Homelessness in OB

by on April 6, 2009 · 31 comments

in Economy, Environment, Homelessness, Ocean Beach, San Diego

Local church youth helping an OB homeless man.

By OB Rag Staffer

Can you picture yourself being homeless and living in a tent city? That’s a frightening thought, but it is a looming possibility for more and more San Diegans as the economy gets worse for ordinary people.

Ocean Beach has a large homeless population. We see these people, chat with them and help them out with a buck here and there. But all the handouts and good will in the world don’t add up to enough money to pay rent. As rising rent is squeezing more and more ordinary people out of their homes (and allowing landlords to live ever-more luxurious lifestyles), the number of homeless people is increasing. Where are these people supposed to go? As long as the cost of housing continues to rise, wages continue to fall, more people lose their jobs, and Wall Street corruption drains people’s life savings, then there will be more homeless people living in the neighborhoods.

Keith of OB. San Diego CityBeat photo.

Ocean Beach attracts homeless people for the same reason it attracts the rest of us. There is no better climate anywhere. OB is a place where people can live outdoors year round without freezing or overheating. OB has plenty of open areas, parks and beaches where people can stay. OB is the end of the road (literally at the end of I-8). The OB community is generally compassionate and understanding toward homeless people. Most OB residents are poor to middle-class, many are just a few paychecks away from being homeless themselves. And OB is a beautiful place to be.

A few years back, the homeless shelter on Midway Drive was turned into a FedEx facility (the big tent next to the Post Office). It was taken away from the poor and needy and handed over to a wealthy corporation. Homeless people were turned out into the streets. It used to be open during the coldest nights. Now the same people have to endure the cold whatever way they can.

In June of 2007, City Councilmember Toni Atkins voted NO to continued funding for a homeless shelter, to save the city $465,000. Then she voted YES to spend $520,000 to buy a vacant lot in City Heights to turn it into Toni Atkins Park. Maybe Toni Atkins Park should become a tent city for the homeless people who were displaced from the shelter.

More of San Diego's "Tent City" - Commercial Street overpass.

San Diego’s downtown skyline is dominated by the new high rise glass-walled condominiums along Pacific Highway and Kettner Blvd. Newer neighborhoods are full of pink stucco mini-mansions. Who in San Diego can afford to buy these places? Are they meant to attract rich yuppies from out of town? How long will they remain empty and unsold? Why not convert them to low income housing for displaced San Diegans? I suspect that Father Joe Carroll would gladly accept a donation of a high rise building downtown.

OB Boston. San Diego CityBeat photo.

Homeless people need restrooms and showers. The city locks up many of the public restrooms in parks and beaches at night to prevent homeless people from using them. Since they have to go somewhere, there is a sanitation issue. The obvious solution is to leave public restrooms open 24 hours a day in areas where homeless people live.

Health care is a huge issue for most ordinary people, but even more so for homeless people. What happened to the free clinics? They seem to have given way to high-dollar clinics that accept HMOs and PPOs from the people lucky enough to have them. People who can’t afford to pay the exorbitant costs of health care are on their own. The US has the best health care money can buy. But without money or insurance, people are forced to rely on home remedies and self-treatment, or else just suffer and let a disease run its course.

When Reaganomics and “trickle down” began in the 80s, the number of homeless people grew. The rich got richer, the poor got poorer, and the poorest got trickled down on by the richest. Many middle class Americans were so busy waving the flag and chanting “God Bless America” that they failed to see what they were allowing to happen. Now we need to undo what was done. We need to get conservatives to unwrap themselves from the flag so they can see what they have done to ordinary people, and then help fix it.

Now, the government is paying billions of tax dollars to bail out the most wealthy and corrupt business people in America. But very little bailout money will find its way to help the poorest Americans pay for food, shelter and health care. It seems like a CEO can destroy a corporation and cost thousands of jobs, and be rewarded with millions of dollars. But a poor person can work for an honest living and be rewarded with a layoff and an eviction notice. No bailout money for them. And whenever anyone mentions helping the poor, it gets called socialism. Some of that bailout money needs to go for food and shelter for homeless people. This needs to change, and soon.

