Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Local

Chula Vista park closed, clearing encampment and forcing homeless out

Harborside Park in Chula Vista is now closed after bulldozers cleared a homeless encampment on Wednesday morning.

Contractors put up an eight-foot fence around the park while Chula Vista city workers demolished tents and cleared trash left behind.

The Chula Vista City Council authorized the temporary closure of Harborside Park for at least 90 days to address the growing concern regarding public health risks and criminal activity.

Dozens of people experiencing homelessness were forced out of the park and back on the streets.

Some prayed for a miracle and help, like Alexandra Salupe. She is in Chula Vista trying to find a home for the children she left behind in Tijuana.

“My girls cry every day because they want to be with me,” Salupe said. “God has to help me.”

While the shutdown happened, a dozen local community agencies were on site to offer options to displaced people.

chula vista homeless people
Matthew Bowler
/
KPBS
Across the street from Chula Vista's Harborside Park are some of the people who used to live in tents at the park before the city forced them out, Aug. 31, 2022.

“We’re offering them housing and everything is provided for them. That includes their hygiene, showers, and a bed right now,” said Celina Marquez who is a housing advisor with East County Transitional Living Center. The ECTLC program is faith-based and offers support for victims of domestic violence and those committed to treatment for drug and alcohol addictions.

Harborside Elementary School is nearby with young children, including Veronica Reiplinger’s 4-year-old granddaughter Annabelle who just started transitional kindergarten at the campus.

“I agree there’s a homeless problem, and I agree we need to address it," Reiplinger said. "But they shouldn’t be living in a public park where other people want to go and spend time. We can’t go there.”

The Chula Vista Elementary School District supports the city’s action.

“Our commitment is to ensure the welfare and safety of every single student. It is our first priority and will do whatever it takes to make that happen,” said Eduardo Reyes, the district’s superintendent.

During the 90-day closure of the park, Chula Vista city officials will reach out to residents and local business owners for input on long-term solutions for the site.

Updates on upcoming meetings and other important information regarding Harborside Park can be found here.

“As Mayor, this was a tough decision but necessary to address the public health, safety, and crime issues in the park — especially at a park next to an elementary school,” said Chula Vista Mayor Mary Casillas Salas.

IMG_7518.jpg
M.G. Perez
/
KPBS
Donte Churchill, the founder of Help the Homies, gives water to a homeless man displaced by the Harborside Park closing. Chula Vista, Calif., Aug. 31, 2022.

The city could extend the park’s closure beyond 90 days as officials try to figure out the best way to make this space safer and available to everyone.

Donte Churchill is the founder of Help the Homies, a grassroots organization that distributes basic necessities to the homeless community. He’s made regular visits to Harborside Park over the past two years.

“I know stuff happens and goes on, but I see people trying their best to live in this situation and get to the next step,” Churchill said.

What questions do you have about the Statewide General Election coming up on Nov. 8? Submit your questions here, and we'll try to answer them in our reporting.