San Diego’s Tent City: Everynight in front of the downtown library

by on April 3, 2009 · 18 comments

in Civil Rights, Economy, Health, Homelessness, San Diego

It's about 5:30pm everyday in front of San Diego's downtown Library as our own Tent City is erected. Photo: Patty Mooney

Patty Mooney informed me that every night in front of San Diego’s downtown main library, a tent city pops up – right in front of the doors, and also across the street, in front of the Post Office.

Here is what Mooney wrote in her own blog, A Diary Left Open, about her observations about San Diego’s tent city and our homeless:

It is now legal for homeless to camp out next to public buildings in San Diego from late afternoon to the early morning. That must take a lot of pressure off people who have nowhere to go, and it also adds an element of community. We humans are stronger together than apart.

One of the homeless men did not want me to take his photograph and seemed upset so I went over to talk to him and explained that I am a documentarian who has been photographing the homeless for many years because I want to make everyone aware of the situation. He said, “I don’t believe you.” I asked him, “Do people walk by without even looking at you?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “I don’t think that’s right.” I looked deep into his eyes. He said, “Don’t make me cry,” and he was welling up with tears, so I told him that it was a pleasure for me to meet him and I touched him lightly on the shoulder as he walked away.

Every human being needs and deserves to be loved. Of course it starts with loving yourself. But what about people who never learned how to do it? Maybe their parents didn’t give it to them, or gave them something other than love. Many of them are children in adult bodies. Also, with all the recent foreclosures on homes, entire families are living in their cars, homeless. Why not help them?

Just before leaving the area, I met “Hallmark” who had arrived to serve hot beverages and soup to the homeless people. Once again, my premise was proven correct: people are intrinsically loving. It is the right thing to do, to care for one another. After all, a community is only truly healthy when ALL of its members are happy.

During the summer months, Patty Mooney told me, many of our homeless gather at 16th and Island during the day.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

4Ner de Lemon Grove April 3, 2009 at 4:05 pm

we all look the other way. it is so painful to see them, but, gee, it’s more painful to them.


Patty Jones April 3, 2009 at 4:12 pm

So it’s legal to to camp out next to public buildings, but still illegal to camp out in a bush somewhere? So, they’re not ticketing people on the street but still rousting people in canyons or riverbeds? I wonder what made them change the law. Must be too many white folks on the streets these days…


OB Joe April 3, 2009 at 4:18 pm

Ever since Ronald Reagan was elected, the numbers of people living on the street mushroomed. Many of these people, Patty, were and have been white. So being white and homeless is not a new thing. I would bet you, in fact, white homeless are in disproportion to their numbers nation-wide.


mr fresh April 3, 2009 at 4:55 pm

so we have two alt-weeklies, one daily paper, a couple of “hyper-local” websites, a gaggle of tv news crews running around town looking for britney spears’ underwear and a BLOG from the beach get to bring this story to light.


lane tobias April 3, 2009 at 8:59 pm

fresh, this is exactly why what’s happening here on the rag is so important. san diego’s news media lacks balls, plain and simple.


jon April 4, 2009 at 8:25 am

City Beat used to do a weekly homeless story and it was really eye-opening. I’m not sure why they stopped running it, but I wish they would bring it back. The Reader is a waste of paper and the UT is just a friggin mess.


jon April 4, 2009 at 8:58 am

Also, KUSI for local tv news is probably the best choice. Sure, they’re still a little hokey at times and Rod Luck turned out to be a wife beater, but they highlight a lot of local artists/musicians and Turko is pretty great. I just watched a segment they did on the slow food movement and they talked up the importance of local farmers markets and organic restaurants. So they’re pretty much better than the rest of the local outlets in my opinion. Oh, and they’re independent. That probably makes the biggest difference.


Frank Gormlie April 4, 2009 at 8:58 am

Jon, yeah they did, and then the last issue was a front copy with all the photos of the various homeless folks they interviewed, with part of the caption saying “so what?” as if nothing happened because of their year long focus. Nothing happened because this city is fairly heartless.


Frank Gormlie April 4, 2009 at 9:00 am

jon – you and I just posted at the same time.

Yeah, KUSI was the best station during the 2007 fires – see my post about that – it was one of my very first posts on our then-new blog. It was October 2007. But wait, before you lavish them with any more praise, check out why they kept having Duncan Hunter on during the fires- as if he was a frigging expert or sumthin.


Neighbor Guy April 4, 2009 at 4:05 pm

jon & Frank – In that CityBeat issue that ran the photo collage of the homeless people they’d interviewed there was an article explaining the discontinuation of the feature. The two main focuses were on the feeling of despair that they hadn’t seen any progress on homeless issues after a year of publishing a blurb a week and the fact that doing the assignments just bummed out the staff.


lane tobias April 5, 2009 at 11:29 am

i understand why it would bum out the city beat staff. there are plenty of people on the front lines with the homeless here in san diego (myself included) who hear dismal, dismal stories on a daily basis. sure its a bummer, and i can guarantee that burnout is on the horizon. that seems to be the main complaint from those in the helping professions: the cycle is endless.

KUSI, particularly Turko, gets about as provocative as a local news source can get. citybeat really has the potential again to shine a light on this stuff. im sure their resources are harder and harder to come by as money gets tight (ive noticed their issues keep losing pages…), but maybe they could bring something like that back? it just is not acceptable that in such a beautiful city so many people have to live on the fringe. lets keep this going!


