Clairemont braces for homeless housing

Residents fear the project will exacerbate growing transient problem

Jason says, “Too many greedy people in stone houses are throwing those stones at those of us living in paper houses.”
  • Jason says, “Too many greedy people in stone houses are throwing those stones at those of us living in paper houses.”

A proposed homeless housing project in Clairemont seeks to turn an old office building in the Balboa Mesa Shopping Center into 52 permanent apartments for the chronically homeless. The proposed housing is located on Mt. Alifan Drive, a couple of hundred yards southwest across a strip mall parking lot from the intersection of Clairemont’s two main thoroughfares, Balboa and Genesee Avenues.

Residents have mixed feelings regarding the project, and some say they need to know more before deciding to support the project or not. Others are either adamantly opposed or ferociously in support.

The proposed housing location at 5858 Mt. Alifan, across a strip mall from the intersection of Genessee and Balboa Avenues, is currently an office building.

The proposed housing location at 5858 Mt. Alifan, across a strip mall from the intersection of Genessee and Balboa Avenues, is currently an office building.

Valerie said she would like to move into the Mt. Alifan housing, and said for someone like her, homeless and single without children, there are few resources. “It seems like the entire neighborhood has homeless phobia. I’ve only been in this neighborhood six months, and it’s full of persnickety old people who feel entitled to pretend they own this part of San Diego. It’s like every house here has the original owners living in it. I think the average age here is 67 or higher. And of course, they all have their grown 40-year-old children living with them. It’s like no one has a life here. They all stay huddled in the 1960’s mentality. Very annoying and depressing.”

The co-developers, Wakeland Development and People Assisting the Homeless, are experienced at these types of housing projects. If the city gives the go-ahead, the Mt. Alifan parcel will be purchased in 2018, construction will begin in 2019, and leasing of apartments will happen in 2020. Wakeland and People Assiting the Homeless will both own and operate the facility.

Abandoned shopping carts are a normal sight near the proposed homeless housing — the gray building across the street and to the right.

Abandoned shopping carts are a normal sight near the proposed homeless housing — the gray building across the street and to the right.

The idea behind permanent supportive housing is to get people off the street into a forever home and then offer services designed to keep them there. The cost of housing the chronically homeless, supporters say, can be much cheaper than the cost of emergency services and police officers responding to related calls that sometimes result in “three-hots and a cot.” One resident said this is what a homeless man gleefully calls jail whenever she threatens to call the police on him.

In permanent supportive housing, services offered can help with employment, health, money management, mental health services, and substance-abuse treatment programs. Tenants, who will be selected from the county-wide Coordinated Entry System via a questionnaire that prioritizes homeless people, don’t have to take what is offered in order to stay housed.

Where does a pleasant 74-year-old homeless woman sleeping in front of the public library rank compared to a menacing 36-year-old meth-head dealing drugs across the street in front of Carl’s Jr.? (These two examples correspond to known homeless people in the Clairemont area.)

Lisa, who has lived in Clairemont for 20 years, explained how the questionnaire works. She used to work as a caseworker for an organization like People Assisting the Homeless placing people into shelters and voucher-based housing. “Every one of my clients had a record and a drug problem,” she explains. “They are going to choose people that have a high risk of relapse. Just because you are most at risk doesn’t mean you are elderly, a vet, or sick. You could still be on heroin you can’t kick, you’ve had the shit beaten out of you, or you are addicted to meth.”

She is concerned about what happens once these tenants move into her neighborhood. “Things can change in nine seconds, you need someone there that will be able to handle things.” She said a security guard won’t have the proper training.

Lisa and others don’t see how the “drug den” behind the Vons adjacent to the proposed housing and the 7/11 across the street (at Mt. Alifan and Genesee) will work with drug addicts as tenants.

Sandy, not her real name, is apprehensive about homeless housing coming into the neighborhood when no one is promising to take the homeless people off her neighborhood streets. She says she and her husband worked hard to purchase their own home seven years ago. A few years ago when a drug house appeared in her neighborhood, so did homeless people. Recently, Sandy was forced to get a restraining order against a middle-aged homeless woman that wouldn’t stop defecating in her front yard. When asked to leave, the homeless woman would threaten Sandy with rocks stockpiled in her shopping cart.

“She seemed pretty mellow in the beginning. The first time I noticed her, she was sleeping in my neighbor’s front yard. Over the last year, she’s gone to the drug house more and become more erratic.”

