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On September 17, the City’s Waste Reduction and Disposal Division posted notices in East Village that soon “City-owned property will be abated of all waste.” If “items of personal value” were not removed in time, stated the notice, “They will be removed by City forces.”

Five days later, Waste Reduction showed up with garbage trucks on 16th in front of God’s Extended Hand. Several homeless people tell me they were already inside participating in a required prayer service before eating, having left their belongings across the street. They came out to see their sleeping bags, shopping carts, and other items being thrown into the trucks and crushed.

Those who witnessed it say a police car led Waste Reduction’s truck and another trailed it. “They waited until those poor people went in to pray,” says Ross. “The City forces were lying in wait. The sad part is that former Central Division police captain Chris Ball would never have done something like that. He was such a great help to the people down here, and they respected him for it.”

But only weeks ago, Ball was transferred north to a beach community. He was replaced by Captain Mark Jones.

“The changeover in the Central Division was not simple career planning,” says Ross, who claims the department has recently betrayed a realization that taking people’s property was counterproductive. “One woman lost $4000 dentures she was still paying on. Gone in all those people’s belongings were items of sentimental value. A mentally ill woman came to me and asked if she could get pictures of her father and mother back. And worst of all, she and many others had their medications thrown out. Lots of these people don’t operate on all cylinders even while taking their meds. They won’t be able to get new prescriptions anytime soon either. And the City,” asks Ross, “wants to improve the homeless situation by throwing their meds away?

“In defense of the police department,” he continues, “I will say this. For years, the City has failed to adequately address the homeless problem. Then, every once in a while, it tells the police to go out and do something about it.”

The dodgeball approach to homelessness seems to be playing out again as Mayor Sanders tries to put the onus of finding a winter-shelter site on councilmembers, while they in turn have refused to identify possible sites in their districts. So the mayor gave them a list of 27 sites that are spread throughout the city. He demanded they choose one of them by Tuesday of this week.

Councilman Kevin Faulconer made it clear he didn’t want the temporary winter shelter in his downtown district anymore. He offered to allow the long-planned homeless “intake facility” to be built in his district. But he sometimes talks as though the existence of a permanent facility near downtown would be a convenient excuse for bringing back illegal-lodging arrests for those who don’t make it into the shelter.

Faulconer has also said he’s not interested in temporary solutions. Problem is that the permanent shelter is probably four years away.

“We have immediate needs right now,” says David Ross, “and bathrooms are high on the list.” By staking out his Porta Potties for a few hours occasionally and observing their use, Ross has estimated the number of times they have been used in a year. His figure is 130,000 times. “If you brought in moving vans and filled them with the human waste that would otherwise remain outdoors,” he says, “they would haul away 30 tons. But Faulconer isn’t interested in temporary solutions. It would cost the City no more than $40,000 to get the shit off the streets. My problem was that I didn’t ask for $40 million. Then I’d have probably had it the following afternoon.”

Outside God’s Extended Hand, I speak with Dennis and Cassandra, a married couple who met on the streets. Dennis, originally from Iowa, served three tours of duty in Iraq before being discharged from the Marines at Camp Pendleton two years ago. He then got several sales jobs, which he lost before becoming homeless. Cassandra is a Navy veteran who went to work as a hospital nurse after her military service. But she quit, she says, after a doctor at the hospital repeatedly harassed her sexually.

Cassandra is now pregnant. “If she or any other pregnant woman out here takes her pants down in the bushes to go to the bathroom,” Ross tells me later, “she is vulnerable to psychopaths who might rape her or punch her just for the fun of it. If she tells the cops about any incidents, they’re likely to say, ‘Don’t take your pants down in the bushes.’ But where is she supposed to go to the bathroom?”

Meanwhile, the Water Man has taken another beating. Early last week, Ross says, he was handing out water bottles when he spotted a woman being kicked to the ground near 15th and C. “I yelled at the guy to stop,” says Ross, “so he came after me, hitting me on the side of the cheek bone and then running off. I got one good punch in, though. It was about nine o’clock, when these drug dealers start showing up down here. They’re like cockroaches, waiting until dark to come out.”

After a trip to the doctor, Ross learned his cheekbone had been pushed into his nose. Both were broken.

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Comments

Michael Hemmingson Oct. 14, 2009 @ 3:12 p.m.

Joe -- Good piece. I have noticed, the past year or longer, an increase of downtown's homeless, obviously a result of the economic downtown, with many people looking newly homeless with packed suitcases. I have also noticed a tent city has formed at night by the downtown library and post office, two or three blocks worth, and I've never seen this before downtown in the past 15 years.

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SDaniels Oct. 14, 2009 @ 4 p.m.

Hey Mike Hemmingson, an off-topic question for you:

You have written books focusing on the 60s, and I want to check out "Sin-a-Rama" for sure. Deal is I am working on the diss, and topic is Robert Smithson, earthworks artist who referenced a lot of 60s paperbacks in his 'high' art writings, and slipped funky sci-fi-and other mixed genre-related 'essays' into non-literary mags. Ed Ruscha and Dan Graham did the same kind of thing; have you explored this brief 60s phenomenon? Know anyone who has? Many thanks if you are able to give me anything, and apologies to Joe Deegan for temporary hijack of thread :)

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Bookwarren Oct. 14, 2009 @ 6:20 p.m.

It degrades our city to have visitors see all the homeless on the streets panhandling. As you know, they are mostly either mentally ill, jobless or addicted. The mentally ill should be institutionalized, the jobless should be helped and given a place to live, and the addicted should also be institutionalized. Instead of a prison,if they don't want to quit, they should be put to work doing some of the assemble work we send out of the country, and be given what ever drug of their choice they need to keep working. I saw this in a prison in Mexico. This way everybody is happy.

