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Asking that her name be withheld, a woman emailed us a few months ago about a liquor store that was “bad, bad news for the community and the south end of Balboa Park.” The writer’s biggest complaint was that the liquor store “is where the homeless go to get their daily dose of alcohol and cigarettes.” Presumably, she believed the homeless took the booze into the park. For she wanted the situation corrected: “God bless America,” she wrote. “I want to get Balboa Park back. What can I do to help?”

Hoping to learn more, I asked the writer to elaborate. But two email requests yielded no response.

An old Bob Dylan phrase popped into my head: “A bullet from the back of a bush.” Nevertheless, over several days and evenings, I spent some time in the liquor store’s environs. “Be careful and don’t go into the park at night around there,” a neighbor told me. “The homeless can get violent.”

The City Liquor House is located on the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and Elm Street. There are two bars in the block, on the same side of Fifth. The SRO Lounge is City Liquor’s next-door neighbor. Brothers on Fifth, a more typical neighborhood bar that served food, was farther up, almost to Fir Street. (In March, the bar became Tin Can Alehouse on Fifth.)

Sixth and Elm forms the southwestern corner of Balboa Park. There, the park ground rises. I climbed a flight of stairs leading onto a shaded area. I sat on the grass in front of two men and surveyed the street, as they seemed to be doing. A number of joggers and folks walking their dogs went by.

After a while, I followed the path farther into the park. It took me to lush green lawns where five or six people sat in the sun with their belongings. None of them wanted to speak with a reporter about sleeping in the park.

To the north are a parking lot and, next to it, the spot where the park road doubles back on itself. This part of the park is called Marston Point, but two San Diego Park and Recreation workers said they call it “the loop.” They told me that cops patrol the area looking for troublemakers and people who try to camp overnight.

But as I headed for a ramp that led back down to Sixth Avenue, I saw in the bushes a small encampment with cardboard flooring. Nobody was at home.

Descending the ramp, I noticed a man on the side of the hill watching me intently. Later, upon leaving the area, I noticed him again, following my movements out of the area.

Over on Fifth Avenue, I bought a Coke in City Liquor House and stood outside. A sign on the door announced “No Loitering.” But two men sat next to the door, one in a wheelchair. As I eavesdropped, the second man asked his friend, “You want another beer?” And getting the go-ahead, he entered City Liquor and came back with two 20-ounce cans of beer. The men were still sitting and drinking when I left ten minutes later.

I came back the next day. On the corner of Sixth and Elm, in front of the park steps, I saw a man lying on the ground. A loaded pull-cart lay on its side next to him. At least he was breathing. “I’m his friend,” said a disheveled man coming up behind me. “He’s okay. He does this all the time.”

Suspecting the real action was late at night, I came back on Friday after ten. I saw few people on the street and fewer going into City Liquor House. It was early in the month, so you’d think some homeless people would still have had a little money from government checks. But outside Brothers on Fifth, a young man assured me that on other nights many homeless sat against the wall on the opposite side of the street and drank openly or out of containers in paper sacks. Even on “this side,” he said, they congregated. Then he told me that “last night two drunk guys were having sex right here on the sidewalk.” The barmaid called the cops, who came and took the pair away. It was a story that several other people repeated.

Inside Brothers, I met Leo Johnson, a retired carpenter who lived in the New Palace Hotel on the northwest corner of Fifth and Elm, across from City Liquor House. “It’s not really a hotel,” he said. “I’ve been living there for the last 12 years.” Johnson grew up in Illinois during the Depression and came to San Diego after a 20-year career in the Marine Corps. “I liked it out here because you could work all year around.”

Do the homeless who drink, I asked, cause problems in the neighborhood?

I expected Johnson to bring up the sidewalk sex. But he thought the homeless problem in his neighborhood was overblown. “There are homeless people all over San Diego,” he told me. “You know that. For instance, they’re sacked out all around where the old California Theatre used to be at Fourth and C Street downtown.”

We went outside, where we could hear each other better. Johnson lit up a cigarette. The woman I mentioned, he said, might have gotten into a conflict with the liquor store. “Or maybe she has no compassion for the homeless,” he said. “She’s probably one who’s been well taken care of during her lifetime and she just resents homeless people. So she wants to make trouble for them in some way or another, instead of leaving them alone. If you don’t like somebody, leave them alone. Most homeless are just on the downside and they can’t find a way out of it.”