Conservatives like to say, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” But it drowns those who can’t afford a boat.

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Larry OB April 6, 2009 at 10:14 pm

At the very least we should give homeless people a legal option. The city needs to get into the campground business. The old De Anza Cove site is a good place to start. Other places on the bay and river already have public restrooms.

It’s a good thing that the city doesn’t run the airport the way they deal with the homeless, because then it would be a lunatic operation with cars parked all over the sidewalks and planter boxes.


Amber November 7, 2011 at 11:48 pm

and we can also do other things as well to not only help the community but them.


OB Joe April 6, 2009 at 10:20 pm

Thanks Wireless Mike for bringing the spotlight onto OB.

Congrats to the blog for focusing on the homeless. you have had a lot of articles now about the homeless, homeless vets, tent cities springing up in different cities, including now San Diego. most of us have ignored the homeless for too long.

Of course the solution is a macro one; we can hand over water bottles and spare change, but society at large must address the issue of homelessness in OB and everywhere.


OB Joe April 6, 2009 at 10:22 pm

Larry – the old De Anza Cove still has a lot of houses within its fenced-in compound. But the idea is right on.


Molly April 6, 2009 at 10:34 pm

Whoop de do! the OB Rag has discovered homelessness! Yeah!


annagrace April 6, 2009 at 10:36 pm

Wireless Mike- great article. We should be putting together a position paper to take to the City Council and Mayor. Homeless people need a multitude of services including day centers where they have an ADDRESS to receive mail. (many homeless qualify for social security and medical, but you can’t give a tree as an address) They need showers, lockers and support services. They need public toilets. (We need public toilets!) They need assistance with security and down payments on apartments. There is money coming into this City for homeless services and we need to know how it will be spent and make sure that our neighbors, people in need, benefit from this money. So let’s get working on that position paper…. We simply can’t wait for Turko or anyone else to take on this issue. How do we get food stamps to the homeless? There is additional economic stimulus money coming into San Diego for food stamps. Lane Tobias has written on this issue. Lane, what are your thoughts on how this money will be spent and where?
It is shameful that human beings are rooting around in trash cans and dumpsters for food.

It is always important for citizens to raise their voices against an injustice. As Anita Brookner wrote- “Once a thing is known, it can never be unknown.” This is very important- to continue to make the truth known. But without a course of action and remedy, the truth is too easily forgotten.


Dave Gilbert April 6, 2009 at 11:14 pm

“It is shameful that human beings are rooting around in trash cans and dumpsters for food.”

Not all, but some call themselves ‘freegans’ http://freegan.info/ but most dumpsters are now locked too.


Amber November 7, 2011 at 11:49 pm

not their fault


lane tobias April 7, 2009 at 9:28 am

great article mike! as far as homelessness in san diego goes, we should really be putting pressure on the city govt to spend every penny wisely. So much is usually spent on administration and such that small percentage points actually find their way to the people that need it, much like the bailout money that saved the big banks. And just like banking, there are cooperative measures that we can take – like a Credit Union, but for commmunity efforts to help our homeless population. I think this is something that OB can rally around. Anybody interested in discussing this in a group setting some time after the upcoming holidays?


Patty Mooney April 7, 2009 at 10:34 am

David “The Waterman” Ross who has been passing out water to the homeless for over three years now, has also been spending every Tuesday morning at the City Council meetings during which citizens can speak up for three minutes and make their issues known. At first he had a very difficult time compressing his speech into three minutes (if you know Dave, you know what I am talking about); however, he has since fashioned a good three-minute rant that asks for porta-potties and water fountains in the downtown area for everyone, including the homeless. He has had success in that there are now two porta-potties down there. Of course it’s not enough, and one man ranting is not enough. But just look at what one person can do and has done. Now it’s time for the rest of us to get up and do something to improve life in our communities for everyone, including our homeless.


Wireless Mike April 7, 2009 at 12:42 pm

Homelessness is a problem that needs both short term attention on the local level, and a long term solution on a national level. On an immediate human level, we need more understanding and compassion.