When Sandy first filed a police report, she says the officer told her it wasn’t illegal for someone to defecate or urinate in public unless an officer witnessed it. Sandy had to pick another reason: the homeless woman was trampling her plants.

The drug house hosted a homicide in early January. On a Tuesday night in February, Sandy was doing neighborhood watch patrol when she took a photo of a license plate associated with the drug house. “The driver of that car chased me, driving erratically and threatening me, swerving her car toward me while she filmed me.” On Thursday, Sandy says she saw the same car on her street, set on fire by the same driver after fleeing the scene of a crime elsewhere.

Sandy and her neighbors plan to sue the drug house property owner to get the nuisance out of their neighborhood. “I picked up 184 cigarette butts on the street before it rained last time,” she complains. “I know half of those are from homeless people.”

“We’re not all crazy and we’re not all on drugs, says Jason, a young homeless man sitting near the proposed project. “Homeless people comes in all colors, shapes, and sizes.” He said 90 percent of the problems that homeless people have are related to the stress of how they are dismissed by those that aren’t homeless. “Things you take for granted — like showering or having a place to go to the bathroom without being hassled — are stressful for us.”

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His message to the powers-that-be about the “homeless problem” is this: “I don’t want to play their game of ‘Monopoly,’ I want to play the game of ‘Life.’ I don’t want to be your game piece, I want a chance at a real life. Too many greedy people living in stone houses are throwing those stones at those of us living in paper houses.”

And this is EXACTLY why so many of us see transients as what they really are... lazy, entitled, useless lumps of flesh who simple want the "freedom" to do whatever they want.

Don't like houses? Great... get the fµck away from mine, shitbag.

I am all for helping those who want to get off drugs/alcohol and want to become contributing members of society. I also believe that those who are mentally ill should be institutionalized and treated. The rest are bums. They are living "ACLU" free. They are like stray dogs, the more you do for them the more you get. They are worthless human trash.

jonjr, I thought it was important to include the voices of those homeless on Clairemont streets. I talked to several, but Jason is the only one that really was willing to speak with me and have his photograph taken. He has been homeless for three years, he had a job at Subway before they closed. He wants to go to school. He suffered abuse from his stepfather. HIs mother is alcoholic. He wants to get an education and be productive. He used to have a gym membership so he had a place to shower and store his stuff, but couldn't afford it after he lost his job.

He is someone that wants the help but said that no one has ever reached out to him to let him know what is available. He's been homeless for 3 years and would probably fare well if helped now. In 5 years, maybe not as much. He sleeps in the canyons and pulls his socks up over his pants so snakes to crawl up his leg. This is his reality. His neck is killing him from sleeping in the ground for three years.

The readership of the San Diego Reader exposes its ugly head once again... the bewildered suburbanites who have self-segragated into their homogenous neighborhoods for so long they no longer are able to exhibit compassion for anyone who doesn't look like them. The irony is that the commentors leaving these heinous messages probably consider themselves good people.

Yeah, that's it. They don't look like us. It isn't the feces, the drug paraphernalia, the aggressive panhandling, the crime, the fires, the garbage... it's just because we're scared of the nobility of the differences.

I'm guessing you're one of these freeloaders, hanging out on your free phone, drinking, strumming your guitar, looking for the living you're so certain society owes you. WAAAAHHHH!

I wonder how may of these bums r_e_uhhh has taken into his/her home?

Maybe they need to built affordable housing and homeless housing equally in all areas or just build housing and have a mix of people living in it. It might work better that way so it's not so segregated.

Much like "restorative justice" in the public schools, a utopian idea is put in place but without dedicated funding for paid trained staff to make it work or to pick up the pieces when there is partial success or temporary failure. I don't have any answers to the tragedy of homeless people in the cities of the richest nation on earth, but I feel certain -- based on the history of this town, this country and most especially at this time -- there will be neither money nor political will to make any large-scale homeless housing program work well anywhere. The nearest community will be left to suck up the shortfall between the ideal and the real.

We may like to think that the US is the richest nation in the world, but it is far from that. While it is the richest of the large nations, there are about ten others that are richer and not all are oil producers. (Think Switzerland.) With current trends, the US will fall further in the rankings, and one reason for that is our failure to harness the energy of all our able-bodied citizens. We need more incentives for those who work and contribute, and fewer for those who cannot or will not provide for themselves.