The lady seemed to believe the homeless are ruining Balboa Park, I said, perhaps making it a dangerous place. But Johnson thought the park was more dangerous for the homeless than for the general public. “During the day,” he said, “homeless people lie around the park because it’s open to the public. At night, that’s not supposed to be. So they hide somewhere in there, wherever they can flop. Now that would be normal, wouldn’t it? They look for wherever they can get out of sight. Sometimes they stick to doorways. When the weather’s good, they know where to be. When it’s bad, they know where to be.

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toshi Aug. 13, 2009 @ 12:08 p.m.

I walk by this area sometimes on my way to the park or on my way home from the park. Yes, there are quite a few homeless persons hanging around that liquor store, and the area appears quite shabby, particularly after dark, but I've never been bothered by anyone.

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CrazyStupid Aug. 14, 2009 @ 10:33 a.m.

To the person who brought this problem to the report's attention: Thank you. Now, what solutions are you proposing?

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Burwell Aug. 14, 2009 @ 10:39 p.m.

Authoritarian measures are required to deal with the homeless. They should be arrested and placed in government labor camps and forced to perform manual labor. Eight hours a day of back breaking labor excavating freeway grades and sewer ditches with picks and shovels would soon cure them of their craving for alcohol and drugs. Fresh air and hard labor is what the homeless need.

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SurfPuppy619 Aug. 14, 2009 @ 11:16 p.m.

I used to live 3 blocks off of Balboa Park at Laurel, and there were so many problems with the homeless and the druggies (at 3 AM), it was hard to deal with at times.

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Fred Williams Aug. 15, 2009 @ 12:26 a.m.

Burwell doesn't go far enough. The only reasonable solution to homelessness is the death penalty.

God decides who wins or loses in this world, and if you're a loser who ends up homeless it's only because God doesn't love you. If, on the other hand, you're like Blackwater's Mr. Prince, a phenomenally wealthy REAL CHRISTIAN, God will shower money down upon you as a reward.

So anyone who finds themselves without shelter is CONDEMNED by God. It's only right and fitting that in a CHRISTIAN nation we eliminate these miscreants from our midst. After all, it's okay to drink wine (actually the blood of Jesus, hallelujah!) in church, but if you have a beer on the street you are scum.

Burwell, let's get together sometime soon and hunt down these sinners sleeping on the streets and douse them with gasoline. We can dance around the flames, praising the name of the Lord, knowing we have done the work of Jesus right here in San Diego.

Yes, it's not only a CRIME to be homeless, it's proof positive that you're a sinner who deserves the worst. Hardworking REAL CHRISTIANS cannot waste their time, money, or sympathy on such trash.

It's time to send a message to anyone thinking of moving onto the streets just because they lost their job, got ripped off by a mortgage broker, and cannot afford to pay their bills. The message is this: Anyone who fails in this world is unworthy of anything but DEATH.

Get off the streets or DIE you scum bags.

A REAL CHRISTIAN nation finds you disgusting, just like Jesus taught, and all of us will be first in line to throw our stones. The time you spend suffering on the streets is just a small taste of what is to come, because we all know that poor people have earned the displeasure of God and will burn in hell. When we set you on fire and and smile as you writhe and scream in agony, we're only doing what's right and just in this best of all possible worlds.

Amen.

Rev. Dr. Fred "Hell Fire and Damnation" Williams

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CrazyStupid Aug. 15, 2009 @ 10:01 a.m.

Wow. When Burwell and Williams die, who is going to be God's spoke persons here on Earth?

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ElVinz Aug. 15, 2009 @ 12:29 p.m.

Burwell and Williams need to fact check. Being homeless is not illegal. As a matter of fact, a couple years ago, in order to deal with the homeless issue, which is a county issue, the county of San Diego, set a precedent that the county did not have to authority to make statutes involving state property. It is a municipal infraction for people to reside or sleep in public or private properties that they do own or that are not specifically designated for residence but this does not include state owned properties including state parks or other places like trolley stops etc. which are built on state owned property.