Immediately, people need food and shelter now, not next year. If a person can imagine themself being homeless, then they can imagine what they would want to have happen, and then do it.

Locally, city government has been consumed with land development and pension issues. They need constant reminders that the rest of us are still here, and we need representation. They have swept the homeless issue under the rug for too long. In OB, our City Councilmember is Kevin Faulconer, Council District 2.

Nationally, we need sweeping changes in government policies. We need to end the government’s emphasis on giving more money to the richest Americans at the expense of the poor, and reverse it. We need to start giving more aid and opportunities to the poorest Americans at the expense of the overly rich, at least until we can reach a good balance. That is going to be a hard sell, since the rich have a disproportionate control over the government. Fortunately for OB, we have three liberal people representing us in Congress (Diane Feinstein, Barbara Boxer and Susan Davis).

That’s how I see it.

Larry- The city should provide a legal place for homeless people to live, where they don’t get “cleaned out” periodically, and where they have sanitary facilities and a safe place to keep their belongings. It doesn’t have to be the Taj Mahal, but somewhere that people can live with a sense of human dignity. And it should be open year round, not just on the coldest nights.

annagrace- Maybe the city could fund a homeless resource center in a storefront on Newport. Staffed by volunteers, it could provide mailboxes, lockers, showers, job listings, low income housing information, internet access, and advice to anyone who needs it, all free of charge.

Lane- What about a citizens’ watchdog group to monitor how the money gets spent? It would require somebody with a good understanding of finance to spot any funny business by the city.

Lots of good ideas out there. Keep thinking and doing.


OB Joe April 7, 2009 at 1:07 pm

Yeah, some great ideas are flowing. Hey, but do you realize what rents are on Newport? So high long time businesses have to fade and blow away. Even the cops can’t afford to rent a space.


Toni Atkins April 7, 2009 at 3:55 pm

Mike, as a journalist, I’d think you’d provide information to the public, not print things out of context without back up. I did vote not to add money to the homeless shelter out of the GENERAL FUND…and with a commitment to find the money to add to the Shelter. I worked with the Mayor and Donna Frye and within weeks, we’d covered the cost for the shelter with PRIVATE funds and Housing Commission funds. The Winter Shelter was always a priority for me and I worked to extend the days for it to be in existence. We need a year around facility…which we were working on and getting dollars allocated to build a facility–that is still underway.

And, finally, apples and oranges comparing the shelter to needed parkland in City Heights–one of the most park deficient areas in the City. People who live in City Heights (with an area median income of less than $22,000) deserve park space for their kids and the community at large. You cannot and should not pit one critical need against another. They are both important issues.


Toni Atkins April 7, 2009 at 3:58 pm

and, p.s. Dave, the Waterman, Ross is a great guy! I, too, like one of your responders thinks he is the real deal with a lot of heart.


Larry OB April 7, 2009 at 7:48 pm

I suggested De Anza Cove, because I think it was a campground that later morphed into a year-round trailer home park. It seems to me that the best way to resolve that land use problem is to make it a campground again. Maybe leave parts of it fallow, and rotate the campsites around the property. That way people could be temporary residents, but still have a home year round.

Another possible site is the Eastern half of Vacation Isle. Lots of grass, and on the bus route. A very quick trip from there to the Old Town Transit hub.

There is also the South side of the San Diego River, just North of Interstate 8. Perhaps the state (Caltrans) can show the mercy that our city seems to lack.

Would it kill us to allow tent camping on the OB pier in good weather?


Patty Jones April 7, 2009 at 8:29 pm

Hell no it wouldn’t kill us Larry. And if it offended anyone I would suggest they go back to their homes and reflect on their good fortune!


annagrace April 7, 2009 at 8:37 pm

As the Obrag’s “Foreign Correspondent” I did a disservice to my community (City Heights) and our former Councilwoman Toni Atkins, who worked very hard on not only my district’s issues, but issues facing the whole city, such as homelessness (and transit and libraries, etc.) I chose not to address the park issue in the article because of the larger context. Wireless Mike- you wrote a great article. And Toni is quite right about our lack of parks (and just about everything else in City Heights.) Bottom line- you two would have a lot to talk about and agree about. We need to build coalitions across the most impacted districts which include Mission Valley, Pacific Beach, downtown, City Heights and of course OB. Let’s keep talking to each other and hammer out something together.


