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Interview with a Balboa Park transient

"I thought there was doors into the bridge but they are locked."

Nick
Nick

Back in 2007, it was reported that a group of transients was evicted from inside the columns of Cabrillo Bridge. A photograph featured in an article showed a makeshift apartment inside the bridge complete with wall and floor coverings, bedding, shelving, clothing rack, and tenant.

This week the Reader reported that transients had again gained entry to the bridge’s interior, this time via manholes and doors. I went to check out the manholes and doors in and around the bridge on July 21. When I arrived early that Friday afternoon, families, couples, joggers, cyclists, and vehicles were traversing the bridge. Looking over the side of the bridge, I saw a jogger in the canyon below as well as movement in what appeared to be a homeless camp under a large bush at the base of the bridge next to the freeway — complete with trash, graffiti, and clothing.

Manhole and abutment door through which homeless people entered the bridge

As I walked back toward Sixth Avenue, I saw what appeared to be two homeless men hugging each other goodbye. One went off toward Sixth Avenue, the other into the canyon.

When taking that same exit, to the left I saw an idyllic area with willowy pepper trees and a couple having a picnic. As I was taking photos, a shirtless man with a shopping cart appeared from the bridge. His cart had beer cans, a garment bag, a bicycle wheel, and other things.

I asked if he had seen anyone going into or out of the bridge. With a Southern drawl, he introduced himself as Nick and said that he had not seen anything. "And I'm around here most of the time — every day. I sleep down there in the canyon. If there is anyone living in there? I want to know. Is it scary in there? Is it dark? With my luck, I'd move in there and the big earthquake would happen."

I explained that others had seen people leaving and entering the bridge through the manholes. He said, "I thought there was doors into the bridge but they are locked. I wouldn't even go in them if they were unlocked."

Nick told me he was heading to San Francisco as soon as he can afford a Greyhound Bus ticket. He said he spent eight hours collecting aluminum cans the other day and ended up with $4.37. He has tried to get day-labor work while standing outside a Home Depot, but "the Mexicans told me I wasn't welcome. I was, like, ‘Well, how are you going to tell me…’ but the people grabbed them instead. I was, like, really? I'll work for just as cheap." Nick said he sometimes gets judged because of all his tattoos.

A lot of graffiti marks the homeless camp that Nick pointed toward.

Originally from Mississippi, Nick said he used to work in a slaughterhouse. "I didn't kill the animals. I just helped herd them into where they were and then threw them on a table and someone else chopped them up."

Nick then told me he couldn't eat chicken anymore because they served it too often in jail. He said he was incarcerated for running moonshine.

Nick said he landed in San Diego when his grandfather passed away. His foster mother lives in San Francisco now and has a job lined up for him if he can get up there. He said his RV, dog, and motorcycle were stolen when he made a stop at Denny's on his way out of San Diego.

I asked if it was okay to take his photo for this article if I hid part of his face and he said, "I, I, I don't mind, I was on that TV show Lockup.”

Balboa Park's councilmember Chris Ward is on the homeless task force, which is focusing on how to help people like Nick. Their first meeting was held in June; the next meeting is scheduled for September 13.

Ward will likely be discussing his recent visit to a tiny homes village in Seattle. The tiny homes serve as temporary housing until permanent housing can be located.

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Nick
Nick

Back in 2007, it was reported that a group of transients was evicted from inside the columns of Cabrillo Bridge. A photograph featured in an article showed a makeshift apartment inside the bridge complete with wall and floor coverings, bedding, shelving, clothing rack, and tenant.

This week the Reader reported that transients had again gained entry to the bridge’s interior, this time via manholes and doors. I went to check out the manholes and doors in and around the bridge on July 21. When I arrived early that Friday afternoon, families, couples, joggers, cyclists, and vehicles were traversing the bridge. Looking over the side of the bridge, I saw a jogger in the canyon below as well as movement in what appeared to be a homeless camp under a large bush at the base of the bridge next to the freeway — complete with trash, graffiti, and clothing.

Manhole and abutment door through which homeless people entered the bridge

As I walked back toward Sixth Avenue, I saw what appeared to be two homeless men hugging each other goodbye. One went off toward Sixth Avenue, the other into the canyon.

When taking that same exit, to the left I saw an idyllic area with willowy pepper trees and a couple having a picnic. As I was taking photos, a shirtless man with a shopping cart appeared from the bridge. His cart had beer cans, a garment bag, a bicycle wheel, and other things.

I asked if he had seen anyone going into or out of the bridge. With a Southern drawl, he introduced himself as Nick and said that he had not seen anything. "And I'm around here most of the time — every day. I sleep down there in the canyon. If there is anyone living in there? I want to know. Is it scary in there? Is it dark? With my luck, I'd move in there and the big earthquake would happen."

I explained that others had seen people leaving and entering the bridge through the manholes. He said, "I thought there was doors into the bridge but they are locked. I wouldn't even go in them if they were unlocked."

Nick told me he was heading to San Francisco as soon as he can afford a Greyhound Bus ticket. He said he spent eight hours collecting aluminum cans the other day and ended up with $4.37. He has tried to get day-labor work while standing outside a Home Depot, but "the Mexicans told me I wasn't welcome. I was, like, ‘Well, how are you going to tell me…’ but the people grabbed them instead. I was, like, really? I'll work for just as cheap." Nick said he sometimes gets judged because of all his tattoos.