Furthermore, there are currently no programs for holding the homeless indenture and requiring them to perform hard labour in recompense for being a blight on the public. Many of them are the result of a financial measure put in place by Ronald Reagan when he was governor of California. In order to bring California out of bankruptcy, one solution he came up with was to evaluate the mentally ill who were in instututions at the expense of the California Welfare system. Those who were found not to be a danger to themselves or others were released and funding for the program was 86ed and re-appropriated to the bankruptcy issue. Where were they released to? To their sponsor, the state, the streets. Of course they gravitated to warmer climes and so to southern California they came.

And finally, the homeless proplem is a social problem. There is a separation of church and state so christian ethic is the last point of detail the government is going to take into consideration when, kicking around the idea of the mass murder of all AMERICAN CITIZENS who have chosen an unpopular lifestyle, is God. Especially when they have spent so much time and money on the court system to ensure the public doesn't just go around doing this on their own. And, understanding that I haven't read the bible recenty, but I'm pretty sure based on the last time I did read it, that God, in pretty much every religion I'm familiar with, frowns upon both murder, and intolerance for your fellow man.

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SurfPuppy619 Aug. 15, 2009 @ 4:28 p.m.

Burwell and Fred's sarcasm did not go over too good with ElVinz......

The law that was found to be unconstitutional (could not sleep/lodge in public), did not actually originate from San Diego, although San Diego area ACLU had a parallel lawsuit going the ruling came down on LA (county or city, cannot recall).

I agree that Raygun caused much of the homeless problem by stopping funding for the mental health care clinics, I do believe that was when he was President, not governor.

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Burwell Aug. 15, 2009 @ 4:41 p.m.

Hard work is good in and of itself, as an end in itself, even if the work is performed without compensation. The genesis of homelessness is unchecked sloth and laziness. If this condition is left untreated over time, those who are prone to it ultimately wind up on the streets. Forced labor performed within the framework of a government labor camp will cure the homeless of their sloth and laziness, and enable them to once again become functioning members of society. It's much cheaper to house a homeless person in a tent at an outdoor labor camp than it is to pay him/her a monthly welfare stipend which is spent on drugs and alcohol. A society that allows homeless individuals to roam the streets unchecked has no conscience.

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SurfPuppy619 Aug. 15, 2009 @ 6:03 p.m.

The genesis of homelessness is unchecked sloth and laziness. If this condition is left untreated over time, those who are prone to it ultimately wind up on the streets.

By Burwell

Burwell, please tell me you're being sarcastic here.....PLEASE!!!

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Fred Williams Aug. 15, 2009 @ 9:57 p.m.

ElVinz, I was being satirical.

Burwell, in German what you wrote can be summed up with the promise "Arbeit macht frei". Please tell me you're being satirical too...if not, read Ecclesiastes. It's a short little book in the Bible that makes it very clear that hard work DOES NOT guarantee success in life.

Quite the opposite, really, Burwell. Being homeless is unrelentingly difficult...perhaps the hardest work one can do outside a forced labor camp.

SurfPuppy, it was while Reagan was Governor that the California legislature failed to follow through and actually fund neighborhood-based mental health services. The result is as ElVinz describes.

I believe the unintentional genesis of this tragedy was the book and then movie, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". The depiction there of harmless eccentrics being imprisoned for their family's convenience was so strong that it led to major changes in attitudes and legislation. A sort of "live and let live" approach to the mentally ill, including a provision that anyone can check themselves out of a facility after just 48 hours, led to many mentally ill being put out on the streets.

Then it got worse. The criteria for involuntary commitment have become impossible to meet. To get a family member the help they need, you have to let them get so far down that they're nearly dead before the system will lift a finger. It's quite sad.

Here in the County of San Diego, the uber-Republican board of supervisors have made it even worse. They're so stingy with public benefits that getting mental health assistance is a futile waste of time. No matter how much you want help, you won't get it in San Diego. Instead, you'll be left on the streets, to be ticketed, arrested, and then victimized again in jail.

Meanwhile, the likes of Ron "Flying on Moores Jet" Roberts continue to hand out public cash to their pet organizations...the symphony has a higher priority than homeless services. In return, members of the board get flown away on luxury junkets at our expense.

