“They have this sheet that you sign that says that you have to agree to some things before you can go to a hotel.”
A sprawling tent camp near Oceanside Boulevard and I-5 that was home to about 50 homeless people was upended Tuesday morning when a phalanx of some 40 police officers descended on the campsite built on a city right-of-way.
The well-organized plan to uproot the encampment nicknamed “Skidrowceanside” started shortly after the break of dawn when the squatting homesteaders were contacted in their tents by the police. The tent folks were invited to come to the Oceanside Police Department’s temporary headquarters to get placed in services which would provide a more stable environment with shelter, food and counseling.
“There was a little tension for a while because of all the confusion, but their rules don’t seem too unreasonable,” says Rodney McGough who helped organize the tent encampment about a month ago. “They have this sheet that you sign that says that you have to agree to some things before you can go to a hotel.” The city council passed an emergency ordinance April 7 to deal with the campsite. One longtime Oceanside police officer screening those hoping to get temporarily housed Tuesday morning appeared to be congenial. “I knew you since you were a teenager,” he said in a smiling, friendly way.
The campsite was built on a city right-of-way.
Terry Brown, an analyst with the city manager’s office said by telephone the day before the police action that the city was working diligently to secure enough hotel vouchers. “I think we have 20 or 30.... We may have to double up some people in each room. We think we have enough.” Brown says Tuesday’s activity is only a “stop gap” measure to deal with the tent camp that she says is neither “safe or sanitary.”
The city has an April 16 deadline to receive proposals from local agencies to operate Oceanside's first city-sponsored homeless shelter. The former Ocean Shores continuation school site near El Camino Real and Oceanside Boulevard was purchased by the city last year. Brown says that facility may or may not be used to house the new shelter, depending on the contractor selected. The city is set to award the contract in June.
The linear tent camp that ran parallel to the Sprinter tracts has drawn strong reactions from locals. Last Friday evening a group was congregating across the street. They were there to pass out bottles of water and snacks and to document illegal activity the homeless may endure at the hands of police. “I’ve seen people drive by and scream out, ‘Get a job you lazy piece of shit,’” says Dante. “People have been driving by all night long honking at us and yelling at us to get the fuck out of here,” says McGough. “This is the kind of stuff that drives the needle in deeper.”
Rodney McGough: “People have been driving by all night long honking at us."
McGough does not deny that drugs has impacted his tent city. The night before the camp break-up, an inhabitant of his adjacent tent seemed to writhing in a withdrawal state. “There have been a lot of ODs that the fire department have had to tend to,” says Oceanside police chief Fred Armijo. “There have been drug sales and drug use [at the encampment]. Unfortunately, there is a sub-population among the homeless that is criminal, which preys on the other homeless people.” Armijo says the city is focused on helping those who can be helped, and to separate them from those who are “service resistant.”
A man from the nearby Fire Mountain neighborhood who did not want to be identified said that while he was stopped at a nearby stoplight about a month ago, one homeless person jumped on his hood and kicked in his windshield. Armijo said that the suspect has just been arrested.
McGough says a great majority of his tent city neighbors are decent, peaceful people. “We have one person who gets up, gets on the bus and goes to work at Home Depot.” An employee at the nearby Go Staff temporary employment agency says he has used workers who sleep at the tent camp and that he has found them to be productive and dependable.
But McGough admits one tent camp dweller named James has been particularly troublesome, violently confronting others and maliciously spreading trash across the campsite. McGough says James did everything he could to subvert his efforts to keep the peace. On Tuesday morning, along the side of the Sherwin-Williams paint building, a newly spray-painted “Rodney is a punck fuck little bitch” appeared for the first time. “James admitted that he did it,” says McGough. One police officer on site Tuesday admitted that he had just arrested James the week before. It was not immediately clear if James had been arrested for the newly-painted graffiti.
Jerry Torres is a former Camp Pendleton Marine MP (military police officer) who worked security at the San Onofre nuclear power plant. He now works with the non-profit Liberty Eagle Paralegals helping needy people with their legal affairs. He has been monitoring Oceanside’s tent city. Torres maintains the city has mostly done everything to comply with all laws and court precedents. He says the city painted numbers in front of each tent so that when the belongings are gathered up by the city, they could eventually be returned to their owners. He says that shows that Oceanside, ...has been going above and beyond what they need to do. I was talking with a friend out of San Diego and he said they just put on Hazmat suits and come in dispose all of their of their stuff in trash trucks.”
Along the side of the Sherwin-Williams paint building “Rodney is a punck fuck little bitch” appeared for the first time.
Torres did say that Oceanside’s Hot Team, which was set up to look after local homeless was counterproductive at least once. “A Samoan organization volunteered to bring down porta potties for these people. But a captain of the Hot Team told them to take it out because they didn’t have permits. I looked into it and it wasn’t really needed. They could have just written a letter to the city council and requested both a dumpster and porta potties, but no one looked into it. Then that same Hot Team later complained that there was trash and contamination by human waste. You can’t have it both ways.”
McGough says that one of his tent camp neighbors named Leon was a stroke victim who,...just fell over and just broke his nose.” He said another tent city neighbor was also “left for dead” following a diabetic seizure.
The city painted numbers in front of each tent so the belongings could eventually be returned to their owners.
McGough says he was a disciple the Twelve Tribes group that runs the Yellow Deli in Vista, “Until they kicked me out.” He says he sees his role with the tent city has been as a...shepherd looking over the sheep. Just trying to keep the wolves out.” He admitted that the local shops in the nearby shopping center would not let his people use the bathroom facilities, and that dumpsters that once were available for tent camp trash were locked shut. Tent camp residents did get to use the portable showers set up every Thursday at the nearby Bread of Life facility.
Leon was a stroke victim who..."just fell over and just broke his nose.”
The city of Oceanside says it has received complaints from nearby businesses who say the tents are hurting their bottom line. Yet McGough says the novelty of the tent city has helped at least one local business. “Everybody is driving by to see this new attraction. Whether it be the looky-loos or the people who want to yell things out. Since we’ve been here, Starbucks has been having lines all the way to Popeye’s chicken. People are screaming at us because we are causing them to have to wait in line too long at Starbucks. So either they are yelling at us for hurting business or for making the lines too long.”
The tent city issue put the homeless issue front and center says Tim Yzaguirre, Bread of Life’s executive director. “If they go down and live on the [San Luis Rey] river bank, very few people see them. But this put the homeless in everyone’s face.” He applauds the vouchers. “How bad can it be to go from a tent to a warm bed and three meals a day?”
McGough reported by late morning Tuesday that he was given a voucher and will be taken to Marty’s Valley Inn in the San Luis Rey Valley in the afternoon.
"There will still be a few tents down there until we can assist those people who are still there," says Tom Bussey Oceanside police spokesman. He says the city is still trying to track down more hotel vouchers. "It will be a few days and it will all be cleaned up."