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Unsheltered: ‘Homeless’ doesn’t tell the whole story in San Diego

The canyons, Brother Benno's, tents, Solutions for Change, Las Colinas, CRASH, methamphetamine capital of the United States

Brittney Powers: “I knew something had to change. I knew if I didn’t get my girl back, I was going to end up dead with a needle in my neck, on the street.”
Brittney Powers: “I knew something had to change. I knew if I didn’t get my girl back, I was going to end up dead with a needle in my neck, on the street.”

Karina Martinez is 32 and a native of Oceanside. She was born and raised in the Los Arbolitos neighborhood, just west of where El Camino Real meets Mission Avenue. She has four children, who are now 10, 9, 6 and 1, and enjoyed a nearly 13-year career with the Oceanside Unified School District. For most of the last five years, however, Martinez has been a homeless drug addict, smoking crystal, slamming junk, and sleeping in homeless encampments in canyons and riverbeds near the San Luis Rey River bike trail.

“I grew up in a hardworking family,” she says, “the oldest of four. I was very close to my dad. My parents divorced when I was ten, and my mom didn’t take me with her. She took the other three, but not me. So I wound up living with my dad, who was an alcoholic and always working so he couldn’t pay attention to what I was doing. I was ten years old when I started smoking weed, and from there I just went on a destructive path.”

For four years, Karina Martinez lived in a tent off the 76, right up the hill from Albertson’s and the police station.

She attended El Camino High School. “I was in softball, but because I was smoking weed I got kicked off the team, and it just never got addressed with my family… Right after I graduated, barely graduated – this was in 2006 – I got a job with Subway, and since by then I only knew how to work, I got another job with the school district. And with that income I was able to find a roommate on Holly Street.”

Living on Holly Street, “I was still smoking weed all the time and drinking, because it’s a gang-related area. I met a man who was in a gang. He was into smoking crystal and heroin, so he introduced me to that. I was probably 17. And by the time I was 19, I had gotten pregnant with him. His family decided to try to help us by putting us in an apartment together in Vista, but that is when the domestic violence started. This was in 2010. When I had my first daughter, the domestic violence worsened. He was beating me up really bad. He gave me concussions, he punched my teeth out, he hurt me sexually. He was using. And then I would be so depressed with him hitting me that I would be using, too. And then I’m over here, trying to work, too.”

Despite the abuse, the relationship lasted for five years. “He’d got to prison, come back out, and we would get back together because that’s what I thought I had to do – I thought I had to stick with the person I had a baby with. And then I got pregnant again with the third child, and by that time we were living with my dad. We had lost the apartment because of him destroying it. The cops came. And then also CPS (Child Protective Services) was coming, and I was kind of hiding with my kids. So we ended up living with my father in Vista, and I told my dad, finally, that I didn’t want this guy living there because when my dad would be at work, he would start beating me up again. So finally my dad told him to leave the house, which was a first for the guy, because no one in my family had ever confronted him about beating me up.”

The man left town, and Martinez managed to move into her own place, at La Mission Apartnments in Oceanside. Happy ending? Not quite. “I was still working for the school district and living in this apartment. And then I think in about 2015, I crossed paths with someone from my past who had been friends with the two of us, and he gave me this sob story that he was homeless. I didn’t really know how to pick anybody in healthy ways, so I ended up letting him come over to my place more often, and of course he had a bag of drugs, so I relapsed with him. And not even a month later, he was staying at my place all the time. He was getting high with me in my room while my kids were in the living room, and then he started stealing from me while I was at work. And then the aggression got worse, to where he started beating me up as well. So CPS was knocking at my door again and my mom intervened. One day, she said she had to take my kids somewhere, but she just took them into her care. So I called her and asked her when she was dropping them off, and she said, ‘I’m not letting you have your kids anymore because of your life.’”

That was the day Martinez OD’d. “Throughout my pregnancies, I had C-sections. And C-sections led to pills – Percocets, oxycodone. That was another thing I was abusing. I was doing opiates, meth, I also got prescribed Xanax for my depression, so I took all the opiates and all the Xanax and overdosed on Mother’s Day 2017. That got the police to come out again, and that got the landlord to put a notice on my door, telling me that I needed to leave, because of all the chaos. One day they padlocked the door, and I became homeless.”

She began venturing out into the nearby canyons. “My addiction got worse. I started using syringes. I got addicted to slamming meth with syringes, heroin with syringes, and I was stealing from stores to trade for drugs – flashlights, batteries. The ones that were dealing were always on the move, but one place to find everybody was a place where I used to go to get food, to get clothes, to take a shower: Brother Benno’s. And there, it was like this huge group of homeless people, and we would do drug exchanges there. So I was going there forever, and while I was there I was like, ‘Wow, this place is just kind of just taking care of us being out there.’ It was really kind of awkward – we got food, showers and clothes, and if we saw other people there, there was dope, needles, people smoking in the bathrooms.”

For the next four years, she lived “in a tent off the 76, right up the hill from Albertson’s and the police station. There was a hill up there, and I stayed there forever because it was private property. Then I started getting incarcerated, and it was just this vicious cycle of me being picked up for possession of drugs, for possession of paraphernalia, and I would go in for four days to a week, and then get right back to the tent. And there I met this guy named Anthony, and we were both into drugs really deep, so we became really violent toward each other out there. There were a couple more people living on that hill. There’s communities everywhere, and everybody had their own territory – there are people in the riverbed, in Fireside [Park], and the whole bike trail is full of people. I knew everybody out there. There’s a lot of evil things out there, people hurting each other, stealing from each other – a lot of messed up things, mentally, sexually. I really didn’t see any kids, because I think at that point, you can’t really have kids anymore, someone will take them away. But I would always see when people were going to lose their kids. If they did have custody, they’d go out to meet someone with drugs and they’d have their kids in their car, and the next thing you know, they’re out there with us, like, ‘I lost my kids.’”