Let's stop blaming the homeless for being down and out, especially when so many of them have serious mental health problems. They do NOT "deserve" their fate, unless you adhere to a delusional Calvinist world-view where everyone always gets justice in this world.

Yet even the Bible tells us, very, very clearly, that this has never been true at any time in human history, and it's certainly not true here in San Diego -- where the corrupt are rewarded for their crimes (John Moores, Susan Golding, Jack McGrory, Steve Peace, Jim Madaffer, et al.), and far too many of the hard working residents are one pay check away from begging on the streets.

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antigeekess Aug. 15, 2009 @ 10:53 p.m.

The Bible also says something about casting pearls before swine, Fred. :)

"...if not, read Ecclesiastes. It's a short little book in the Bible that makes it very clear that hard work DOES NOT guarantee success in life."

Don't I know it?

"I believe the unintentional genesis of this tragedy was the book and then movie, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". The depiction there of harmless eccentrics being imprisoned for their family's convenience was so strong that it led to major changes in attitudes and legislation. A sort of "live and let live" approach to the mentally ill, including a provision that anyone can check themselves out of a facility after just 48 hours, led to many mentally ill being put out on the streets."

Lots worse things have been done to people, just for having a bit of personality, or not quite fitting in with the rest of the family. When Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver died this past week, I somehow ended up doing a little research about her sister Rosemary, who died in 2005. I thought I "knew" that Rosemary was "retarded." The truth is apparently a whole lot uglier. What a horrible crime they got away with.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/lobotomist/program/

Kesey's bunch in Cuckoo's Nest had it easy with Ratched.

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Fred Williams Aug. 15, 2009 @ 11:21 p.m.

Anti, I'd gladly give you a pearl necklace...

:-)

I read that wikipedia article about Rosemary. Wow. Nice family, huh?

I recently saw a video lecture where it was pointed out that in most European languages "luck" and "happy" are the same word. Even in English, they started out that way, but were later separated through usage.

I think the original concept is more reflective of the truth. What we call happiness is frequently the result of blind luck, randomness, fortune, accident of birth...rarely do people get what they "deserve" in this world.

That's why the Calvinist mindset is so very wrong. The notion that there is a just God looking out for us is simply ridiculous.

Look at John Moores. He got his fortune by screwing investors in his companies, then screwing San Diego through bribery of politicians and his friendship with all the major media outlets in town. He's about the worst scum bag in all of California, and perhaps the nation. In a just world, he would be shackled naked in a public place so that every citizen of our city could humiliate and abuse him.

Instead, a lot of folks still think he's some kind of hero.

See? No justice in this world. Just the wealthy and powerful doing all they can to rip off the rest of us. John Moores is the rapist whispering in your ear about how much he loves you, and how sodomizing you is in your own best interests.

There will be no justice in our world so long as we've got cowards in positions of public responsibility who prefer to demonize mentally ill homeless people rather than go after the crooks like John Moores who have bankrupted this city. The politicians are so afraid of the money and power he wields that not a single one of our elected representatives have stated the simple and very obvious truth.

We got ripped off and we need our money back.

Instead we complain about a few unfortunates, usually mentally ill, who have little choice but to live on the streets. All the while, we continue to cut public services while giving John Moores tens of millions of our dollars EVERY YEAR to pay off the ballpark he demanded in exchange for his campaign contributions.

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SDaniels Aug. 15, 2009 @ 11:44 p.m.

Too bad Freeman isn't still around to hand out free lobotomies...

While you're at the jewelry store, Fred, do you mind picking me up a tennis bracelet?

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Fred Williams Aug. 16, 2009 @ 12:38 a.m.

Uh, Ms. Daniels, how does a tennis bracelet compare to a "pearl necklace"?...see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pearl_necklace_(sexuality)

Barbara Bush, mother of George Jr. has a bit of a fetish for pearl necklaces...(type "barbara bush" into google images to see for yourself).

She's also the one who quipped that the evacuees of Hurricane Katrina were oh so lucky having lost their homes:

"What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them."

