Why not Sherman Heights?

A resting place for homeless stuff

Our Lady's School principal Noel Bishop: "It seems like an open invitation for bringing these people back into our community."
  • Our Lady's School principal Noel Bishop: "It seems like an open invitation for bringing these people back into our community."

Matt Armstrong found a booby trap in Manzanita Canyon on March 6.

“It was a fishing line with two syringes across the doorway,” Armstrong said. “I noticed the trap straight away as soon as I walked up to converse with her, but she denied making the booby trap to protect her stuff.”

Last year, Armstrong, 52, cleaned out over 2000 pounds of trash and debris in Manzanita Canyon and the surrounding canyons by his Azalea Park neighborhood.

Since the year started, he said that the homeless dwellings and campfires are less apparent in their area of City Heights. Besides the booby traps, other issues have arisen.

“This is the first booby trap I have found of dangerous proportions,” he said. Some homeless encampments are surrounded by cans to alarm the dweller if someone approaches. Many tie down their valuables with bungee cords and rope underneath a tarp.

Linda Pennington, 68, has been cleaning the canyons and streets of their City Heights neighborhoods.

“I did encounter a piece of barbed wire at the entrance of a camp on a hillside above my Auburn Creek project,” she said. “There was brush on both sides and the wire was face level and I almost walked right into it.”

In the last two years, Pennington lead her San Diego Canyonlands’ crews to clean out 8.3 metric tons of trash, which consisted of furniture, mattresses, plastic (bags, packaging, wrappers, and single-use food containers), and wood.

On March 9, the two City Heights homeowners attended an agenda meeting with the San Diego Housing Commission, reps from the City, and many residents from the Sherman Heights and Logan Heights neighborhoods — at 1122 Broadway.

“Linda told me it was an important meeting for homeless storage,” Armstrong said.

“My perspective is that the City is finally moving on this problem,” Pennington said. “Storage is a huge issue for getting homeless off the streets and I’m all for supporting the City’s efforts.”

Eric Young II, a community representative for Mayor Kevin Faulconer, invited Pennington to the community forum meeting. “The City will open a new storage facility this spring,” he said in part of an email to Pennington.

At the meeting, the community discussed with City officials and members of the SDHC, the proposed Transitional Property Storage Facility at 116 S. 20th Street in Sherman Heights. If approved by the City Council, it will hold up to 1000 locker units for the homeless population.

This is not the first transitional storage center site in San Diego.

On May 3, 2014, a storage site was opened by the SDHC at 252 16th St. in East Village. According to the SDHC website “The original TSC opened its doors in February 2011 as a result of a legal settlement that required the City to provide a check-in center for Downtown homeless."

The settlement resolved a Federal class action lawsuit that alleged the City violated the constitutional rights of homeless individuals by destroying personal property they left on public streets. The initial operation of the center was funded by $100,000 from the settlement.”

On March 7, I spoke to a couple of ex-homeless in Imperial Beach. One was homeless in the East Village area for almost 12 years and the other lived on the Imperial Beach streets. They both said that their belonging (including important paperwork and identification cards to help them get housing and medical attention) were always at risk when they fell asleep “underneath the stars.” Other homeless individuals say that it’s difficult to obtain and keep a job, if their personal belongings are lugged with them to their potential places of employment.

At the meeting, many of the speakers that came up were said to be surprised by the plans because the community had no input.

“The principal of Our Lady’s School, Noel Bishop, brought about 20 kids in school uniform,” Pennington said, “and they stood with him during his turn to speak.”

While half of Our Lady's School (North Campus) is located at 650 24th Street, the other half (South Campus), is located at the Our Lady of Guadalupe church, located at 1770 Kearney Avenue. A few houses down from the church, along the curve, sits their students’ play area, which is also located on the backside of the proposed homeless storage facility.

“At one point we did use it as a playground, but now it’s kinda difficult,” said Bishop in a phone interview on March 13. “They (the kids and staff) stopped using their playground four years ago.” On a Google Maps screenshot of the properties, homeless tents can be seen lined up within feet of the children’s former play area. “By putting this storage facility there, you’re inviting elements from the community that we don’t need in our school community,” he said. “The city’s done a good job of trying to clean up the area, and now by bringing this back in, its just going to bring back what we had gotten rid of.”

“The residents out-weighed us storage facility supporters,” Armstrong said.

“I spoke of the droves of homeless setting up camp in our canyons, parks, streets and alleys and that we absolutely have to house the homeless and provide services – and that all of San Diego needs to step up and take a piece of this,” Pennington said. She then reminded the audience of she and her 2,248 volunteers that pulled 292 dumpsters worth of debris out of Manzanita Canyon in the last 1.5 years and that Armstrong, herself, and others had gotten vaccinated against Hep A because they stepped forward with shovels and picked up the feces and needles left behind.

The two said that there were so many people that wanted to speak, but they had to put them into a separate room and the cafeteria — outside of the meeting.

“I felt sorry for Randolph and Michelle,” Pennington said, “whose house is next door [to the proposed storage facility] and has a driveway at the end of the street.”

According to the Google Maps screenshot of the area, parking is already scarce in the neighborhood. If the facility moves in, some residents like Randolph and Michelle, who’s home is accessed through 20th Street, might have some physical obstacles to overcome before entering into their property.

Pennington sympathizes with their Logan Heights and Sherman Heights neighbors. “We’re dealing with a disaster that we find next to our schools and homes, in our parks, canyons, streets and alleys,” she said. “At least the storage facility will be a controlled situation.”

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