Is it a Neighborhood Watch-style Facebook page with members who share local crime alerts.
Or is Take Back Oceanside a vigilante site that uses social media shaming to have fun at the expense of local homeless?
The Take Back Oceanside Facebook page was founded last year with the idea that committed local Oceansiders could “take back” their town from those bad guys without addresses. Take Back members got in the fun by posting their favorite photos of downtrodden homeless. Some mentally ill. Some felled by substances. Some were just simply without a home.
Either way, it’s been a platform for Oceanside locals who enjoy sharing photos of the less fortunate including a man with soiled pants or a lady rummaging through a dumpster. Then there’s photos of men sleeping at a bus stop, outside the police station or on the sidewalk. There’s plenty of tents and trash and comments like “Why can’t we scoop these people up and bus them to Victorville.” One used comedy to describe a man found sprawled in the dirt near the Oceanside airport: “He fell out of the sky jumping…parachute failed.”
Take Back Oceanside once had a post that described a local vigilante group that beat up a local homeless man, but was taken down. The site once offered this helpful hint: to really annoy the homeless, douse their clothes with ketchup while sleeping.
“Yes there is some pretty graphic stuff on there,” admits Take Back website founder Drew Andrioff. “The misconception is that we hate homeless people and that’s not the truth. We feel that those who live on the street are not only a danger to themselves, but they put others at risk as well. Murders and attacks in my neighborhood have been on the increase and part of that is due to the homeless. I’ve found defecation and needles in public. The problem has gotten horrendous.”
Andrioff says except for the violent posts, he does not like to remove input. “As long as they are respectful and civil, I’ll let anyone speak their mind.” Andrioff says he bans anyone from his site that posts violent comments.
A local businessman, Andrioff says he has mixed feelings about the public shaming part. “But the fact is, I got a message from a guy who was passed out on the street and when he saw himself on line, he says that got him to get himself better. He’s been sober for two years. We see this as a tool to help solve the issue. We want to be a catalyst for change.”
One might think creating a website to smear the already vulnerable homeless would outrage a local outreach program that helps the needy. But Tim Yzaguirre, executive director of the Bread of Life Rescue Mission says he does not get irate over content that sometimes pops up on Take Back Oceanside.
“Some people obviously have nothing better to do,” is about as confrontational as Yzaguirre gets. “We respond by saying ‘God tells us to love to love our neighbors.’ I have tried to talk with some of those people on Take Back. I try to see where their heart is coming from.”
Bread of Life is on the front lines, trying to deal with the issues that have tormented those lampooned on Take Back Oceanside. Its success has drawn the attention of the county of San Diego and the city of Oceanside who are looking at Bread of Life's unusual but successful business model.
Run completely by volunteers, Bread of Life spent $11,000 towards an administrative conditional use permit that will allow it to open its Life Skills Academy that will help people with resumes, computer training, nutrition, and financial management. Drawings have already been created for a remodeled Bread of Life campus. Yzaguirre, who gave up his job as a manager at Chase Bank, says he is confident Bread of Life can raise the $2.5 million to buy the complex it rents and then build the new facility.
Currently Bread of Life runs a thrift store, distributes boxes of food three days a week to seniors and low income neighbors, and employs a staff of advocates who deal with employment, medical, and veteran needs. From November through March, Bread of Life houses “neighbors without homes” overnight in its 50-bed shelter. Sometimes there is no room at the inn. “There were some nights we could have had 100 people stay overnight,” said Yzaguirre.
“We are not a not a homeless shelter,” says Yzaguirre. “Our real name, Bread of Life Rescue Mission, speaks to our calling to love our neighbors.” He says Bread of Life is allowed to offer overnight stays because the city of Oceanside recognizes Bread of Life as a church, and because the sleepovers are part of a cold weather emergency decree. Each night overnight visitors can participate in a voluntary half hour spiritual reading or musical presentation. Church groups come in and feed the guests a hot meal that night.
Bread of Life was launched in 1999 as a food handout program in Carlsbad’s Holiday Park. Two years later it became a legal non-profit and moved into its current address on Apple Street just north of Oceanside Boulevard.
Yzaguirre says unlike other organizations that help the needy, Bread of Life administers a urine test to make sure its overnight guests are drug and alcohol free. I note that on any giving day there might be a few Apple Street zombies wandering nearby. Yzaguirre says it is due to a nearby methadone clinic that he wishes was not there and which causes unnecessary bad relations with the neighbors.
One of the key employees is Jim Fulford, a long-time Oceanside resident who says he was saved by Bread of Life six years ago. He now volunteers his time as Bread of Life facilities manager. Fulford says violence against the homeless mentioned on Take Back Oceanside is a real thing. “They hire gangers to beat up the homeless who stay along the [San Luis Rey] River. It happens every day.”
“I believe too many of our neighbors without homes have been preached to, and we want to show what Christ taught by example,” says Yzaguirre. “The old phrase ‘action speaks louder than words’ is us in a nutshell.”