Sandiego

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Christine Wade found a haven in the tent she shared with six children, pitched in an asphalt parking lot.

It was, at least, far better than their previous home in the city, a shelter where rats ate through the family’s bags of clothes and chewed on 2-year-old Jaymason’s stroller. Roughly 50 of the encampment’s 200 residents were children, so Wade’s kids had plenty of playmates.

“It’s peaceful here,” Wade, 31, who is eight months pregnant, said in an October interview. “There’s coffee first thing in the morning. We can hang out here in the daytime. I mean what more could you ask for?”

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. In a place that bills itself as “America’s Finest City,” renowned for its sunny weather, surfing and fish tacos, 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 explosive growth in the number of people living outdoors has contributed to a hepatitis A epidemic that has killed 20 people in the past year — the worst U.S. outbreak of its kind in 20 years. Deplorable sanitary conditions help spread the liver-damaging virus that lives in feces.

San Diego returns to a controversial quick fix to deal with a shortage of housing for the poor: tents. (Dec. 1)

“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 warnings it gave the city repeatedly over the past decade to better address homelessness.

San Diego has struggled to do that. Two years ago, Mayor Kevin Faulconer, a moderate Republican, 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. Endless political disputes over what can and should be done — and mounting bills for taxpayers. Struggling schools and other institutions. 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 was only temporary; this month, officials are opening three industrial-sized tents that will house a total of 700 people.