Martinez missed her own kids, but it didn’t serve as positive motivation. “Me missing them so bad just made me want to go somewhere, die, you know. And me and Anthony, we were becoming more and more violent toward each other. And I got incarcerated one day and they told me I was pregnant. I was just shocked because I was so unhealthy. I don’t know how I got pregnant again. So I made a choice in there, like, that I would get out and not try to use anymore because I knew I was going to have to say goodbye to this baby. I already knew what it felt like to lose the other kids. So I got right back out to the canyon and I decided, ‘OK, maybe I just won’t use the needle,’ but there I am, still smoking heroin, still smoking crystal, and I’m this domestic violence relationship with her dad. And I think one day I was just so sick and tired of having nothing, of losing, of just hurting, that I asked someone to drive me to the Family Recovery Center in Oceanside. I went there, but because I missed her dad so much I only lasted a week. And this time I was out there a little bit longer. I was six months pregnant and still getting high out there, and it was messy with me. I had a lot of guilt. So I went back to FRC, and in there I had some mental discipline to stay there. My mom brought my kids to visit me. FRC is a really strict program, which I really appreciated. It strips everything away from you — to be in the moment. I stayed there for about five months, and I was just anxious for the next step, and they said, ‘We’re going to send you to Solutions for Change.’”

Solutions for Change, in Vista, is a nonprofit that seeks to equip parents with the tools they need to climb out of whatever hell they’ve been living in by learning how to become self-reliant, swear off drugs and booze, and learn personal and financial skills. Martinez moved to Solutions for Change in May 2020. Three months earlier, on Valentine’s Day, she had given birth to a baby girl she named Paisley. “She is healthy, despite everything that I did. She’s perfect… a beautiful baby girl. So when I came here, me and Paisley came here, and the following weekend was the first time I got overnights with my three other kids. I had all four of my kids in this room, and I felt like I had everything. Being back with my children again was so motivating. So I have them every weekend, still – every weekend, I have my kids. They live with my mom. And that’s a relationship I’m working on fixing as well. I also went through a lot of classes in this program that have helped me mentally understand why I chose the choices I made. I realize I have boundaries. I learned the difference between sympathetic and empathetic. I learned to value myself here; I learned that I am worth it, that I am capable of doing so much more.”

What’s the solution? What’s the way out for the hundreds of other Karinas out there in the canyons and riverbeds, on the hillsides, in the tents? “It’s just something in there, in them, that has to be so tired. Honestly. I just feel, for me, burning all my bridges and being so exhausted made me want to change. That’s just for me. And just getting a taste of life, and what we are capable of, and we are worth it. But I think all the time about what would help them, because I know so many of them out there. I heard a lot of their stories out there. Almost all of them are parents. And then as time went on, some of the mothers would tell me, ‘Oh, Karina, I haven’t seen my kids in thirty years now.’ And for them, that’s it. They gave up. And then they’re encountering domestic violence, beatings from their boyfriends. There’s a lot of rape out there, there’s a lot of theft. They’ll steal your tent, where you have nowhere to go sleep. I was getting really tired of that – nothing changing, losing everything. I lost people out there, you know, who have passed away, who were fathers. There were two men out there who were both fathers, and now their kids are never going to see them again. I didn’t want to leave my kids like that, and I knew that I had to break the cycle.”


It is a sad reflection on our society, and on ourselves, that the immediate, visceral reaction so many of us have when we encounter the homeless is one not of compassion or pity, but of disgust. We hear the stories, see the encampments, maybe hear someone’s rant or smell someone’s unwashed stench. And before too long, we begin to believe they’re all like this – beyond hope, and not deserving of hope, either.


Adilene Mendoza is 28 and pregnant with her third child. Two months ago, she was homeless. Now, like Martinez, she is at Solutions for Change, hoping to turn her life around. Mendoza was born and raised in Escondido, the second-oldest of four children in a family without a father, just a mother who worked in a factory and at McDonald’s.

Adilene Mendoza: “We never had our own apartment. We would rent rooms from people, and it was hard because all five of us were crowded in one room. I went to Valley High School, but ended up dropping out because I got pregnant.”

She tells her story: “We never had our own apartment. We would rent rooms from people, and it was hard because all five of us were crowded in one room. I went to Valley High School, but ended up dropping out because I got pregnant. I moved in with my baby’s dad. He worked construction, tiling, but he wasn’t doing very well – he was very into gangs. We were living with his friend, renting a room, just like my mother had done. Then he passed away due to gang violence. It was in 2015. One night he got drunk and went to the other side of town, and he got out of the car and they killed him on the spot. It was on Orange Street. Our daughter was two and our son, barely one.”

She moved back in with her mom, but “we got kicked out for being overcrowded. I ended up moving to San Diego. I lived with a friend, but she was on Section 8 and in a domestic violence relationship and I didn’t want my kids to be around that, so we would sleep in her car, just me and the two kids, parked on the street outside her apartment. We did that for something like eight months.”

For money, Mendoza relied on county relief funds. Eventually, she met someone new, but he was a drug addict. “It was bad. I preferred sleeping in the car to sleeping with him, because I had my kids. It was toxic. I went back to my friend and we slept in her van. She let me sleep there. And each day, we’d get up and go to the park, this little park in East San Diego. People would give us food. There were a lot of homeless people hanging out there, because people were always giving out sandwiches.” From time to time, if she could get someone to watch her kids, she’d spend the night with her boyfriend, now homeless. “We’d sleep at the park. We’d grab something to put over us and sleep outside.”