John Stump, City Heights April 8, 2009 at 10:20 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 so as 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


heart and soul lost May 15, 2009 at 8:15 am

It doesn’t matter to me what comments are made about houselessness (John Stump, you nailed it). Have ANY of you been without fresh water from your sinks and showers so you may clean yourself, or a place to sh** when you have to? I know that probably ALL of us really do have a true empathy for another human being, but whether they do or they don’t, I still have 3 kids I have to take care of no matter what, I have to do whatever I have to do, I’m all they’ve ever had…..I’m Mom. How must I feel? Sure, I feel a great deal of empathy for so many lost souls, lost children, we’re human beings for God’s sake. But I’ve always had heart. I’ve always struggled and fought. God wants us to labor and have a job.
I know God didn’t want me molested by my grandfather when I was 5 and kept doing it until I was 11. I know God will understand why I took money for (you figure it out) so I could exchange that money for food. God will not punish me for smoking pot because it helps to keep me from throwing up and calms my nerves, helps with the shaking. God loves me and my children, He loves all of us. But I wish I was never born. I wish I didn’t see my mother’s blood on the living room wall because dad beat her head against it. I wish the man who fathered my children would have been castrated before he could produce children that he would beat and abandon. I wish my life would have been taken before I lost my heart, and the soul…………………of my children. I don’t know where to “put us” in this puzzle. I know God couldn’t possibly want this for any of us so why won’t He just take us up to be with him? That’s my question folks!!! What are WE to do about this mess? I don’t fu***n care and I don’t know anymore because I HAVE DONE EVERYTHING I COULD to get thru and keep going. I’m sick, my family is sick. This is WAY more than despair. I personally want everyone of you to know, I appreciate knowing there souls are out there, that still have strong hearts to help us with our fight with what should be a God given right to life and to live. I just don’t have my heart anymore and unfortunately, I believe neither do my children either. I pray not but seriously, I’ve reared the kids in a life full of way too much hurt and emptiness, and struggle. We aren’t even strong in love anymore and I FEEL LIKE A COMPLETE WASTE OF A LIFE, especially as a mother. But, MY KIDS ARE NOT SELFISH and they are good. They WERE BORN to a mother that truly loves them dearly. Please, don’t walk by and say nothing. A simple “hello” goes far. And for those of us who are “houseless”, just because people walk by and don’t say hello, doesn’t mean they don’t care, I believe 92% of them do. Grab an extra burger for $1 and give it to the drunk guy, who cares why he drinks. Buy an ice cream float and give it to the kid standing at the window looking in, even if the kids parents have a Lexis. Kindness fosters goodness. Plant those seeds of compassion (if you can). It really helps when the world around us is crushing us to death. Maybe that kid you got the ice cream for, will learn to know love at a different level than they’ve been exposed to before. Just BE THERE WHEN YOU CAN, AS MUCH AS YOU CAN. God bless the world.


Sonia December 22, 2009 at 1:21 pm

I used to live across the street from the post office, which already has a women’s homeless shelter in it’s upper floors. I used to listen all night as women came in past curfew (or go out for a smoke) and would yell to have the door open. I am super glad I moved, so that I would not have to live across the street from the tent city. I had two floors of nothing but windows in my townhouse. I hoped they lowered the rent. Sometimes it bums me out that people care more for certain people than people who pay their rent, work too many hours and just want a little quiet and privacy at home. Perhaps, they should limit tent citys to areas not directly in front of the windows of residents, like on the sides or in the parking lots.


john December 23, 2009 at 8:54 am

I gotta tell ya, it really breaks my heart to hear you story, Sonia. Two floors of nothing but windows in your townhome- and each and every one facing that mass of humanity who had the nerve- the GALL, to exist in your presence.
I too share your outrage that people CARE for these people enough to write stories about them, and that my tax dollars must be wasted on a square of concrete that they can loiter on for several hours a day. I mean, who do they think they are?
Who are these people? Why don’t they have jobs? They MUST be lazy or something.
Pure sarcasm, for sure.
Of course you do have a point I haven’t missed, surely you did work hard and expected some fitfull rest each evening. Society does have a natural process which sees those with a unique combination of callous disregard for the feelings of others, rude, obnoxious behaviour and sheer ineptitude, compounded by substance abuse, become homeless and destitute quicker and easier than those who are not, so those you encountered could be expected to be boisterous and rowdy.
However, it looks like on one of the first qualities, you’re a shoo-in. Better hope the economy doesn’t get much worse, if it does that alone may soon be enough.


Jamie Cole August 28, 2011 at 1:30 pm

Patty could you send me an email sometime? all my friends are out in san diego and i’ve tried to search endlessly from missouri to find them. The girl i love is out there and i just want to find her and make sure shes ok. shes one of the only young females that doesn’t look homeless. Perhaps you may know her.


Patty Jones August 28, 2011 at 1:40 pm

Jamie, I have forwarded your comment to Patty Mooney. Good luck to you.


earl August 19, 2012 at 9:29 am

I lived in SD for twenty years. Probably the closest to heaven we will ever get. I loved it. I never had problems working or ever find work. When it hit the fan in 2008 I had to leave. I had already been unemployed a year and received unemployment for six months. Had I not left when I did, I would be downtown in front of the library. It is not just the mentally ill and people who just want to be homeless. It is people who once had great jobs, owned homes, etc. When I think back on my self esteem without work and the threat of homelessness, I shudder at how these people feel. Imagine no hope. Please, dont look the other way even if it is depressing. They need us just to feel human and see them as people. So sad……………….


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