A lot of graffiti marks the homeless camp that Nick pointed toward.

Originally from Mississippi, Nick said he used to work in a slaughterhouse. "I didn't kill the animals. I just helped herd them into where they were and then threw them on a table and someone else chopped them up."

Nick then told me he couldn't eat chicken anymore because they served it too often in jail. He said he was incarcerated for running moonshine.

Nick said he landed in San Diego when his grandfather passed away. His foster mother lives in San Francisco now and has a job lined up for him if he can get up there. He said his RV, dog, and motorcycle were stolen when he made a stop at Denny's on his way out of San Diego.

I asked if it was okay to take his photo for this article if I hid part of his face and he said, "I, I, I don't mind, I was on that TV show Lockup.”

Balboa Park's councilmember Chris Ward is on the homeless task force, which is focusing on how to help people like Nick. Their first meeting was held in June; the next meeting is scheduled for September 13.

Ward will likely be discussing his recent visit to a tiny homes village in Seattle. The tiny homes serve as temporary housing until permanent housing can be located.

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Comments
16

Respect for Julie Stalmer who has a lot of moxie.

Aug. 19, 2017

I find that most people are interesting and that if I am open they usually are too.

Aug. 19, 2017

You think that Nick is still there. I might buy him a ticket to SF.

Aug. 19, 2017

He said he is there everyday and sleeps there. I ran in to him early afternoon.

Aug. 19, 2017

RE:

Balboa Park's councilmember Chris Ward is on the homeless task force...Their first meeting was held in June; the next meeting is scheduled for September 13.

There have been meetings here on the homeless for years. What is Councilmember Ward actually doing, besides talking more about the subject?

Aug. 19, 2017

Talking is supposed evidence for his constituents to believe he is doing something; in reality, he'll ride out the homeless issue while either moving up in governmental office or go back into the private sector with more credit to his name even though he "earned" it through abundance of focused rhetoric-"he's working hard at solving issues"= he talked a bunch about the issue (credit claiming).

Aug. 21, 2017

Councilmember Ward also spoke at the anti-hate rally yesterday in Hillcrest. His remarks and delivery were the weakest of the several speakers. But Todd Gloria knocked it out of the park.

Aug. 21, 2017

Just another worthless piece of human trash littering the landscape of Balboa Park.

Aug. 20, 2017

The hard-luck story told by Nick is typical. He had an RV, motorcycle and dog all stolen while stopping (to eat, presumably) at a Denny's. Riiight! He has a job "waiting for him" if only he can get to San Francisco. Double riiight! But that seems beyond reach, and so he's sleeping in the park. Comedy comes in the strangest places.

Aug. 20, 2017

Seems the trash like him always have money for drugs, booze, cigarettes and tattoos.

Aug. 21, 2017

And has Nick ever done any day labor in his life? I doubt it. He looks way too thin to handle such hard work.

Aug. 21, 2017

Everyone has a family, or lack thereof, forced upon them, and most of the people in charge of who gets paid what, and who pays how much of what they get into the system that provides support for people that experience hard times ... have never experienced these types of dysfunctional and disabling family backgrounds.

People that successfully overcome the dysfunction that is built into their psyches after having been subjected to decades of repeated embarrassing and humiliating experiences, especially the types of experiences that brainwash people into thinking less of themselves, are rare.

Society should be bowing down to help these people, as well as bending over backwards for people in these situations who are not committing criminal acts, and who are doing their best to better their lives, no matter how much or how often it appears that they are failing.

To the people making negative comments - I sincerely hope you find yourselves in these exact circumstances, and soon, and for very long periods of time, so that you understand how demeaning it is to struggle at the edge of society, filled with despair on a daily basis. And then you'll become enlightened ... and that's what this life is all about.

Cheers to your enlightenment, ignorant haters!

Oct. 24, 2017

Real chance for an interesting article here, but, the author blew it. So, the dude worked at a slaughter house and is from the South... He's trying to get to SF... ok, well, I think we all would agree the most interesting factor here, and certainly the reason you're speaking to him, is: he's transient. Why not focus on that a bit more? How did he come to be living out of a shopping cart in Balboa Park? Don't tell me because his RV was stolen at Denny's. My car could be stolen and I would not be pushing a shopping cart as a result. How long has he been homeless? What issues does he contend with as a transient? The article was such a tease, I clicked on it out of google search results (searching for a totally unrelated thing), because it caught my eye and I was expecting more... No follow up on the bridge's interior or the people living inside... just a fluff piece, no substance, no takeaway, waste of time.

March 7, 2019

This encounter was part of a larger article about transients living in the bridge. My editor cut out this little slice included in that article and made it this separate article. Agreed, more detail would have been better.

Here's the link to the main article: https://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2...

March 7, 2019

Why would a homeless person want to move to San Francisco, one of the most expensive cities in the entire US, and having one of the worst homeless problems in the country? That's out of the frying pan, and into the fire!

March 7, 2019

Exactly.

March 13, 2019

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