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San Diego Homeless Worried After Series Of Assaults

Father Joe's Villages looked for extra space in its shelters Wednesday as a string of attacks put San Diego's homeless on edge.

Volunteers from Father Joe's Villages circulated fliers in downtown San Diego on Wednesday with photos of the man police believe is responsible for two homicides and two brutal assaults targeting homeless men.

"It's wild. It's wild," said Richard Stevenson, after learning one of the attacks happened Wednesday morning less than two miles from where he and other homeless men and women lay their heads at night.

"It's bad enough, you know. Homeless people live out here (with it) as rough as it is," Stevenson said.

Photo by Guillermo Sevilla

Richard Stevenson, left, and two other homeless men look at flyers showing photos of a man San Diego Police believe killed two homeless men and brutally assaulted two others, July 6, 2016.

Officers responded around 5 a.m. Wednesday after residents in a condo complex near the downtown federal courthouse on Broadway and State Street reported a disturbance. They saw a man crouching over a victim who was on fire, and then the assailant ran away.

The unidentified victim, who was sleeping in the area alone, was taken to the hospital in critical condition, police said.

"I'm going to change my habits, you know," Stevenson said. "I just got to get some good sleep in the day time, and at night we just got to figure out what goes on at night. But the person I sleep next to, he has a dog that growls and alerts what goes on."

John Dumas, 57, recently lost his spot in a shelter and broke into tears talking about the violence targeting the homeless.

"It's very scary. You don’t know," he paused to swallow a sob. "You don't know when you're going to get attacked. You don't know what's going to happen when you live out here."

Photo by Guillermo Sevilla

John Dumas, who is homeless, wipes away a tear while talking about violence against homeless San Diegans, July 6, 2016.

An official with Father Joe's said Wednesday the nonprofit was looking for funding to offer an additional 100 beds for the homeless until the suspect is caught. The temporary cots are typically used during bad weather.

"I think any homeless services provider wants to add beds right now. We just want to add beds right now," Chief Program Officer Ruth Bruland said. "There are limitations to doing that, and so we are examining those limitations to see what is the most that we can do. Because we really need to do the most that can be done to speak to this horrifying phenomenon that's going on right now."

Bruland warned that hundreds would still be left on the streets even if more shelter beds become available.

"There needs to be a congregation of people who are homeless that gather together and congregate. Safety in numbers at this point seems to be what works," Bruland said.

"I want to draw a parallel for those who have houses," she said. "There needs to be a congregation that comes together and needs to think about what needs to happen in order to stop things from being able to happen in the first place."

Bruland said more affordable housing needs to be built in the city. People of all income levels also need to speak up about how they're squeezed by San Diego's high cost of housing, she said.

Dumas said there needs to be more compassion as the East Village grows. He said a lack of compassion has created an environment where attacks on the homeless can happen.

"These people that are running downtown, that are running these high-rises, I believe that they don't want the homeless on the streets and they want them to move somewhere else from out of downtown," he said. "I believe that's why this is taking place."

Dumas, Bruland and several others Wednesday emphasized the need for long-term solutions after what is hopefully a short period of danger on the city's streets.

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