See: http://urbanlegends.about.com/b/2005/09/08/barbara-bush-on-hurricane-katrina-refugees.htm

Which ties into the original point of this thread...rich people, born with a silver foot in their mouth, have no business pronouncing judgement on the down and out. When they do, it reveals just how undeserving the wealthy are of their enormous, often ill-gotten, privileges.

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SDaniels Aug. 16, 2009 @ 2:48 a.m.

Preaching to the choir, Williams. Well! Didn't know I had to choose my jewels with a mind to tedious Republican symbology. I guess the tennis bracelet would be more Kennedy-esque?

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SurfPuppy619 Aug. 16, 2009 @ 11:08 a.m.

Anti, I'd gladly give you a pearl necklace...

:-)

By Fred_Williams

Hey Now-that's my online babe you're referring to.

No more of that or I will have to get tough with you Fred...........

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antigeekess Aug. 16, 2009 @ 11:19 a.m.

Daniels, I don't see why Fred and the mongrel don't get together and give them to each other and leave me out of it altogether.

They can be each other's BFFs (which in this case might stand for Body Fluid Festival), secret Santas and whatever else floats their respective boats.

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Russ Lewis Aug. 16, 2009 @ 1:56 p.m.

Fumbler, baby!!! Where the hell you been?!? We can't just let Fred's comments go unchallenged!

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SurfPuppy619 Aug. 16, 2009 @ 4:43 p.m.

Daniels, I don't see why Fred and the mongrel don't get together and give them to each other and leave me out of it altogether.

By antigeekess

Is that anyway to treat someone who just stuck their fur out for you?

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SDaniels Aug. 16, 2009 @ 11:08 p.m.

Clearly, there is no tennis bracelet in this for me.

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antigeekess Aug. 16, 2009 @ 11:40 p.m.

"Clearly, there is no tennis bracelet in this for me."

Is there ever?

:)

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SDaniels Aug. 17, 2009 @ 12:03 a.m.

Uh, I just googled "pearl necklace." Disgusting, Fred!

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antigeekess Aug. 17, 2009 @ 12:22 a.m.

"Uh, I just googled "pearl necklace." Disgusting, Fred!"

Like, totally.

Can't believe you actually had to google it, Daniels. That's kinda cute. :)

I think most people from my era found out what that was when this came out:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7EePu5aWHCw

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SurfPuppy619 Aug. 17, 2009 @ 11:31 a.m.

Uh, I just googled "pearl necklace." Disgusting, Fred!

By SDaniels

LOL....(surfpuppy rolls eyes)........

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thestoryteller Aug. 17, 2009 @ 3:45 p.m.

Sadly, it sounds like Escondido. My parents movedhere in 1971,because OCwas going to Hell. My daughter recently met a sailor from Bakersfield, stationed in Hawaii and he said,"You're from Esco? I won't even drive through the town!"

One night, a bum got between my car and me and demanded money. I ran passed him, unlocked the car door and letmy two big dogs take car of the problem.

Recently, I had to contact Big Lots and tell management that a bum camps out beside the door daily and I couldn't tolerate it. She's got a disgusting cart full of trash that she pushes around. Now she hangs at Wendy's and McDonald's.

They are disgusting. Many bipolar people aren't drunk or dirty or having sex on sidewalks. That's no excuse. I'm in favor of labor camps. Make them pay for disgusting the rest of us.

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Fred Williams Aug. 17, 2009 @ 10:12 p.m.

Storyteller: "If you disgust me, you belong in a labor camp."

SDaniels: "Disgusting, Fred."

Therefore: Fred belongs in a labor camp.

...sigh.

Perhaps, after I complete my term of involuntary servitude breaking rocks in the hot sun, I'll learn to never joke again.

(*hangs head in shame, marches off quietly with the burly labor officers)

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SDaniels Aug. 17, 2009 @ 10:25 p.m.

Well, if you put it that way, Fred...

Anti-g and I will bring you some nice feather pillows--and maybe a can of tar. :)

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Fred Williams Aug. 17, 2009 @ 10:29 p.m.

Ya ever tried to break rocks in the hot sun when smeared in tar and covered in feathers?

Let me tell you, the tar gets all runny and the feathers really stink after a few days.

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SDaniels Aug. 19, 2009 @ 12:12 a.m.

...which could keep the coyotes at bay while you're marching back to your bunk.

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