The Midway/sports arena area is known for its major sporting/concert venue, shopping centers and warehouse district and — less desirably — for its high-profile homelessness problems.
Not that the homeless issue is necessarily any worse here than elsewhere in San Diego, where the region’s year-round temperate climate draws those living unsheltered existences. Maybe it just seems worse because it’s so noticeable.
“They’re everywhere,” said Walter Andersen, owner of Andersen Nursery at 3642 Enterprise St. near the intersection of Barnett Avenue and Pacific Highway. “It drives us crazy. And it drives the police department crazy moving people around who just go somewhere else. It’s very frustrating.”
Noting the homeless situation “has been a mess” for at least the last three years, Andersen said outdoor encampments are rampant, with “cardboard boxes all up and down” from Big Lots to his nursery.
“There’s usually someone sleeping in something almost every night,” he said.
Andersen said he believes one of the reasons why homeless frequent the area is that they have easy access to post office boxes where they get whatever financial subsistence they depend on, and because “there are a lot of liquor stores and fast-food restaurants are everywhere. They can get cheap meals.”
Most noticeably, said Andersen, is the presence of panhandlers on virtually every street corner.
“On Rosecrans Street, Midway Drive and Sports Arena Boulevard, there’s always someone standing — sometimes three or four — on all the different corners holding up signs and sleeping on the grass,” Andersen said. “Having all these people laying around and standing on the corners. It just looks bad.”
Andersen admitted the situation is a difficult one to deal with.
“It’s really hard,” he said. “The police can only do so much. They chase them away and the city trash trucks come in and clean up, and a month or six weeks later, [the homeless] start trickling in again.”
But Andersen said he doesn’t understand why something more can’t be done about preventing homeless people from possessing and using shopping carts for storage.
Nonetheless, Andersen said he is sensitive to the plight of some the nearby homeless, whom he said are “desperately drug- or alcohol-addicted and/or mentally ill.”
“They can lock them up, but they just have to let them out,” Andersen said, lamenting that the Midway area “seems to be one of the easier places for them to survive.”
Chris Daly, co-owner of S10 Fitness at 3810 Rosecrans St., said homelessness is problematic at his studio, which is right across the street from the county mental health facility.
“The primary concern is with the walk-by traffic, all the transients coming along, and with being in an ‘unsavory’ area right next to a liquor store and very close to the (San Diego) river where you get a high influx of homeless,” he said.
Daly said he’s had lots of trouble with public urination and loitering by homeless, and he’s concerned about the possibility of drug dealing and drug abuse.
“I want to be part of the solution. I don’t want to just be the complaint department,” Daly said. “I’ll be as proactive as possible, but it’s not against the law to not have a house. I understand the predicament these people are in, and I sympathize, but I have to protect my investment, and protect the people who come through my doors, and we have a lot of children here as I train Point Loma high school kids.”
Since its founding in 1981 by Vietnam Veterans of San Diego, Veterans Village of San Diego (VVSD) at
4141 Pacific Highway has been serving the region’s homeless veterans by providing alcohol/drug treatment and other rehabilitation services.
In addition to its primary center, VVSD has also operated a homeless shelter. The status of the shelter, which previously was just seasonal, is now year-round — at least temporarily. Year-round operations of the shelter were among the priorities of Mayor Bob Filner, who resigned in disgrace
Aug. 30 in the wake of sexual harassment allegations.
“There was a desire to try to implement a year-round shelter,” said Andre Simpson, VVSD’s chief operating officer. “Where that is today is still uncertain. The city needs to sort some things out in terms of where these projects are going to go.”
Simpson said VVSD is state licensed to serve up to 185 homeless veterans providing a full-range of rehabilitative services. VVSD has also operated a seasonal homeless shelter from mid-December through early April which has continued beyond that schedule, but may be on borrowed time now with the current mayoral administration about to be replaced.
“It’s an awkward situation,” Simpson said. “It’s very difficult, not just for the residents, but for planning in terms of their future.”
Simpson said the temporary shelter is currently housing 150 people, the maximum allowed.
What will happen to those people should the VVSD shelter revert from year-round back to seasonal?
“If the city decides to shut the shelter down, they would give us some notice,” Simpson said. “In that event, we would do everything we can to place as many of those veterans in other shelters or other appropriate housing so they would not end up on the street.”
At the North Bay Community Planning Group’s (NBCPG) regular monthly meetings, homelessness is a recurring theme and a staple of discussion.
San Diego Police Department Lt. Natalie Stone and community relations officer David Surwilo were present at the NBCPG’s Aug. 21 meeting to talk about homelessness and to answer questions about what can and can’t be done about it.
Stone, who heads a police neighborhood resource team composed of a sergeant and eight officers, agreed homelessness is a high-profile presence in the Midway-sports arena-Point Loma area.
“We have a lot of issues with the homeless. It’s a huge area and it’s problematic here,” Stone said of the Midway/Pacific Highway Corridor Community, which is situated north of the Centre City area between Old Town and Point Loma. It is comprised of the central Midway area and the narrow, linear-shaped Pacific Highway Corridor.
Stone said the eight officers on her Neighborhood Resource Team “aren’t enough to combat the problem,” which she said includes cracking down on illegal encampments and people sleeping in cars.
Stone told community planners that police need to have an open line of communication with community businesses and residents in order to be effective.
“We have to live within the law and a lot of the time we rely on your complaints,” she said. “Call us and we’ll have the Neighborhood Resource Team, city code compliance officers or city neighborhood prosecuting officials to come out and clean up these areas, ask people to move along.”
Surwilo said it’s “not illegal to be homeless and out on the streets.” But, he added, that doesn’t mean to say illegal lodging can’t be enforced.
“If someone’s sleeping in the doorway of someone’s business or in the back of an industrial area, call us and those people will be going to jail, or to detox or somewhere,” he said. “Most of what we do is on a complaint basis. If you have a problem, call us so we know, and we can put it at the top of our list for the next day.”
Merchants who attended the
Aug. 21 NBCPG meeting pointed out that the Midway and Point Loma areas are the “gateways” to the Old Town Transit Center and Lindbergh Field, and the first thing many visitors see.
One merchant said the police practice of moving the homeless from one place to another just puts a “Band-Aid” on the problem.
“We are a Band-Aid,” agreed Stone. “It’s like squeezing a tube of toothpaste, moving from this end to that end. We’re just moving people around, but we’re moving them out of your neighborhood.”
A big part of the problem with the homeless, Stone said, is that, more often then not, they refuse referral services police have to offer them.
“We can’t make people seek drug, alcohol or mental-health services,” Stone said. “We can’t help them unless they want to be helped.”
Surwilo said homeless issues aren’t going away anytime soon.
“The mayor (Filner) had talked about eradicating homelessness, but that train has left the track and I don’t think it’s coming back any time soon,” he said.
For more information or to share concerns, call Stone at (619) 692-4904 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.