Earlier this year, Mendoza – who by now was pregnant again — and her kids moved in with her boyfriend’s family, into his grandmother’s house. “But it was bad. The whole family are addicts, the mom is homeless, and they just started fighting really bad in front of the kids and I didn’t want it, I couldn’t. The cops came and told me to leave or they would make a case to take away my kids. My kids were 7 and 6 at the time. It was 3 am. We got an Uber to my friend’s house and we stayed there.”

Now that she’s settled in at Solutions for Change, Mendoza says, her kids are back in school and she’s come to terms that her problems were pretty much of her own making. “Codependency. I could have done so much more. I was so stuck. I thought that people change, but it’s just who they are. Drugs change people. Yeah, I still love him [her current boyfriend], but he needs to get right first. He is in rehab. I haven’t seen him since I left. I couldn’t do it.”


Sadly, Mendoza is in the minority when it comes to today’s vast homeless population, says Chris Megison, founder and CEO of Solutions for Change. “Most of the people we deal with are the ones who are on drugs, who are into crime, who are out there sleeping in the bushes or on the sidewalks,” he says. “One way you could describe Adi is she’s collateral damage. She grew up with a mother who was homeless and with some really bad family stuff, and she carried forward the legacy of generational poverty. The difference is Adi didn’t become an addict herself. Most of them will. And our approach to treating these people is all wrong. The cops and paramedics are going to the door instead of the sidewalk. We’re only addressing the symptoms.”


Brittney Powers is 31 years old. You could picture her as a bank teller, a waitress at a sports bar, or a young mom – which she is. And unlike Adilene Mendoza, she was – is – an addict. “I was born in West Memphis, Arkansas. I have a brother and I have a sister, both younger. I’m the oldest. My parents were professional dog trainers, so we always traveled around a lot. So I’ve been to various states, but mainly I grew up in Florida. And then came out to California in 2013. I came to California to get clean. I lost my son, I lost the rights to my son, and I was homeless, pretty much.”

Wait a minute. Let’s back up. “I was always curious about drugs. I come from a long line of drug users, to be honest with you. I come from a long line of codependency and alcoholism and drugs. My stepdad was pretty straight and narrow, but my mom struggled with alcohol and my real father was incarcerated, in prison, and was an IV drug user and an alcoholic. What happened was I moved around a lot, so I never got settled into one place, and the little group of friends I did have were not really academically good. I was 16 when I started drinking and doing cocaine, and then by the time I hit 17, 18 I was doing pills – I was doing opiates, Roxies (Roxicodone), Oxy (oxycodone), pretty much anything.”

Brittney Powers: “I knew something had to change. I knew if I didn’t get my girl back, I was going to end up dead with a needle in my neck, on the street.”

She decided to leave home at 18. “We had big fights about me not wanting to go to school. If I wasn’t going to go to school, I had to go to work. But that only fueled my drug addiction, because it was just more money. I worked little jobs, retail, fast food. This was when we were living in Tampa, Florida. I was into pills, I was doing cocaine, I was smoking crack – and then I had my son. The father of my son – we were doing drugs together. He was way more advanced than I was, and we just kind of slid into it together. I was slamming dope – I was an intravenous drug user, heroin and meth. I’d sleep outside in the back of truck beds, couch hopping. My son is 11 now. I have no parental rights. He’s still in Florida, with his dad. His dad got clean. He’s been clean for five or six years now.”

All right, now on to California. “So I came out here by myself, on a Greyhound bus. I was trying to get clean. My real dad was out here, in Oceanside. He just got out of prison. But this was 2013, and he was still locked up when I got here, so I went to stay with family. And the next year, I had my daughter, Bailey. I met her dad out here, in Oceanside, at my aunt’s house. Donnie was a lot older than me, about 25 years older. He wasn’t a slammer, he wasn’t an IV drug user, but he did smoke crystal. I was always the one who took it to the next level. So I pretty much moved out here in 2013 to try to get my life together and get clean, and little did I know that I was moving into the heroin and methamphetamine capital of the United States. So I kicked pills. I wasn’t on pills no more, but I started smoking crystal. When I had Bailey, she was pox tox (dependent on drugs) for heroin, meth and marijuana. I was staying with my dad’s girlfriend at the time. I went to the Family Resource Center, did my time, got my HUD voucher and got my own place. Donnie worked here and there, and I had my cash aid (from the California Department of Social Services), so we lived off the state for a long time. But toward the end of my addiction, I wasn’t making good choices. I prostituted toward the end of it. It was always through friends, friends of a friend – I kept it clean and simple, you know, as best as I could.”

In 2018, she got busted “for selling and possessing and child endangerment, meth and heroin. Bailey was four. So they came and they took me, and this was like my sixth or seventh drug charge by now, but they finally got me in the house. They finally came to the house and they came and took me and took the baby. I was at Las Colinas and my kid was in the foster system. So this was the second kid I lost, and I knew something had to change. I knew if I didn’t get my girl back, I was going to end up dead with a needle in my neck, on the street. So I did my time at Las Colinas and then I went to Interfaith Community Services. I went to the residential rehab, and it saved my life. I went there with no kid – Bailey was already in the foster system – so I actually got to do the treatment by myself and get clean the way I needed to do it. I hit 120 days clean at Interfaith and then I went to sober living. And then in February 2020, my spot at Solutions for Change came up. I just got 20 months, no drugs, no nothing, and I have full, sole custody of my daughter. She’s here with me now.”