Old Hermit Dave April 7, 2009 at 8:58 pm

I have been away from OB rag for awhile. Is there a way to post a topic? I read a poem I wrote about the OB Auto Zone guy who thinks we should not be allowed to have any workers come outside and check our batteries and stuff like they used to. I read it Monday night at Drunk Poets and would like to post it here. Seems like we used to be able to do more than just comment on other people stuff before.


doug porter April 7, 2009 at 9:22 pm

Attn: Toni. We really do appreciate your visiting the blog and your comments. I should point out that OBRag posters are not necessarily journalists. Real journalists (used to) get paid; now they are mostly laid off. And we’re not so sure around here about how real some of that journalism was/is anyway. Whatever journalism happens here is the result of the combination of things that our peeps write AND the comments that come in. All we ask of our writers is that they be as honest as possible about what they are writing. Thanks for adding your info to the story. I’m sure that Mike appreciates it too.


Wireless Mike April 7, 2009 at 11:34 pm

Ms. Atkins- I appreciate your comments. First, I am not a journalist, but a concerned citizen writing about a topic that I feel passionately about. Our city government needs to place a much higher priority on funding and services for the homeless and low-income citizens. The present conditions are a disgrace for “America’s Finest City.”

San Diego needs more parkland and open spaces, and the park in City Heights is no exception. I fully support the council’s vote to acquire and develop new parkland. We should have many more neighborhood parks than we have today, because they enhance the lives of people in the community.

However, I strongly disagree with Mayor Sanders’ line item veto of the funding of the emergency homeless shelter from General Fund reserves, which you supported in a 34567-yea; 128-nay vote on June 11, 2007, a vote that brought Donna Frye to tears (as seen on City TV 24.) Funding of homeless shelters should be a top priority for the city, along with public education, health and other issues necessary for the quality of life of lower income citizens. $465,000 is a drop in the bucket of the $2.9 Billion City Budget that Mayor Sanders approved. So, Ms. Atkins, you and I respectfully disagree on that issue.

The council approved the Mayor’s veto of $465,000 for the homeless shelter on June 11. That line item veto can be seen on page 5 of the following link:

The very next day, the “Request for Council Action” form to buy the park for $520,000 was approved on June 12 to be heard at the council meeting on June 19. That document can be found at the following link: http://www.blogofsandiego.com/CityCouncil/Ex-Members/Atkins/1472_Mini_Park.pdf

Ms. Atkins makes it clear that there is no connection between these events, and I have no reason to doubt her. My intent is not to discredit Ms. Atkins or her work. But when an apple looks and tastes suspiciously like an orange, it will be compared to oranges. For a democracy to exist, citizens must keep a skeptical eye on their elected officials and keep them answerable to the citizens they work for.

In any case, our city government has a shameful track record in its handling of homelessness issues, as evidenced by the increasing number of homeless people we see living on the streets around us every day. Private funding is helpful and welcomed, but much more immediate public funding is needed if it is to make a significant improvement in the lives of San Diego’s homeless citizens.


annagrace April 8, 2009 at 7:33 am

Mike-you are right on the money about the issue of privatizing what we view as necessary and legitimate government functions. Privatizing works on two different levels-private donations used in the instance cited for the homeless program, but equally relevant when discussing the reprieve to maintaining fire rings and expanded Sunday hours at select libraries,etc; and privatizing via contracting out city functions to the private sector at a cost to the taxpayers. Both are ultimately destabilizing to our economic and social fabric. Part of the solution to addressing the issue of homelessness must begin with a civic exercise in which we clearly define what we expect our government to do.


