What appears only at night, and disappears at daylight? … San Diego’s Tent City

by on April 5, 2009 · 14 comments

in Civil Rights, Economy, Homelessness, Media, San Diego, War and Peace

San Diego's Tent City along 8th Ave., next to the Post Office. All photos: Frank Gormlie

SAN DIEGO, CA.  Last night I drove downtown to see firsthand San Diego’s own Tent City. And there it was, not necessarily in front of the main library, but along the west side of the Post Office, on the sidewalk, along Eighth Avenue.

Under the bright street lights on that block, I counted at least twenty tents lined up in single-file and a number of people laid out in sleeping bags without a fabric roof over their heads.  There were a couple of tents in front of the library doors as well. A few tents had music coming out, but it appeared most in this urban street camp were in for the evening.

Meanwhile, in a classic scene right out of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, young revelers and Spring Breakers dressed in black suits and cocktail dresses and high heels joked and clattered down the opposite side of the street.

Flashy cars and even limos slid down past the encampment. One Tent City occupant yelled out to a limo driver, “Hey! Here I am!” and then laughed. The driver looked over and half smiled.

A couple of  young guys were zipping up a tent. as I was moving down the sidewalk. The older one was African-American, the younger white. After assuring them that I was not a cop, when one of them asked why I was taking photos, they were friendly.  The older one, Jeremiah, smiled and said, “Welcome to Tent City.” He had been there a week.  They’re allowed, he told me, to set up after 9pm. Although people set up earlier then that over at the library, he said. There had been more tents on the other side of the Post Office but he thinks the police drove those tents out. “They were drug dealing,” the younger of the two explained.

“There’s more tents,” the young one said, “over on 15th and J Street, 16th and J.”  We said good-night, and Jeremiah and I shook hands.

Once again in traffic, I found a grouping of sorts of the tents along F Street, between 15th and 16th.  I counted about a dozen actual tents, down the sidewalks. They were more spread out than the Post Office camp. Cars coming off 94 roared by.  The lights of a bar and gas station illuminated the area.  The tents all seemed to closed up, folks in for the night.

“There’s a lot more tents,” that young guy had said, “down by Father Joe’s,” but he warned, “don’t get out of your car.” I declined to drive south, and headed down F Street for the freeway back to the beach.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

nunya April 5, 2009 at 1:24 pm

Amazing what happened after they “cleaned up” downtown isn’t it? (snark)


Sickboy April 6, 2009 at 4:24 am

It was only a matter of time. The situation will really hit home the first time you hear that a former classmate or co-worker is scraping by on the street. This is really happening.

The Sickboy Chronicles – Epilogue


Wireless Mike April 6, 2009 at 3:25 am

Everybody has to live somewhere, even people who can’t afford to pay rent. San Diego is one of the few places in the country where people can live outdoors year round and survive, so it should be no wonder that we have a large homeless population. If the police chase homeless people out of one part of town, they have to go somewhere else. They are not going away. It doesn’t matter how many wealthy people want them to just disappear. The way to reduce the homeless population is to create more jobs, raise wages, and reduce rents. We don’t need any more million-dollar condominiums and mini mansions. We also don’t need wealthy people making even more money from ordinary people’s suffering.

The way the economy is headed, any of us could easily end up homeless. How will the suit-and-tie yuppies cope when they lose their jobs, drain their savings, lose their homes, wear out their welcome with relatives, and can’t pay their medical bills? Welcome to Tent City.


Fstued April 6, 2009 at 7:10 am

Most of us are just 2 or 3 paychecks away from living on the street if we are lucky. A lot of folks don’t even realize it. It doesn’t take much to end of on the street or all of a sudden having to live with relatives.


Frank Gormlie April 6, 2009 at 7:33 am

Wireless – well said. sounds like a budding article.

Sickboy – welcome back, your unemployed comments are always welcomed and enjoyed. Also welcome to the ranks of the unemployed. I checked out your Epilogue (why ‘Epilogue’?) and as ever, extremely well-written. Have you considered a cross-post with us? We are currently expanding our numbers of OB bloggers, and you are invited to be more than a cross-poster, dude.

Fstued – unfortunately you are right on. ‘there but for the grace of ….’