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antigeekess Oct. 14, 2009 @ 7:23 p.m.

Thanks for this story, Deegan. To recap the most horrifying parts, for those too lazy to read the whole thing:

"Five days later, Waste Reduction showed up with garbage trucks on 16th in front of God’s Extended Hand. Several homeless people tell me they were already inside participating in a required prayer service before eating, having left their belongings across the street. They came out to see their sleeping bags, shopping carts, and other items being thrown into the trucks and crushed.

Those who witnessed it say a police car led Waste Reduction’s truck and another trailed it. “They waited until those poor people went in to pray,” says Ross. “The City forces were lying in wait....

“One woman lost $4000 dentures she was still paying on. Gone in all those people’s belongings were items of sentimental value. A mentally ill woman came to me and asked if she could get pictures of her father and mother back. And worst of all, she and many others had their medications thrown out. Lots of these people don’t operate on all cylinders even while taking their meds. They won’t be able to get new prescriptions anytime soon either. And the City,” asks Ross, “wants to improve the homeless situation by throwing their meds away?"

America's Finest City? Really? What's so "fine" about it? How is it you measure that, and justify this at the same time?

And to Bookwarren, who pecked: "It degrades our city to have visitors see all the homeless on the streets panhandling."

What degrades San Diego is activities such as those described by Deegan above. Heartless, callous, selfish, and shameful. If the city of San Diego could legally get away with perpetrating outright genocide against these folks, surely San Diego would do it.

The great irony is that San Diego isn't even one of those California cities of "heathen liberals." It's a red city that votes Republican. One might also guess that it considers itself a "Christian" city.

Nice going, Christians.

"I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

-- Mohandas Ghandi

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speakouter Oct. 15, 2009 @ 12:06 a.m.

To Bookwarren: You think you have such a simple solution. You obviously do not know any homeless people or have not spent any fair amount of time around them. As far as stating that the mentally ill should be institutionalized, you are extremely ignorant. Yes, maybe the super psychos, the ones that are really bad. But some of these people have more simpler types of mental illness, that are not a threat to anyone, nor do they talk to themselves. For instance, PTSD, which affects not only the military, but also affects women, who had super violent ex-husbands whom they had to go in hiding from and constantly look over their shoulder. I know many of them. They are messed up with flashbacks, etc., but they don't cause anyone any trouble, and they do not deserve to be institutionalized. The flashbacks are very troubling, even with medications, and they have not been able to maintain employent. They are waiting on their SSI, and have no where safe to go, as the available shelter beds do not even put a dent in the homeless population. They don't bother anyone, don't beg, they stay clean, they try their best not to pee and poo on the ground until they find a bathroom, but that's not always possible to get to in time. As far as helping those who have no jobs, that's a good idea, but how? There's people with homes who can't find work, because there are way less jobs than there are people available to work. Who's going to help them? There just is no simple solution because homeless people are not just lumped into 3 separate categories.

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Russ Lewis Oct. 15, 2009 @ 12:40 a.m.

(#4) AG, as of the November election, over half of San Diego County's electorate was registered Democratic.

P.S.: Matthew 7:20.

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Michael Hemmingson Oct. 15, 2009 @ 3:01 p.m.

Bookewarren: while your categories of the homeless hold truth, it's not true for all...we need only look at how many people have been forced into homelessness the past two years, in every city and town in the U.S., as a result of the economic collapse. The same happened in the 1920s -- not all those homeless were mentally ill, addicts or "jobless."

Many of the "new" homeless I have seen carry around suitcaes and travel bags that appear to be newly stuffed, as if they suddenly became homeless because of a loss of a job, the loss of state support, or rent that's too high. There are homeless with jobs and they jobs are either part-time or don't pay enough for people to get a room or pay first and last and security on an apartment. And if you have been homelss for a while, and your credit is nill or bad, it's tough to get an apartment. It almost becomes a Catch-22 situation.

It's too easy to label people that way. Each person out there has a unique story. Many of them are there because they messed up one way or another -- some of them are victims of the current economic climate.

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Michael Hemmingson Oct. 15, 2009 @ 3:03 p.m.

SDaniels --

No books that are 60s specific, but am working on a critical look at 60s paperbacks, but the texts, not the art. SIN A RAMA, that I contributed to, is about the art and is a good one to check out.

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SDaniels Oct. 15, 2009 @ 7:25 p.m.

Thanks, Mike! I'll do so, and look forward to your new book, too--which sounds like it might deal with some of the genres I'm looking at.

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toshi Oct. 16, 2009 @ 4:53 p.m.

mikeh, I too have noticed an increase in the "newly homeless" since the recession began last year. These people are clearly distinct from the mentally ill and drug addicted chronically homeless. I can only hope that the city provides adequate services that will help these folks get back on their feet quickly.

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cre0 Oct. 23, 2009 @ 10:38 a.m.

Please read my "blog comment" to auntsandiegospeaks about "Is San Diego a haven for the Homeless?" Please know, we don't want to be homeless. The bottomed out economy put us here.

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a2zresource Dec. 1, 2009 @ 3:50 p.m.

Nobody really talked about it when I was in City College student government back in the late 80s, but we did know of some homeless students who signed up for PE classes to have a place to shower and change across the street from the Cavers' San Diego High.

Back then, clever downtown workers would sign up for any class and get the San Diego Community College District parking permit before bailing out, knowing that enough students would otherwise drop out after the first quiz to insure themselves a daily free parking space downtown for the rest of the semester.

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