refer individuals to the program.

“CEO is thankful to be part of this opportunity offering services to individuals across the community,” said Cambria O’Neill, Supportive Service Specialist for the Center for Employment Opportunities. “On average, 100 participants are submitted each year from CEO and Homeless Court Program continues to grow through support of CEO and other providers who are willing to be changemakers. More Homeless Court locations continue to pop up and more providers become approved to the network. We are one step closer to bringing people out of poverty and into a self-sufficient mindset.”

Angelica Sanchez was one of the participants who graduated from the Homeless Court Program in September, and she currently has a temporary job at the Center for Employment Opportunities. She is optimistic about her future now that the fines and fees she owed from trolley tickets will no longer be a barrier for her to get back on track.

“My goal is to get my driver’s license, to keep a clean driving record, to be able to travel and get a full-time job and also help provide for my mom, my siblings and my nieces and nephews,” Sanchez said.

To participate in the program, individuals need to be referred by one of the more than 100 approved Homeless Court Providers or have made progress on their own through a different program. Only misdemeanor cases that are non-violent in nature can be dismissed. For more information about the Homeless Court Program in San Diego, click here.


DA Developing New Homeless Shelter Bed App

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that her office is addressing the intersection of homelessness and crime by leading the effort to develop technology that can quickly locate suitable shelter beds for individuals experiencing homelessness, improving on the process that’s currently in place.

The proposed technology would mobilize a more efficient county response, providing access to comprehensive and centralized information about the capacity, quantity, and availability of shelter beds and services across the county. The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted today to clear the way for the DA’s Office to work with Tech Soup and its subsidiary, Caravan Studios, to move forward with the technology development phase of the application that would implement the community design vision already developed.

“We believe this investment in technology to support communication and coordination of homeless services will be the first-of-its kind in the nation, and will be grounded in transparency, equity and data,” said DA Stephan. “Previously it could take up to 10 days to connect someone with a homeless shelter bed and by the time service providers reach back out to someone on the street, they’re often gone. With this app that connection can happen in minutes.”

The DA’s Office currently supports a similar effort to address the needs of victims of crime needing shelter through the Safe Shelter Collaborative. Sheltering agencies that provide resources to survivors of human trafficking, domestic violence, and sexual assault can use an app to find shelter beds quickly for those attempting to escape violence.

Leveraging the positive outcomes of the Safe Shelter Collaborative and expanding this model to include all homeless populations will allow the county to maintain real time and accurate data regarding shelter use and availability and help to inform policy decisions regarding future needs and investments to better address homelessness. The app will also allow service providers, healthcare providers such as emergency room personnel, outreach teams and law enforcement to filter requests for shelter beds, allowing a better shelter match for someone who may have a pet, a child, is LGBTQ+, is elderly, or has physical disabilities, for example.

“Homelessness is a regional issue requiring innovative and collaborative solutions. Thank you to District Attorney Summer Stephan for bringing forward this proposal, which would result in another tool in our arsenal, connecting people with the resources they need and providing informative data to help us assess the root cause of housing insecurity,” said San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher. “The County must continue to search for and create long-term solutions to prevent, and ultimately, help San Diegans end their homelessness.”

“Our county has taken a bold approach to address the homelessness crisis currently impacting our communities by implementing innovative and creative ways of providing shelter and support,” said Nora Vargas, Chairwoman, San Diego County Board of Supervisors. “Today, with equity and confidentiality as our top priorities, we are adding one more means of ensuring we connect residents experiencing homelessness to shelter and a bed faster than ever before.”

In November 2022, the DA brought together dozens of stakeholders from the homeless outreach and support space to solicit input on opportunities for technology to address issues and problems associated with access to shelter for people experiencing homelessness in San Diego County. The resulting recommendations produced a community design that will serve as the basis for development of the shelter bed finder app.

“I appreciate the community coming together and rolling up their sleeves. Ultimately, this is being designed and informed by the people who are working on the front lines of homeless outreach and support, leveraging their experience,” DA Stephan said. “At the moment, some agencies are literally coordinating the search for a shelter bed using sticky notes. It’s our hope that participation in the app will be robust, making it a game changer in our community.”

Development of the app is anticipated to take about six months, with expanded participation among various stakeholders occurring within a year.

The DA’s Office recently released new data about the intersection of crime and the county’s population of persons experiencing homelessness. Multiple sources of credible data indicate that this vulnerable population is growing faster than the availability of housing and services. Two years of District Attorney data shows individuals who are experiencing homelessness become involved with the justice system as victims and offenders at higher rates than the rest of the population. The overdose rate for people experiencing homelessness is 118 times higher than the general population. We also know that being a victim of domestic violence, child abuse and human trafficking drives homelessness especially for women and children on our streets.

“Homelessness is a humanitarian and public safety crisis that many in our community are working on at every level. Addressing this crisis clearly requires multiple solutions and we believe this new app will be a game changer and support other ongoing positive efforts,” DA Stephan added. “We appreciate the support for this initiative from the Board of Supervisors, in particular Chair Nora Vargas and Past Chair Nathan Fletcher.”

In March 2022, the DA proposed a 3-prong approach to address the needs of individuals experiencing homelessness who intersect with law enforcement and the criminal justice system. This was a follow up to the DA’s 2019 Blueprint for Mental Health Reform: Addressing the Intersection of Mental Health, Homelessness and Criminal Justice in San Diego County. Development of this new app is the first ‘prong’ in the DA’s proposal.

DA Proposes Plan to Address Homelessness and Crime

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan today released new data about the intersection of crime and the county’s homeless population and proposes a three-point plan to address it. Two years of District Attorney data shows that individuals who are experiencing homelessness become involved with the justice system as victims and perpetrators at dramatically higher rates than the rest of the population.