John Stump, City Heights April 8, 2009 at 10:26 am

Dear Friends,

I agree entirely that our society and leadership are greedy selfish and non humans concerning the poor and needy. {I am avoiding the term “homeless” as that term stereotypes individuals that may not be homeless but are rather “houseless” or perhaps needy souls.)
In OB and City Heights we have indigenous persons who have lived in our neighborhoods for years and consider the neighborhood their home even though they do not rent a house. These persons are “houseless” not “homeless”. We could easily make life better and more pleasant for these individuals.

Schools, parks and public building could be designed and operated to provide access to sanitary washrooms, showers and dry sleeping platforms. The current approach is to shut out persons of need and to fence of these buildings to deny admission. Every park should have the showers and facilities we gladly provide to sun bathers at the beach.

The taxpayers annually provide the Zoo some $10 million dollars to house monkeys; but fights to a crisis to find a couple of hundred thousand for the winter shelter. Nearly $7 million is spent by the City for the regulation and control of animals in each budget year- there is a lot of money for an animal shelter but little for human care. So the City spends some $17 million to take care of Bonzo, Fluffy, and Fido but almost nothing to take care of our fellows. There is little debate and no audit review of these expenditures

The Mayor and Council leadership try to weasel out of this municipal responsibility by placing the burden on the County of San Diego. They want to make human care someone else’s problem.

The original charter of the City of San Diego contained a Department of Public Health and Social services (Article V Sections 60 -61. In the 60’s, based on promises of efficiencies, the voters permitted the consolidation of these services with the County Regional government. These promises have not been fulfilled and it is time to review the needs and meet or obligations.

I think that in the upcoming 2010 City Budget adoption process we must consider a Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs which addresses human health and survival needs first before any other matters and expenditures. Please ask the City leadership to spend at least as much on humans as animals in the 2010 Budget. $17 million dollars will go along way to meeting the needs of the poor and needy residents of our City.

Finally, Solutions start with each of us and not just the government.
Ask yourself, what are you doing to solve this challenge? Do you share?
All the best
John Stump
Jwstump @cox.net


Pat Flannery April 8, 2009 at 11:45 am

What this means is that we are not done with Ms. Atkins yet, or rather she is not done with us. She wants to get her snout in the public trough one last time. Why did she turn up on the OBRag today? Because she has her name down for a big public job: Bersin’s old Airport job when he gets tapped by Obama for border duty. It is all about money, her retirement money. Let me explain:

Atkins and Madaffer were chiefs of staff for Christine Kehoe and Judy McCarthy respectively, before inheriting their bosses’ seats on the City Council. They each have approximately 16 years service with the City. If they purchased cheap “air time” they have more.

Pension is “final year’s salary” times “years of service” times a “multiplier”. If Atkins or Madaffer were to take retirement now their “final year’s salary” would be under $80,000. What if Atkins were to land a $250,000 per year job with the Airport for just one year? Her annual pension for the rest of her life would increase by 3.125 times. What if Madaffer were to land the Redevelopment Czar job (which he is politicking for) at a similar salary? That is what this is all about.

It is no surprise to me that Atkins turned up on the OB-Rag. She cannot allow negative local comments on the record when her name surfaces for the Airport job. That is why she jumped all over one of the most genuine and gentle souls in San Diego, “Wireless Mike”.

For her to say here on the OB-Rag “The Winter Shelter was always a priority for me” is nothing short of nauseating. For a better understanding of how Atkins sold out the San Diego homeless in 2007 read my blog dated June 17, 2007.


This woman needs to find employment in the private sector; she has done enough harm to San Diego posing as a “liberal”.



Dave Gilbert April 8, 2009 at 8:33 pm

John Stump wrote: “So the City spends some $17 million to take care of Bonzo, Fluffy, and Fido but almost nothing to take care of our fellows.”

At it’s most basic level, animals can’t take care of themselves while in theory people can. I’m not saying we have it all figured out or that I’m a big fan of the Department of Animal Control but the way we treat our animals say’s a lot about or society as a whole, and we can all do a better job.


Wireless Mike April 8, 2009 at 10:27 pm

Pat- Thanks for your insights, they are very enlightening.

This discussion is bringing up some very good ideas and observations. Providing for needy and homeless citizens should be a municipal function funded by city, state and federal governments. It should not have to rely on private funding. Churches and private charitable orginizations already provide much-needed help, but they are overwhelmed. Sadly, it appears that humanitarian issues are near the bottom of this city’s priorities.