Los Angeles has around 50,000-ish people on the streets. We have around 15,000-ish but could easily get there. Though, I have a feeling our count is higher with the number sleeping in the canyons. Many homeless people I talked to said they've never been counted. The number may be a hell of a lot higher than we know. I had 70 living in my one neighborhood at one time. Most of them told me they were never counted.

Looks like Jason is a strapping young man in his 20's that should have a job. Instead he lives like a rodent enjoing our fine weather while making my neighborhood look like shit. I'm a 51 year old Gulf War vet that gets up every morning at 4:15 AM to go to my job. When I come home and go to enjoy the wonderful park in Old Town it is full of drug crazed transients having a "yard sale" or sleeping or eating out of trash cans. Where are my rights to have a nice neighbhood to live in since I pay rent and taxes? The solution is simple. DON'T GIVE THESE RATS ANY MONEY! SD is so nervous about a potential lawsuit by infringing on their civil liberties that they are worthless. Something has to give. I have transients in my neighborhood that have been sleeping in the same spot for over a year right in our most popular tourist areas. The police tell them to move on and they are back in 5 minutes. It looks like crap. What happened to the law against urban camping and encroachment? Round these losers up and make a central camp at Brown Field as was previously proposed where they can get their act together! How about a mental health hospital for the deranged which I see constantly thanks to the County Mental Health office next to I-5 and their revolving door policy? We got rid almost all State Hospitals thanks to Proposition 13. Way to go! Make a beer tax to fund this camp or do something different. Are we waiting for the bubonic plague or typhoid to arrive?

I dare The Reader to post this!

John Burgess Old Town Resident

Amen! But don't blame prop 13. It was the ACLU that was the cause for the closure of the state mental hospitals. Their claim is that the mentally ill have rights to "live like rodents". While Prop 13 has its flaws it was designed to keep people in their homes and not force them out. Repealing Prop 13 will force many people out on the streets. My neighbor has lived in their home since it was built. She has no mortgage and lives on a modest income. She is 85 and can no longer work. Repealing prop 13 will force her out of her home.

John, Jason did have a job at Subway, lost it when they closed. He had a gym membership so he had a place to shower and store his stuff while he worked. He no longer has the membership since he lost his income. He does have an address to use, his brothers, so he could get a library card and apply for jobs. He said it's just hard when he can't find a place to shower and he has all his stuff in a shopping cart. He's applied for jobs but as soon as he tells them he's homeless, they won't even consider him.

So many people want them to move on. I get it, I wasn't keen on seeing a homeless man camping out underneath my neighbors window recently. He had visitors. I had to get him to move on because that's how encampments start. But I felt bad because he has to be somewhere. I don't know what the answer is, but I think we as a community need to include homeless people into solution making. Without them being on board, nothing will ever pan out no matter how much money we throw at it.

I remember a welfare system incentivizing making babies and stay home women. Maybe free stuff mentality is still a thing.

I don't think anyone becomes homeless due to incentives. True, there are some homeless people that are happy as can be panhandling and getting high and doing what they want without consideration for anyone else. There are criminals that mimic homeless behavior too and use homeless people as shields (this is a real thing, seen it myself). It's a complicated issue, but I honestly have never talked to a homeless person that is in a bad way that got there because they thought there were perks (except for a small minority that say they dig it, but if they were really honest they probably really don't all that much).

It’s typical that the people that don’t want to be judged do the judging, as we see in the comments made by the homeless quoted in this article as well as posts by Ms. Brown and r e uhhh. They criticize the elderly for wanting to cling to a time they consider to have been more desirable than the present. Clairemont is not a wealthy neighborhood. The elderly people that bought their homes when they were new and stayed there, did so for a reason. They worked hard to have a home, raise their family and try to enjoy a decent retirement. They knew their neighbors and enjoyed enduring friendships with them. A lot of them lived modestly and made smart choices to ensure they would retain what they worked hard for. It’s astounding that anyone in their right mind would wonder why people don’t want to see that scenario disappear in exchange for overcrowding, noise, pollution, crime and public defecation/urination! (or what politicians and developers like to call “progress”). What are they supposed to say to that? “Yes please, I was hoping we wouldn’t get a nice new restaurant, shop or park here.” San Diego is one of the most expensive cities in the nation. It can be hard to make ends meet even if you have a good job. It is revolting that our local and state “leaders” expect the hardworking people to shoulder the burden of housing people that have absolutely no prospects for ever supporting themselves here. There is already a large population that have moved back in with their parents because it’s too expensive to live on their own or they live in a property that resembles a mini-dorm (with no extra parking of course!). There is no logic in housing people with no real job prospects in this city. A lot of San Diegans would like to buy a house in La Jolla or Rancho Santa Fe but they don’t because they can’t afford it. You have to move to a place you can afford. Yes, the mentally ill should be taken off the streets although I agree that this will probably never happen as long as we allow the ACLU and our politicians to continue enabling them to wander around like zombies to the detriment of responsible residents, like downtown where you are spat on or threatened by the nut cases out enjoying all their freedom. Thanks “progressives”!!!! For the remainder of the homeless, rather than a welfare check, maybe what they really need is a reality check. And a message for “Valerie” in this article, the people you spoke of do have a life and you are interfering in it! It seems YOU are the one that needs to get a life instead of leeching off of everyone else’s!