While she was in jail, Powers says, she and Donnie lost their apartment. “It was a bad relationship, very codependent, very toxic. Me and Donnie should have separated years ago, and we finally did separate when the baby was gone. He doesn’t see her. He’s still in active addiction. I plan on staying here as long as they’ll keep me, 700 days. I have until next February. I work here, too – I am a site supervisor at Solutions Farm. Every regret I have, every bad choice I have made, led me to where I am now. I am 20 months clean, I have full, sole custody of my daughter and I’m in a healthy relationship with a man that I love and I’m married. I found him in rehab, at Interfaith. He’s in sober living. Once I finish my program, we’re going to live together. I also want to at least have contact with my son. I know I’m not going to get him back, but those are the consequences of my actions.”


Teddy Marshall III is 33 and a native of Los Angeles. He moved south to Oceanside when he was five, with his father. “He wanted a better life for me. At first I grew up with my mother in L.A., but it just wasn’t a good situation. I was living in Compton, and there was a lot of drug use, a lot of gang activity, a lot of violence. This was back in 1988, ’89, that’s when everything was going crazy. My mom, I remember having lots of different men around a lot, and I had to take care of my brothers and sisters, all younger than me, even though I was only five. And then my father, he wanted a better life for me, so when he got out of prison... I’m not sure what he was in for, but he took me away. I grew up in Oceanside, and I was going to Vista High School. My dad was very strict, and he didn’t want me going through the same thing he did. But I felt I could do things on my own, so I ended up leaving my dad’s house, and it just kind of spiraled from there. I was smoking a lot of weed, marijuana, no other drugs, nothing like that, and just hanging out with the wrong crowd, down at the beach, by the pier, by the amphitheater. For money, I spanged (panhandled) and I would steal from stores, to eat or find food. I slept at the churches, in front of church buildings. I slept over on the bike trail that goes all the way to the harbor. I met a lot of different people, a lot of kids, in the same situation as me – we didn’t want to listen to our parents, so we just ran away.”

Teddy Marshall III: “I slept at the churches, in front of church buildings. I slept over on the bike trail that goes all the way to the harbor. I met a lot of different people, a lot of kids, in the same situation as me – we didn’t want to listen to our parents, so we just ran away.”

Marshall still spoke with his father now and then: “Maybe a year, two years, on and off, talking to him. But my dad always worried about me. He knew a lot of my friends who I hung out with, and he was always telling my friends, ‘Tell Teddy to come home.’ But I didn’t want the rules.” So Marshall lived out on the street for the better part of a decade, and was even able to hold down jobs. “I worked at the Lone Star Barbecue, holding the sign. I moved up from that to cashier. And I would do odd jobs like painting houses, but I never had a place to live. I would have my stuff stashed in bushes or at the library, inside that little area where you walk down the stairs, or along the bike trail, sometimes at friends’ houses, they would hold my clothes for me. I met a lot of people, and I seen a lot of stuff go down. I got into a lot of fights, drunk marines or friends just starting stuff – it was just a lot of chaos.”

CRASH is a free drug and alcohol addiction rehab center in San Diego. Teddy Marshall III: “They help you get your life back together, if you’re an addict, or in trouble. That’s where I met the mother of my kids.

Finally, in his late twenties, Marshall sought help. He went to CRASH, a free drug and alcohol addiction rehab center in San Diego. “They help you get your life back together, if you’re an addict, or in trouble. That’s where I met the mother of my kids. Yeah, I’ve got kids. Four of them. My oldest, he’s now six. Then I’ve got twin boys who are four, and my youngest is three. She was an alumnus of CRASH, and she would speak to the ladies out there. That’s how I met her.” He pauses. “After I finished the CRASH program, I went on to Sober Living, and then when I got out I ended up right back on the street again because I couldn’t pay for my housing. I was still smoking, a lot. I took the program I was in seriously, but not as seriously as I should have. Marijuana demotivates you. It doesn’t make you want to get up and do things for yourself; it helps you pretty much cut off all ties.”

Eventually, Marshall reconnected with his friend and moved into her house in La Mesa. She got pregnant, once, twice, a third time. She already had three children of her own, and was living off cash aid [from the state Department of Social Services] and HUD funds. His girlfriend smoked occasionally, but for a while, she and Marshall had a pretty good life, and even moved into a bigger home, a three-bedroom house near the Joan Kroc Center in the 6800 block of University Avenue. “I was working at a video store and painting houses. But we had a very toxic relationship. She was very controlling and physically abusive. She ended up filing a restraining order against me, and that got me living with my grandparents in Oceanside. I would call and try to reach out and talk to my children, but it just wasn’t happening. She ended up getting into meth and then last year, in 2020, she lost all seven of the kids and her Section 8 because of the drugs. My older kids went into foster care and my youngest, to Polinsky” — the Polinsky Children’s Center, a county facility that offers residential care for children removed from the home.

Losing his kids is what prompted Marshall to try getting clean again. Four months ago, he got into the Solutions for Change program and gave up pot – this time, he insists, for good. “I came here in February, and I’m seeing my kids again. I’m getting full custody on June 17. I realize that me using that substance was only demoralizing myself and I wasn’t getting anywhere. When I was on it, it made me lazy – no stress, no pain, but also no feeling. I want to go to trade school. I actually signed up for classes. And I want to become an independent contractor, a painter. Painting is something I love to do. It’s more of a hobby – that’s what makes it funner. I’m actually doing a job I consider a hobby instead of a job I don’t really like or one that constantly has stress. I understand painting houses is going to be very stressful, signing contracts and all that, but at the end of the day I love art, I love painting, and I think I will have fun doing it.”

