Ocean Beach, Saratoga Park, May 13, 2016
On April 29, Blair Aeria’s father was doing what he does several times a week, spending time with his two grandchildren, aged one and three, at Cleator Community Park in Ocean Beach.
“My dad had been there for about an hour,” said Aeria on May 10, “when a short woman in her mid-20s, head half shaved, asked my dad for water. When he said he didn’t have any, she lunged toward him and declared it was her sidewalk and he wouldn’t like what happened if he tried to go past her. Words were exchanged and she eventually walked away.
“My dad is in his 70s and was very upset because he thought he might have to fight to protect his granddaughters. The worst part now is that my eldest daughter tells me that Papi can’t come over anymore because the lady is going to get him.”
On April 21, Dawn Thompson was at a convenience store on Midway Drive picking up a few things. “I saw this big bearded guy walk into the store, grab a cup, pour himself a beer, and drink it down,” said Thompson on May 6. “When one of the female clerks said something, he swung at her. He only missed because she was short. He was so casual about it, he walked out the door like it was nothing.”
Self-defense class in O.B.
On April 29, Melanie Laine Williams was walking down Voltaire on her way to Mother’s Saloon. “This guy was shouting at me on the street. I didn’t really look at him,” said Williams. “He started running after me and hit me as hard as he could across my butt. I told him that he should stop and then turned and walked away. It wasn’t until I met my friends and sat down that I realized I had been hurt. This is why I started co-hosting a self-defense class every Saturday.”
Six months ago, Peter Evering was grabbing a pizza on Newport. “I saw this guy walking down the street telling a young transient to stop begging,” said Evering on May 10. “The next thing I know, the transient followed the guy into the pizza place and stabbed him. That was by far the worst incident I’ve witnessed in O.B. or Point Loma.”
On May 5, Gareth Michael Brown started a petition. “I haven’t had any bad experiences myself,” Brown said on May 8, “but I’ve talked to enough girls to know how bad it’s become. I have compassion for the homeless, but no one should have to avoid certain streets because of them. If we can get 1000 signatures, maybe we can get some political will to do something.”
Donna Cleary from councilmember Lorie Zapf’s office took some time out from budgetary meetings to talk about recent forums (April 28 at the Pacific Beach Taylor Library and May 6 at the Dana Hotel on Mission Bay) that focused on the aggressive transients in Zapf’s district.
Forum to address aggressive transients problem in O.B., April 2
“The meetings came about for a couple of reasons. First off, our office received more than 100 calls and emails about it recently,” said Cleary on May 9. “Councilmember Zapf also saw a story about a homeless man that said he was afraid for his own life because of aggressive transients. The first forum brought together the community, the city attorney’s office, the police, and community leaders.”
Cleary said that every facet of the issue was discussed at that first forum — everyone from law enforcement to local church groups had a chance to be heard.
Median panhandling, at-risk tourism dollars, transient trespassers, and the inventorying of transient belongings were among the issues discussed.
“There are substantial hazards related to panhandling on traffic medians,” said Zapf on May 13. “There are also serious negative impacts on tourism due to the lawless behavior of the aggressive transients....
“These problems impose significant burdens on our police officers, particularly since the courts have imposed restrictions on the manner in which police catalogue transient belongings. This requirement can take officers away from important crime-fighting efforts in our neighborhoods for sometimes up to eight hours or more.”
“An easy way to protect against trespassing is to fill out a Letter of Agency,” said Cleary. “This is especially prudent for vacant lots where transients gather, as it allows the police to enforce violations that otherwise would need a witness.”
As far as what is most urgent to address in 2016, Cleary said, “We need to fix Proposition 47 because it’s tying officers’ hands. It changed felonies to misdemeanors which means that someone can steal near $1000 a day and not go to jail.”
When it comes to medians and Proposition 47, Matthew Kalla from the Point Loma Chamber of Commerce couldn’t agree more, “We are now giving out tickets instead of charging felonies,” said Kalla on May 10. “Other cities have ordinances about cardboard signs on medians. Imperial Beach has done a tremendous job dealing with their homeless. Part of our problem is that we have limited resources and our infrastructure is really bad. All of those images on social media of aggressive transients defacing things or declarations of families not feeling safe on our beaches are bad for business.”
SDPD interview homeless on median near entrance to Ocean Beach, May 7
To local businesses, especially those in beach areas, tourist dollars are king. Kerri Kapich from the San Diego Tourism Authority said on May 10, “I’m concerned about overall homelessness in the region as well as the aggressive behavior. We don’t want to do anything to deter people from visiting San Diego. So far, we aren’t hearing a large-scale concern, though sometimes we’re the last to know. We’ve been trying to partner with the city to work together on the problem.”
According to executive director Dolores Diaz on May 11, the Regional Task Force on the Homeless does not do on-the-ground outreach in Ocean Beach or Point Loma. Though, they were out in full-force to count the homeless in January.
Kelsey Kaline of the task force said about the count, “In Ocean Beach, there was a decrease of 55.60 percent from last year [down to 166 from 373 individuals]. In Point Loma, there was an increase of [nearly 1000] percent [up to 126 from 13 individuals].” Kaline said the majority in both areas were living in vehicles.
Dave is a young man who has been homeless for about a year in Ocean Beach. Back in May, he gave me his take on the situation:
“I’ve seen a couple of aggressive homeless guys over in Point Loma. I’ve also seen the cops getting a little aggressive. Just this morning, I gave a friend’s daughter a ride to O.B. Elementary and saw some cops dealing with some homeless people; one guy was on the ground.”
What would Dave like to see change in Ocean Beach?
“I don’t see any shelters here,” said Dave. “If there was one, some of the old-timers might get off the street.”
Dave said he makes the effort to talk to a couple transients every day.
“Today, I talked to George. He’s in his mid 60s and been in O.B. for ten years. He said he’s visited shelters before but won’t do it again because he likes to be by himself and doesn’t like how they treat him. He doesn’t feel that the programs help people progress, just survive. He said the community gives him some small jobs here and there and sometimes food. He likes O.B. and doesn’t feel hassled by many. He said he would love to go back to his job being a logger but can’t because of physical limitations.”
“I also talked to Bernie,” said Dave. “He’s in his 70s and been in O.B. for eight years. He said he’s lived in shelters before but won’t do it again because they’re in bad locations. He said he prefers to do his own thing and read books. He says that he’s invisible, so people leave him alone and don’t hassle him at all.”
Neither Bernie, George, nor Dave were counted in January.