Wireless Mike April 8, 2009 at 10:45 pm

I should also add that any program that provides care for the needy must be run by people who are genuinely concerned and compassionate. It takes a lot more than just money.


Dave Gilbert April 8, 2009 at 10:59 pm

Pat Flannery wrote: one of the most genuine and gentle souls in San Diego, “Wireless Mike”.

yeah, I’d like to second that!


Pat Flannery April 9, 2009 at 9:30 am

Thank you “Wireless Mike” for bringing attention to the growing homeless problem in San Diego and the callous disregard of their plight by our self-serving bloated city bureaucracy.

The CEO of the taxpayer-supported San Diego Opera Association receives an annual salary of $563,895 (not including benefits) without a murmur from Atkins or anybody else, but all hell breaks loose when the City is asked for $465,000 for a homeless shelter.

Sanders wrote: “I do not believe that it is appropriate to use General Fund monies for social service programs ….. I believe there is more appropriate use of taxpayer dollars”. Like the Opera! And Atkins agreed with him!


Atkins’ vote against the homeless shelter is a stain on her record that can never be erased. It defined her. And it is ugly. She cannot explain it away with guff about charitable funding and the need for parks in her district. She is a world-class hypocrite who sucks up to the rich and powerful.

Thank for not being intimidated by her. We need more “genuinely concerned and compassionate” people like you.



kimmi long April 21, 2009 at 12:07 pm

So here’s some good news! Stay Classy has partnered with San Diego Youth Services to raise $500K to build or renovate a shelter for homeless youth ages 18-24 – it will be the first of its kind in San Diego. So far San Diegans have pitched in over $30K toward the cause!

If you’re not familiar with our organization (Stay Classy), I’ll tell you that our mission is to engage 20 and 30-something’s in philanthropic activity and fun events that give back to the community. Every year we have a campaign and this year we are working to help abandoned youth in our community.

In some of the posts above people are very adamant that there shouldn’t be handouts without true, productive help – and all of us working to help these youth agree. There should be programs that work, and people who care, and systems that don’t use most of the cash to pay salaries but rather there’s a balance in favor of programs.

Please check out San Diego Youth Services, if you don’t already know about them. http://www.sdys.org – they are an exemplary organization that makes every San Diegan proud – they’re turning 40 next year and have built an incredibly strong set of programs ranging from street outreach to transitional housing and everything in between.

And talk about caring and compassion…if you’ve never met Walter Phillips or his staff at SDYS, you should. They are incredible.

Stay Classy is proud to be spreading the word and organizing events like the 2009 Elemental Experience that are raising awareness of youth homelessness in our own backyard(s) and helping to bring the community together to raise the money necessary. You can check out the event and the campaign at http://www.stayclassy.org/elemental.

Keep caring and Stay Classy, San Diego.


fanchon fetters July 30, 2009 at 3:40 pm

would someone please e-mail me I’m homeless due to domestic violence the shelters are full. I’m really scared to camp at ocean beach because I heard that the cops put people in jail for not paying tickets as they get tickets to camp there and in san diego I’m waiting for a reply from the civil liberties union to see if they can prevent me from going to jail because i can’t pay a ticket. Is it true that the police are putting the homeless in jail for non-payment of tickets? I’m on the street with nowhere to go. someone please reply. fettersproject@hotmail.com


Skeptic Teen Nick December 15, 2009 at 11:39 pm

I disagree w/ almost everything you say. No offense, but you are nowhere in the realm of neutrality, and your biases are painfully evident. Not only are your solutions idealistic, but they are economically unjustifiably. Also, you cam across as VERY conceited when you talked about the place you live, saying “There is no better climate anywhere. … The OB community is generally compassionate and understanding toward homeless people.” You will have to be a lot more neutral if you want to convince a majority of people to agree to take steps to help solve the homeless problem

P.S. But economically, I don’t means there’s no space in the budget, but that studying the social science of economics will show the implausibility in your plans.


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