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“Uncle Harvey was forced to resign because he was gay. It’s important to teach that we have evolved.”
Brittney Powers: “I knew something had to change. I knew if I didn’t get my girl back, I was going to end up dead with a needle in my neck, on the street.”
Brittney Powers: “I knew something had to change. I knew if I didn’t get my girl back, I was going to end up dead with a needle in my neck, on the street.”

Karina Martinez is 32 and a native of Oceanside. She was born and raised in the Los Arbolitos neighborhood, just west of where El Camino Real meets Mission Avenue. She has four children, who are now 10, 9, 6 and 1, and enjoyed a nearly 13-year career with the Oceanside Unified School District. For most of the last five years, however, Martinez has been a homeless drug addict, smoking crystal, slamming junk, and sleeping in homeless encampments in canyons and riverbeds near the San Luis Rey River bike trail.

“I grew up in a hardworking family,” she says, “the oldest of four. I was very close to my dad. My parents divorced when I was ten, and my mom didn’t take me with her. She took the other three, but not me. So I wound up living with my dad, who was an alcoholic and always working so he couldn’t pay attention to what I was doing. I was ten years old when I started smoking weed, and from there I just went on a destructive path.”

For four years, Karina Martinez lived in a tent off the 76, right up the hill from Albertson’s and the police station.

She attended El Camino High School. “I was in softball, but because I was smoking weed I got kicked off the team, and it just never got addressed with my family… Right after I graduated, barely graduated – this was in 2006 – I got a job with Subway, and since by then I only knew how to work, I got another job with the school district. And with that income I was able to find a roommate on Holly Street.”

Living on Holly Street, “I was still smoking weed all the time and drinking, because it’s a gang-related area. I met a man who was in a gang. He was into smoking crystal and heroin, so he introduced me to that. I was probably 17. And by the time I was 19, I had gotten pregnant with him. His family decided to try to help us by putting us in an apartment together in Vista, but that is when the domestic violence started. This was in 2010. When I had my first daughter, the domestic violence worsened. He was beating me up really bad. He gave me concussions, he punched my teeth out, he hurt me sexually. He was using. And then I would be so depressed with him hitting me that I would be using, too. And then I’m over here, trying to work, too.”

Despite the abuse, the relationship lasted for five years. “He’d got to prison, come back out, and we would get back together because that’s what I thought I had to do – I thought I had to stick with the person I had a baby with. And then I got pregnant again with the third child, and by that time we were living with my dad. We had lost the apartment because of him destroying it. The cops came. And then also CPS (Child Protective Services) was coming, and I was kind of hiding with my kids. So we ended up living with my father in Vista, and I told my dad, finally, that I didn’t want this guy living there because when my dad would be at work, he would start beating me up again. So finally my dad told him to leave the house, which was a first for the guy, because no one in my family had ever confronted him about beating me up.”

The man left town, and Martinez managed to move into her own place, at La Mission Apartnments in Oceanside. Happy ending? Not quite. “I was still working for the school district and living in this apartment. And then I think in about 2015, I crossed paths with someone from my past who had been friends with the two of us, and he gave me this sob story that he was homeless. I didn’t really know how to pick anybody in healthy ways, so I ended up letting him come over to my place more often, and of course he had a bag of drugs, so I relapsed with him. And not even a month later, he was staying at my place all the time. He was getting high with me in my room while my kids were in the living room, and then he started stealing from me while I was at work. And then the aggression got worse, to where he started beating me up as well. So CPS was knocking at my door again and my mom intervened. One day, she said she had to take my kids somewhere, but she just took them into her care. So I called her and asked her when she was dropping them off, and she said, ‘I’m not letting you have your kids anymore because of your life.’”

That was the day Martinez OD’d. “Throughout my pregnancies, I had C-sections. And C-sections led to pills – Percocets, oxycodone. That was another thing I was abusing. I was doing opiates, meth, I also got prescribed Xanax for my depression, so I took all the opiates and all the Xanax and overdosed on Mother’s Day 2017. That got the police to come out again, and that got the landlord to put a notice on my door, telling me that I needed to leave, because of all the chaos. One day they padlocked the door, and I became homeless.”

She began venturing out into the nearby canyons. “My addiction got worse. I started using syringes. I got addicted to slamming meth with syringes, heroin with syringes, and I was stealing from stores to trade for drugs – flashlights, batteries. The ones that were dealing were always on the move, but one place to find everybody was a place where I used to go to get food, to get clothes, to take a shower: Brother Benno’s. And there, it was like this huge group of homeless people, and we would do drug exchanges there. So I was going there forever, and while I was there I was like, ‘Wow, this place is just kind of just taking care of us being out there.’ It was really kind of awkward – we got food, showers and clothes, and if we saw other people there, there was dope, needles, people smoking in the bathrooms.”

For the next four years, she lived “in a tent off the 76, right up the hill from Albertson’s and the police station. There was a hill up there, and I stayed there forever because it was private property. Then I started getting incarcerated, and it was just this vicious cycle of me being picked up for possession of drugs, for possession of paraphernalia, and I would go in for four days to a week, and then get right back to the tent. And there I met this guy named Anthony, and we were both into drugs really deep, so we became really violent toward each other out there. There were a couple more people living on that hill. There’s communities everywhere, and everybody had their own territory – there are people in the riverbed, in Fireside [Park], and the whole bike trail is full of people. I knew everybody out there. There’s a lot of evil things out there, people hurting each other, stealing from each other – a lot of messed up things, mentally, sexually. I really didn’t see any kids, because I think at that point, you can’t really have kids anymore, someone will take them away. But I would always see when people were going to lose their kids. If they did have custody, they’d go out to meet someone with drugs and they’d have their kids in their car, and the next thing you know, they’re out there with us, like, ‘I lost my kids.’”

