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Homeless Encampment In Spring Valley Shows Spread Of San Diego’s Homeless Crisis

A homeless encampment in Spring Valley on January 7, 2020.

Photo by Roland Lizarondo

Above: A homeless encampment in Spring Valley on January 7, 2020.

Listen to this story by Max Rivlin-Nadler.

Fifty-year-old Lillian Greer, who also goes by the name Renee, has been homeless for about five years. She says she became homeless when the woman she was a caretaker for in Spring Valley died. Since then, she’s been living on-and-off in Spring Valley’s Lamar County Park.

Recently, she’s only seen the situation grow worse.

“Everyday there’s a new tent that comes, everyday new people, new people. Sometimes it’s families. Sometimes it’s just single people. It’s out of control,” Greer said.

She says she has asked the county for help in finding a place to stay. But she hasn’t been offered assistance.

“I’ve never been offered a shelter bed, but I’ve been ticketed over and over again for illegally camping,” she told KPBS.

Local organizations and the county have frequented the park to offer assistance to homeless people, especially over the past few months.

Leesha Chapman is one of the newer arrivals to the park. She’s been at the park for four months. She became homeless after she says the county seized her motorhome. She’d also been living in Spring Valley before she became homeless. While housed residents of Spring Valley have become worried about safety in the well-maintained park, she says no one living there wants this situation to continue.

“Being a mother myself, I love my kids to the moon and back and around the world, and I know everyone else is very protective of their children. To me it’s embarrassing to have to be there to be on top of a park,” Chapman said. “I can only imagine what parents are feeling. But for us homeless who are elderly, it’s the safest place that we feel, it’s on a main drag, there’s a restroom here.”

Kennycia Ray was at the park Tuesday morning with her three young children. She’s been living in a house across from the park for the past six months. She says that the homeless encampment doesn’t bother her.

“The kids love it. They have a lot of exercise equipment here, they love to see the squirrels running around, lots of different toys. We haven’t lived this close to a park anytime ever, so they enjoy it.”

VIDEO: Homeless Encampment in Spring Valley Shows Spread of San Diego’s Homeless Crisis

Ray has been homeless herself. She went back to school and was able to get a job to get herself back in a home. But she says that from her own experience, it’s difficult for many homeless people to navigate the assistance that the county is offering.

“I mean, none of these people have children or are at the age limit. So you don’t qualify for any types of benefits or housing. Or these people might have substance abuse problems and they choose to be out here,” Ray told KPBS.

Advocates admit that people simply choosing to live on the streets is an issue, but not the overwhelming reason why people end up homeless in San Diego.

Terry Pumphrey is a Spring Valley resident and a member of the Spring Valley Community Church, which offers food to the homeless once or twice a week and a food pantry once a month.

She says that there are county programs that people can take advantage of, even if many homeless people I spoke with said they couldn’t.

“Some people will tell you that and they don’t tell you that they don’t want to move where the programs are available,” she said at the church on Tuesday. “They grew up in this community and are frightened to move out of where they know how to survive.”

She said the biggest difference the county can make is by creating more housing options in the communities where people are becoming homeless.

“Homeless encampment is not the ideal situation. However we have to look at housing these people where they’re from, in situations where they can maintain themselves. And that’s not always as easy as it sounds,” Pumphrey told KPBS.

Every few weeks, sheriff’s deputies clear out the encampment. Another sweep is planned for next week.

But until the underlying issues of homelessness are tackled, both the homeless and advocates alike don’t see a solution in Spring Valley anytime soon.

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Max Rivlin-Nadler
Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover the border, which includes everything from immigration to border politics to criminal justice issues. I'm interested in how the border impacts our daily lives and those of our neighbors, especially in ways that aren't immediately clear to us.

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