I think the homeless problem is very complex. And you have a point. I mean, there are struggling working people that would like some help and the chance to move into that housing on Mt. Alifan, to allow them to move onto something better. Trouble is, we need to build something better for them to move onto eventually. There are affordable housing units all over San Diego with ticking clocks. Soon they won't have to be affordable anymore. We can't segregate poor people. There was a time when people of all different backgrounds, working poor and rich lived in the same neighborhoods, even on the same blocks, in San Diego. A bartender could live up on the hill in a house with fantastic view alongside a multi-millionaire real estate mogul or businessman. This just doesn't exist much anymore. We need affordable housing that doesn't require one to get on a list. Part of the homeless problem is tied to affordable housing. Single rooms are begin turned into luxury condos, affordable housing is being torn down for high-end housing. And then when you throw houses that are now vacation rentals and dorms, well, we have out work cut out for us. It's just sad when someone that grew up in an affordable part of town can no longer afford to live there.

That is true, especially when you consider that the average family in the 1950's could afford a new home with only one spouse working. This brings us to the related topic of depressed wages. Wages for the average American have been falling behind the rate of inflation since the 1970's. This issue will not be resolved as long as the government continues to flood the country with cheap labor from every corner of the globe. An interesting documentary to watch is "Requiem for the American Dream". It includes a history of the rise and fall of the American worker and, in a nutshell, states that although Americans on average are generous people, when the economic noose starts tightening, people are forced to look out for themselves rather than helping their neighbors. As for your comments about the vacation rentals, as long as our local government continues to allow them in residential neighborhoods, the supply of affordable housing will continue to diminish, for both buyers and renters. Even well meaning homeowners will eventually fall to the temptation of making more and more money from vacation rentals when they see all of their neighbors doing it. You know the saying - if you can't beat them, join them.

So much anger, confusion, misinformation and disillusionment. Thanks to the advent of psycho-pharmaceuticals in the 1960's, muckraking photo-journalism (see Life Magazine) and movies (see "The Snake Pit") and a societal shift toward "freedom" as an individual civil right (see "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest,") mental hospitals were closed down as unnecessary, cruel, restrictive and abusive. In fact, they never worked very well, but they did provide shelter and monitoring of patients, out of sight, out of mind. The new era proposed small, staffed continuing-care houses for the mentally ill in every community, but they never materialized as the phenomenally expensive Vietnam War began to suck up every dollar available, beginning in 1965. And we've been doing "guns" over "butter" ever since, to the detriment of public schools, public health, the mentally ill, infrastructure repair, environmental protection and public confidence in our society's resilience and ability to function in expected ways (see Reader comments here.)

Per a resident at the event on April 10, more than 200 people attended. SDG&E shut it down because the room only had a capacity for 40. A resident said more people were still coming in when she left. The event will be rescheduled sometime in Mid-May.

Clairemont residents have since started a Facebook page "Clairemont Cares" to ensure everyone stays informed and can be able to better organize and rally when needed.

Per councilmember Chris Cate: “Last evening, I joined hundreds of District 6 residents to learn about a proposed development on 5858 Mt. Alifan Drive in Clairemont. Due to heavy interest of this project, the open house, hosted by Wakeland Housing Development/PATH, had to be rescheduled. Unfortunately, District 6 residents were not given the opportunity to have their concerns heard. After hearing from those in attendance, I, too, share in their concerns and have questions. While the Wakeland Housing Development/PATH project proposal has not been officially submitted to the City’s Development Services Department, I will ensure that during the development and submittal process, the developers be held accountable to work with the community of Clairemont. As the councilmember for District 6, I will continue to advocate on behalf of all neighborhoods. I will continue to monitor this situation closely and give regular updates to the community,” stated Councilmember Chris Cate.

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