Martinez missed her own kids, but it didn’t serve as positive motivation. “Me missing them so bad just made me want to go somewhere, die, you know. And me and Anthony, we were becoming more and more violent toward each other. And I got incarcerated one day and they told me I was pregnant. I was just shocked because I was so unhealthy. I don’t know how I got pregnant again. So I made a choice in there, like, that I would get out and not try to use anymore because I knew I was going to have to say goodbye to this baby. I already knew what it felt like to lose the other kids. So I got right back out to the canyon and I decided, ‘OK, maybe I just won’t use the needle,’ but there I am, still smoking heroin, still smoking crystal, and I’m this domestic violence relationship with her dad. And I think one day I was just so sick and tired of having nothing, of losing, of just hurting, that I asked someone to drive me to the Family Recovery Center in Oceanside. I went there, but because I missed her dad so much I only lasted a week. And this time I was out there a little bit longer. I was six months pregnant and still getting high out there, and it was messy with me. I had a lot of guilt. So I went back to FRC, and in there I had some mental discipline to stay there. My mom brought my kids to visit me. FRC is a really strict program, which I really appreciated. It strips everything away from you — to be in the moment. I stayed there for about five months, and I was just anxious for the next step, and they said, ‘We’re going to send you to Solutions for Change.’”

Solutions for Change, in Vista, is a nonprofit that seeks to equip parents with the tools they need to climb out of whatever hell they’ve been living in by learning how to become self-reliant, swear off drugs and booze, and learn personal and financial skills. Martinez moved to Solutions for Change in May 2020. Three months earlier, on Valentine’s Day, she had given birth to a baby girl she named Paisley. “She is healthy, despite everything that I did. She’s perfect… a beautiful baby girl. So when I came here, me and Paisley came here, and the following weekend was the first time I got overnights with my three other kids. I had all four of my kids in this room, and I felt like I had everything. Being back with my children again was so motivating. So I have them every weekend, still – every weekend, I have my kids. They live with my mom. And that’s a relationship I’m working on fixing as well. I also went through a lot of classes in this program that have helped me mentally understand why I chose the choices I made. I realize I have boundaries. I learned the difference between sympathetic and empathetic. I learned to value myself here; I learned that I am worth it, that I am capable of doing so much more.”

What’s the solution? What’s the way out for the hundreds of other Karinas out there in the canyons and riverbeds, on the hillsides, in the tents? “It’s just something in there, in them, that has to be so tired. Honestly. I just feel, for me, burning all my bridges and being so exhausted made me want to change. That’s just for me. And just getting a taste of life, and what we are capable of, and we are worth it. But I think all the time about what would help them, because I know so many of them out there. I heard a lot of their stories out there. Almost all of them are parents. And then as time went on, some of the mothers would tell me, ‘Oh, Karina, I haven’t seen my kids in thirty years now.’ And for them, that’s it. They gave up. And then they’re encountering domestic violence, beatings from their boyfriends. There’s a lot of rape out there, there’s a lot of theft. They’ll steal your tent, where you have nowhere to go sleep. I was getting really tired of that – nothing changing, losing everything. I lost people out there, you know, who have passed away, who were fathers. There were two men out there who were both fathers, and now their kids are never going to see them again. I didn’t want to leave my kids like that, and I knew that I had to break the cycle.”


It is a sad reflection on our society, and on ourselves, that the immediate, visceral reaction so many of us have when we encounter the homeless is one not of compassion or pity, but of disgust. We hear the stories, see the encampments, maybe hear someone’s rant or smell someone’s unwashed stench. And before too long, we begin to believe they’re all like this – beyond hope, and not deserving of hope, either.


Adilene Mendoza is 28 and pregnant with her third child. Two months ago, she was homeless. Now, like Martinez, she is at Solutions for Change, hoping to turn her life around. Mendoza was born and raised in Escondido, the second-oldest of four children in a family without a father, just a mother who worked in a factory and at McDonald’s.

Adilene Mendoza: “We never had our own apartment. We would rent rooms from people, and it was hard because all five of us were crowded in one room. I went to Valley High School, but ended up dropping out because I got pregnant.”

She tells her story: “We never had our own apartment. We would rent rooms from people, and it was hard because all five of us were crowded in one room. I went to Valley High School, but ended up dropping out because I got pregnant. I moved in with my baby’s dad. He worked construction, tiling, but he wasn’t doing very well – he was very into gangs. We were living with his friend, renting a room, just like my mother had done. Then he passed away due to gang violence. It was in 2015. One night he got drunk and went to the other side of town, and he got out of the car and they killed him on the spot. It was on Orange Street. Our daughter was two and our son, barely one.”

She moved back in with her mom, but “we got kicked out for being overcrowded. I ended up moving to San Diego. I lived with a friend, but she was on Section 8 and in a domestic violence relationship and I didn’t want my kids to be around that, so we would sleep in her car, just me and the two kids, parked on the street outside her apartment. We did that for something like eight months.”

For money, Mendoza relied on county relief funds. Eventually, she met someone new, but he was a drug addict. “It was bad. I preferred sleeping in the car to sleeping with him, because I had my kids. It was toxic. I went back to my friend and we slept in her van. She let me sleep there. And each day, we’d get up and go to the park, this little park in East San Diego. People would give us food. There were a lot of homeless people hanging out there, because people were always giving out sandwiches.” From time to time, if she could get someone to watch her kids, she’d spend the night with her boyfriend, now homeless. “We’d sleep at the park. We’d grab something to put over us and sleep outside.”