Sickboy April 6, 2009 at 10:51 am

Thanks, Frank. You know I dig the Rag. I’ll be back on Newport in early June. I hope to have some work to share more on the journalistic side of things (as opposed to the semi-fictitious narrative scribbling of the Chronicles)… like an embedded reporter…in the war on complacency, conformity, and greed :)


annagrace April 6, 2009 at 12:00 pm

One day last week I read that the City was disbanding its winter shelters, which not only provided protection from the elements but also linked people up with services they needed- health care, jobs, and housing. These shelters “housed” a very small percentage of the total homeless population but their importance shouldn’t be dismissed. That same day I received six forwarded emails of a New York Times article “Downturn Puts Stresses on Libraries” http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/02/us/02library.html?_r=1

Yeah, I know all about the “stresses.” This past winter I watched the ranks of the homeless swell. They stood in a long ragged line across the street from the library, waiting for night to fall, for the library to close. Instead of shopping carts, they had luggage with wheels, with blankets rolls strapped to the tops. There have been more and more young people and the working poor with $1,000/month mcjobs unable to pay $1,000 monthly rents or unable to save the security deposit on more affordable housing. There are more homeless with dogs and cats.
What are absent in this discussion about homelessness are public toilets. Think about that. Our public buildings afford minimal safety and shelter from the elements, but there are no toilet facilities on our streets. The areas around our library have become a public latrine and this is a very bad situation. The City has been saying for years that there is no money, blah blah blah for something as elemental and necessary as toilets. Marti Emerald has been a tremendous advocate and because of her efforts there are now public toilets (I believe) around Island St. They are obviously not enough and they need to be available throughout the downtown area.
A whole pile of economic stimulus funds has come to the City for homeless programs. Get on the phone and start emailing Kevin Faulconer, City Councilman for the downtown area and Marti Emerald with ideas on how to use these monies. Why are we disbanding shelters? Why are we not providing public toilets?
Homelessness is not an “aesthetic” problem and too often the first response by citizens is precisely that assessment. People end up in the streets for many complex reasons. The cost of medical care,the loss of jobs and the lack of affordable housing for the working poor rank right up there. A street is not a home and it is unconscionable that we lack the political will and ability to make sure that people have a place to live. Let’s do something.


beachblogger April 6, 2009 at 5:02 pm
Frank Gormlie April 6, 2009 at 10:12 pm

We liked Anna’s comment, we posted it.

beachblogger – awesome, dude, thanks. I cropped one of those goggle photos on the street and used it as a graphic in our next article.

For a view of another segment of San Diego’s “Tent City” – check out the latest post by Wireless Mike on homelessness in OB.


Brad April 27, 2009 at 12:40 pm

Isn’t it strange that these tents aren’t seen or even talked about on the news? Instead we get news about squirrels that can water-ski.

I’ve been living in San Diego County for a few years now and am concerned with all of the tent cities sprouting everywhere. I’m afraid future generations are not going to realize what happens and has happened in our great nation concerning homelessness, health-care, and the housing issue. So I put together a video that illustrates my point. It’s called Tent City USA.


obama magic May 4, 2009 at 8:51 pm

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Dr. Larry Myers June 1, 2009 at 6:04 pm

I am in San Diego continuing research on & expanding my play “Car Sleepers & Tent City Folk” which premiered at the Pulitzer Prize winning Theater for the New City in New York City for their recent Lower Eastside Arts Festival. I was witness to harmless homeless people being harassed in Fort Lauderdale over Easter. I was helping Catholic volunteers serve a dinner to the hungry “street people.” we were all threatened with incarceration if we didn’t “move on.”


Soothsayer June 4, 2009 at 8:27 am

Wireless Mike,
I agree that creating more jobs will get some homeless off the street. But not all. I know a homeless person in San Diego – he flat out states that he has no intention of getting a job, and there is plenty of free food. In his mind, why would you work? He is not crazy or on drugs. Just very, very lazy. As long as there is plenty of free food and giveaways for the homeless in downtown San Diego, people like him will still be homeless no matter how many jobs are available. (Also drug addicts and crazies will still be homeless also, that’s another topic. I am just speaking from personal experience with this person I know from high school and have seen recently. He is a 25 year old white male from a nice family.)


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