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San Diego's Homeless Sleep A Little Easier — Emphasis On 'Little'

Morris Jackson, discusses the dangers of living on the streets in downtown San Diego, July 8, 2016.
Kris Arciaga
Morris Jackson, discusses the dangers of living on the streets in downtown San Diego, July 8, 2016.
San Diego's Homeless Sleep A Little Easier, Emphasis On 'Little'
San Diego's Homeless Sleep A Little Easier, Emphasis On 'Little'
While gruesome attacks on the homeless like those this week are rare, violence among the homeless and targeting the homeless is not, advocates say.

Some homeless San Diegans say they slept a little easier Thursday, after police arrested a suspect in a deadly series of attacks on the homeless. KPBS reporter Megan Burks visited homeless encampments downtown today. She says people there stressed the "little" in "slept a little easier." ____________________________________________________________________________ VIOLENCE 1 (MEB) 1:32 SOQ VIOLENCE 1A (02;14;34;03) You can't let your guard up. You can’t let your guard up. 49-year-old Morris Jackson was recently approved for a spot in Father Joe's Villages. He'll sleep there when the sun goes down. But today he's on the street with his girlfriend. She wasn't approved for the shelter. Jackson says he took the Father Joe's offer so he can get a step closer to a house for him and his girlfriend. But it wasn't an easy decision. VIOLENCE 1B CG: LOWER ID: MORRIS JACKSON / DOWNTOWN SAN DIEGO (02;11;55;12) As a woman out here staying alone you could be hurt or even sexually assaulted, so that's what I'm concerned about. Because I love her so much and I don't want anything to happen to her. Statistics on crimes against the homeless aren't tracked like hate crimes, so solid figures are hard to come by. Kelly Knight with homeless services provider The Alpha Project says while gruesome attacks like those this week are rare, violence among the homeless and targeting the homeless is not. VIOLENCE 1C CG: LOWER ID: KELLY KNIGHT / ALPHA PROJECT (02;18;19;17) I would like people to know that just because this individual has been caught doesn't mean that there's no more violence against homeless people. That living on the streets is scary and dangerous and we need to create more situations where we can get people off the streets until we can get them to the ultimate goal of housing. The morning after police arrested 36-year-old Anthony Padgett in connection to four attacks on the homeless, a man sleeping under a freeway in Mission Valley reported being struck over the head with a bottle. And police are still investigating at least eight reports of homeless men and women being struck over the head with a blunt object in June. Megan Burks, KPBS News

Homeless San Diegans are sleeping a little easier after police arrested on Thursday the man they believe is behind a deadly series of attacks on the homeless. But the homeless and their advocates are stressing the "little" in "slept a little easier."

RELATED: Suspect In San Diego Homeless Killings Had Violent History

"You can't let your guard up, because it's more than just one person out here creating threats and problems," Morris Jackson said.

The 49-year-old has been homeless off and on for about five years and was recently approved for a spot in Father Joe's Villages. He'll sleep there when the sun goes down, but Friday around noon he was eating lunch in a lawn chair near his girlfriend's tent. She wasn't approved for the shelter.

Jackson said he took the bed at Father Joe's so he can get a step closer to a house for him and his girlfriend. The bed comes with services to help him build a life off the streets. But it wasn't an easy decision.

"As a woman out here being seen alone, you could be hurt or even sexually assaulted, so that's what I'm concerned about," Jackson said. "Because I love her so much, and I don't want anything to happen to her."

Statistics on crimes against the homeless aren't tracked like hate crimes, so solid figures are hard to come by. The National Coalition for the Homeless relies on news reports and accounts by the homeless and service providers to track attacks targeting homeless men and women.

It estimates 1,437 attacks occurred against the homeless nationwide between 1999 and 2013. California had the largest share of the incidents at 291, according to the group.

Advocates say the number of incidents is likely much higher.

"I've been out in the street before at night with folks under the bridges, and people would drive by with paintball guns and BB guns and throw eggs and stuff, you know, and that never gets reported," Bob McElroy, head of San Diego homeless service provider the Alpha Project, told KPBS Midday Edition on Tuesday.

Kelly Knight, also with the Alpha Project, said while gruesome attacks like those this week are rare, violence among the homeless and targeting the homeless is not.

Kelly Knight discusses homeless safety, July 8, 2016.
Kris Arciaga
Kelly Knight discusses homeless safety, July 8, 2016.

"The first thing I want to say is how grateful our whole community is that the police were able to apprehend the suspect (this week)," Knight said Friday. "But people need to know that just because this individual has been caught doesn't mean that there's no more violence against homeless people, that living on the streets is scary and dangerous, and we need to create more situations where we can get people off the streets until we can get them to the ultimate goal of housing."

The morning after police arrested 36-year-old Anthony Padgett in connection to four attacks on the homeless, a man sleeping under a freeway in Mission Valley reported being struck over the head with a bottle. And police are still investigating at least eight reports of homeless men and women being struck over the head with a blunt object in June.

Richard Taylor, who's working and living at a rescue mission, said even though Padgett is behind bars, the homeless still need to take precautions similar to those suggested by police this week.

"Try to be in a group of people that aren't doing drugs and drinking, that have their senses in the right order, have a lot of integrity," Taylor said. "And you have to be tough and strong."