Earlier this year, Mendoza – who by now was pregnant again — and her kids moved in with her boyfriend’s family, into his grandmother’s house. “But it was bad. The whole family are addicts, the mom is homeless, and they just started fighting really bad in front of the kids and I didn’t want it, I couldn’t. The cops came and told me to leave or they would make a case to take away my kids. My kids were 7 and 6 at the time. It was 3 am. We got an Uber to my friend’s house and we stayed there.”

Now that she’s settled in at Solutions for Change, Mendoza says, her kids are back in school and she’s come to terms that her problems were pretty much of her own making. “Codependency. I could have done so much more. I was so stuck. I thought that people change, but it’s just who they are. Drugs change people. Yeah, I still love him [her current boyfriend], but he needs to get right first. He is in rehab. I haven’t seen him since I left. I couldn’t do it.”


Sadly, Mendoza is in the minority when it comes to today’s vast homeless population, says Chris Megison, founder and CEO of Solutions for Change. “Most of the people we deal with are the ones who are on drugs, who are into crime, who are out there sleeping in the bushes or on the sidewalks,” he says. “One way you could describe Adi is she’s collateral damage. She grew up with a mother who was homeless and with some really bad family stuff, and she carried forward the legacy of generational poverty. The difference is Adi didn’t become an addict herself. Most of them will. And our approach to treating these people is all wrong. The cops and paramedics are going to the door instead of the sidewalk. We’re only addressing the symptoms.”


Brittney Powers is 31 years old. You could picture her as a bank teller, a waitress at a sports bar, or a young mom – which she is. And unlike Adilene Mendoza, she was – is – an addict. “I was born in West Memphis, Arkansas. I have a brother and I have a sister, both younger. I’m the oldest. My parents were professional dog trainers, so we always traveled around a lot. So I’ve been to various states, but mainly I grew up in Florida. And then came out to California in 2013. I came to California to get clean. I lost my son, I lost the rights to my son, and I was homeless, pretty much.”

Wait a minute. Let’s back up. “I was always curious about drugs. I come from a long line of drug users, to be honest with you. I come from a long line of codependency and alcoholism and drugs. My stepdad was pretty straight and narrow, but my mom struggled with alcohol and my real father was incarcerated, in prison, and was an IV drug user and an alcoholic. What happened was I moved around a lot, so I never got settled into one place, and the little group of friends I did have were not really academically good. I was 16 when I started drinking and doing cocaine, and then by the time I hit 17, 18 I was doing pills – I was doing opiates, Roxies (Roxicodone), Oxy (oxycodone), pretty much anything.”

Brittney Powers: “I knew something had to change. I knew if I didn’t get my girl back, I was going to end up dead with a needle in my neck, on the street.”

She decided to leave home at 18. “We had big fights about me not wanting to go to school. If I wasn’t going to go to school, I had to go to work. But that only fueled my drug addiction, because it was just more money. I worked little jobs, retail, fast food. This was when we were living in Tampa, Florida. I was into pills, I was doing cocaine, I was smoking crack – and then I had my son. The father of my son – we were doing drugs together. He was way more advanced than I was, and we just kind of slid into it together. I was slamming dope – I was an intravenous drug user, heroin and meth. I’d sleep outside in the back of truck beds, couch hopping. My son is 11 now. I have no parental rights. He’s still in Florida, with his dad. His dad got clean. He’s been clean for five or six years now.”

All right, now on to California. “So I came out here by myself, on a Greyhound bus. I was trying to get clean. My real dad was out here, in Oceanside. He just got out of prison. But this was 2013, and he was still locked up when I got here, so I went to stay with family. And the next year, I had my daughter, Bailey. I met her dad out here, in Oceanside, at my aunt’s house. Donnie was a lot older than me, about 25 years older. He wasn’t a slammer, he wasn’t an IV drug user, but he did smoke crystal. I was always the one who took it to the next level. So I pretty much moved out here in 2013 to try to get my life together and get clean, and little did I know that I was moving into the heroin and methamphetamine capital of the United States. So I kicked pills. I wasn’t on pills no more, but I started smoking crystal. When I had Bailey, she was pox tox (dependent on drugs) for heroin, meth and marijuana. I was staying with my dad’s girlfriend at the time. I went to the Family Resource Center, did my time, got my HUD voucher and got my own place. Donnie worked here and there, and I had my cash aid (from the California Department of Social Services), so we lived off the state for a long time. But toward the end of my addiction, I wasn’t making good choices. I prostituted toward the end of it. It was always through friends, friends of a friend – I kept it clean and simple, you know, as best as I could.”

In 2018, she got busted “for selling and possessing and child endangerment, meth and heroin. Bailey was four. So they came and they took me, and this was like my sixth or seventh drug charge by now, but they finally got me in the house. They finally came to the house and they came and took me and took the baby. I was at Las Colinas and my kid was in the foster system. So this was the second kid I lost, and I knew something had to change. I knew if I didn’t get my girl back, I was going to end up dead with a needle in my neck, on the street. So I did my time at Las Colinas and then I went to Interfaith Community Services. I went to the residential rehab, and it saved my life. I went there with no kid – Bailey was already in the foster system – so I actually got to do the treatment by myself and get clean the way I needed to do it. I hit 120 days clean at Interfaith and then I went to sober living. And then in February 2020, my spot at Solutions for Change came up. I just got 20 months, no drugs, no nothing, and I have full, sole custody of my daughter. She’s here with me now.”

