“I did get a fist put to my face [and] that was one of the motivating factors to leave the scene,” said Lashbrook.
On August 18, at about 10:45 a.m., Worden “Tom” Lashbrook met with three other City Heights residents at the homeless encampment located behind the Aiwa Auto Repair shop on 3150 Fairmount Avenue.
“[We] went to the vacant lot to clean up trash,” Lashbrook said. “We were never trying to eject the homeless.”
Weeks prior, many residents noticed the encampment growing in size. It was in plain view from the Fairmount Avenue and Thorn Street stop lights and on the 43rd Street curve.
The neighbors then posted photos and rants on their social media accounts; phone calls and emails were directed to the city in hopes that they could get some assistance with the cleanup.
“I must’ve called [and emailed the city’s Get It Done complaint registry], like, 50 times,” Matt Armstrong said. “Now I call them ‘San Diego won’t get it done.'”
The dirt lot had some makeshift tents, shopping carts covered with tarps, and trash spread throughout.
Armstrong is a 51-year-old martial arts instructor who is known to pick up trash around the neighborhood. “Then some lady and her daughter who lived in the apartment complex [next door to Aiwa Auto Repair] came out yelling in Spanish,” he said. “I don’t speak Spanish [but it sounded like] they didn’t like Tom.”
Tom Lashbrook is a 64-year-old teacher who lives a block or so away from the encampment. “We were threatened by a neighbor who did not want us to change anything,” he said.
Chuck Marandi is a 45-year-old cloud and systems architect. He said he wanted to help with the cleanup (at about 11 a.m.), forgoing lunch to do so. “I mainly bagged the cans and went around and picked them up and grouped them,” he said. “The group had already separated some items from the camps.”
Lashbrook said that a city worker was present as well and told the “vigilante cleanup crew” that they could get arrested. “Arrested,” he questioned, “for cleaning up trash? We told him to call the police, but he did nothing but continue to tell us we could get arrested and we should stop [because] it was city land and we were doing an illegal act.”
Marandi said, “[The city employee] also told us that we cannot be taking their items even if it is nasty garbage because it belongs to the homeless….”
Armstrong said that there was a lot of yelling between them that then escalated from him hanging up on the 619-531-2000 non-emergency line, to dialing 911 because “two black guys...ran up on us — and [one of the men] was very aggressive.”
Lashbrook confirmed, saying, “Some homeless guy came yelling that it was his stuff [and] we said ‘Fine, take it.’ He began to take his stuff and cussed us out with violent words and threats the entire time.”
"911 flat out told me they were not coming," Armstrong said. "It would have to escalate to physical violence before they would show. Thanks, dispatch, for protecting and serving."
Armstrong said he pulled out his taser after one of the homeless guys said, “I stick you so fast your head will pop.” Armstrong said he was scared for their lives and that shortly after the height of the altercation he left with Lashbrook.
Marandi stayed until 12:30 p.m., though. “For the record, I played Switzerland. There was a lot of frustrations and a lot of name-calling and a lot of yelling from all sides — minus the city supervisor.”
He said he spoke to the ones who opposed the cleanup, then went back to work.
“I will continue to take my approach which is to try to help the homeless keep that area clean,” Marandi said. “My theory in this is if you can get them to do the cleaning [by] bringing them garbage bags and give them toilet paper, [and] sit with them and maybe do the cleaning with them — it will help engage them as part of the community.”
The neighbors gathered around eight bags of trash, but were only able to take three to the dumpster. “The remainder [of the bags] stayed when we fled,” Lashbrook said. “We get little help from the city, so we just get things done ourselves [and] it has been that way for decades.”