While she was in jail, Powers says, she and Donnie lost their apartment. “It was a bad relationship, very codependent, very toxic. Me and Donnie should have separated years ago, and we finally did separate when the baby was gone. He doesn’t see her. He’s still in active addiction. I plan on staying here as long as they’ll keep me, 700 days. I have until next February. I work here, too – I am a site supervisor at Solutions Farm. Every regret I have, every bad choice I have made, led me to where I am now. I am 20 months clean, I have full, sole custody of my daughter and I’m in a healthy relationship with a man that I love and I’m married. I found him in rehab, at Interfaith. He’s in sober living. Once I finish my program, we’re going to live together. I also want to at least have contact with my son. I know I’m not going to get him back, but those are the consequences of my actions.”


Teddy Marshall III is 33 and a native of Los Angeles. He moved south to Oceanside when he was five, with his father. “He wanted a better life for me. At first I grew up with my mother in L.A., but it just wasn’t a good situation. I was living in Compton, and there was a lot of drug use, a lot of gang activity, a lot of violence. This was back in 1988, ’89, that’s when everything was going crazy. My mom, I remember having lots of different men around a lot, and I had to take care of my brothers and sisters, all younger than me, even though I was only five. And then my father, he wanted a better life for me, so when he got out of prison... I’m not sure what he was in for, but he took me away. I grew up in Oceanside, and I was going to Vista High School. My dad was very strict, and he didn’t want me going through the same thing he did. But I felt I could do things on my own, so I ended up leaving my dad’s house, and it just kind of spiraled from there. I was smoking a lot of weed, marijuana, no other drugs, nothing like that, and just hanging out with the wrong crowd, down at the beach, by the pier, by the amphitheater. For money, I spanged (panhandled) and I would steal from stores, to eat or find food. I slept at the churches, in front of church buildings. I slept over on the bike trail that goes all the way to the harbor. I met a lot of different people, a lot of kids, in the same situation as me – we didn’t want to listen to our parents, so we just ran away.”

Teddy Marshall III: “I slept at the churches, in front of church buildings. I slept over on the bike trail that goes all the way to the harbor. I met a lot of different people, a lot of kids, in the same situation as me – we didn’t want to listen to our parents, so we just ran away.”

Marshall still spoke with his father now and then: “Maybe a year, two years, on and off, talking to him. But my dad always worried about me. He knew a lot of my friends who I hung out with, and he was always telling my friends, ‘Tell Teddy to come home.’ But I didn’t want the rules.” So Marshall lived out on the street for the better part of a decade, and was even able to hold down jobs. “I worked at the Lone Star Barbecue, holding the sign. I moved up from that to cashier. And I would do odd jobs like painting houses, but I never had a place to live. I would have my stuff stashed in bushes or at the library, inside that little area where you walk down the stairs, or along the bike trail, sometimes at friends’ houses, they would hold my clothes for me. I met a lot of people, and I seen a lot of stuff go down. I got into a lot of fights, drunk marines or friends just starting stuff – it was just a lot of chaos.”

CRASH is a free drug and alcohol addiction rehab center in San Diego. Teddy Marshall III: “They help you get your life back together, if you’re an addict, or in trouble. That’s where I met the mother of my kids.

Finally, in his late twenties, Marshall sought help. He went to CRASH, a free drug and alcohol addiction rehab center in San Diego. “They help you get your life back together, if you’re an addict, or in trouble. That’s where I met the mother of my kids. Yeah, I’ve got kids. Four of them. My oldest, he’s now six. Then I’ve got twin boys who are four, and my youngest is three. She was an alumnus of CRASH, and she would speak to the ladies out there. That’s how I met her.” He pauses. “After I finished the CRASH program, I went on to Sober Living, and then when I got out I ended up right back on the street again because I couldn’t pay for my housing. I was still smoking, a lot. I took the program I was in seriously, but not as seriously as I should have. Marijuana demotivates you. It doesn’t make you want to get up and do things for yourself; it helps you pretty much cut off all ties.”

Eventually, Marshall reconnected with his friend and moved into her house in La Mesa. She got pregnant, once, twice, a third time. She already had three children of her own, and was living off cash aid [from the state Department of Social Services] and HUD funds. His girlfriend smoked occasionally, but for a while, she and Marshall had a pretty good life, and even moved into a bigger home, a three-bedroom house near the Joan Kroc Center in the 6800 block of University Avenue. “I was working at a video store and painting houses. But we had a very toxic relationship. She was very controlling and physically abusive. She ended up filing a restraining order against me, and that got me living with my grandparents in Oceanside. I would call and try to reach out and talk to my children, but it just wasn’t happening. She ended up getting into meth and then last year, in 2020, she lost all seven of the kids and her Section 8 because of the drugs. My older kids went into foster care and my youngest, to Polinsky” — the Polinsky Children’s Center, a county facility that offers residential care for children removed from the home.

Losing his kids is what prompted Marshall to try getting clean again. Four months ago, he got into the Solutions for Change program and gave up pot – this time, he insists, for good. “I came here in February, and I’m seeing my kids again. I’m getting full custody on June 17. I realize that me using that substance was only demoralizing myself and I wasn’t getting anywhere. When I was on it, it made me lazy – no stress, no pain, but also no feeling. I want to go to trade school. I actually signed up for classes. And I want to become an independent contractor, a painter. Painting is something I love to do. It’s more of a hobby – that’s what makes it funner. I’m actually doing a job I consider a hobby instead of a job I don’t really like or one that constantly has stress. I understand painting houses is going to be very stressful, signing contracts and all that, but at the end of the day I love art, I love painting, and I think I will have fun doing it.”

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