So, if you’ve been keeping up, you know that yesterday morning we who slept along a particular sidewalk were shooed away at 5:30am by the police. I didn’t think too much of it because the police do this kind of think about once a month.
That evening, with nothing else to do, and interested to see how homeless people arrived at this sleeping area, I showed up there around 6:30pm. A few bags were scattered along the fence as attempts by some homeless to claim those areas for themselves early. Leaving a bag, or other item, to claim an area, is one of those rules of the streets that most homeless people respect. Disrespecting that claim could lead to a fight or other harassment. Still it also happens that when bags are left all day, some homeless people are apt to pilfer and steal from them. It’s a risk. As I found out last night, someone did leave a bag to claim a spot. They also didn’t want to lug all those belongings with them throughout the day. The bag was still there then the owner got back that evening, but they reported some things had been taken from it.
Being that no people were around, save these bags they had left, I wheeled my cart to the spot I wanted and locked it to the chain link fence which bordered the empty lot. Then I walked across the street to the library to use the restroom.
To be clear, my cart is not a grocery shop cart, it’s one of those smaller carts, a utility cart, that you see older people using in which to carry their groceries home – black, square framed, small wheels in the front, bigger wheels in back, stands upright.
These carts are all the rage here in San Diego among the homeless and poor folks. They are very convenient and accepted by the community. Even the city busses have designated seating for people who have these carts with them, and because some of the trolleys have narrow doors and steep steps, the trolley drivers will deploy a lift to pick you up, with cart, so to get you into the trolley. I have all my worldly possessions in my cart. And the cart is big enough to carry all my clothes, separated in two bags, one for clean and one for dirty – my tent and sleeping bag, and a bag of drawing pens etc, for if I ever get in the mood for a little art therapy. It is kind of rickety and cheaply made. It cost me 20 dollars. There are much better ones for around 40 bucks. I may upgrade with my next ssi check.
But I digress.
Usually by 7pm, a large number of homeless people will be gathered along the wall and fence, waiting for 9pm, the time when the cops say people can bed down without being harassed. Being there is competition for places to sleep on the sidewalks, it’s best to show up early. But at 7, no one had shown up yet. At 7:30pm the sidewalk was still as desolate. Being that the library on that day was open until 8pm I assumed that cops had made a point of keeping people away until after the library closed. Got to keep up good appearances for the regular citizens, you know.
I also noticed around 7pm that the downtown partnership’s clean up crew was working in the area. At one point someone came down the sidewalk with a leaf blower – behind him came a couple people with brooms and trash scoops. They didn’t bother anyone’s belongs along the sidewalk, they just worked around it all. I figured that they’d give the sidewalk a quick sweep and would be on their way, but they didn’t leave. I asked one of them what was going on. He said that someone was coming to look at the property tomorrow to buy it. The clean up crew kept working around the block and the empty lot. They eventually made three passes down the sidewalk. That was the first clue that things were not right.
On the far side of the empty lot, where other people slept, and a full block away from the library, the cops were less likely to bother people. People on that side could set up their tents and bed down much earlier in the day. I assume this was because it was farther away from the library. But this time, the downtown partnership’s “safety ambassadors” were patrolling that side, and they ended up having a minor verbal altercation with the homeless there. From where I was I could not hear anything, but the actions and body movements made it clear what was happening. The safety ambassadors did not hesitate in calling the police and the cops showed up soon after. Though I did not see anyone get arrested, the cops stayed there – they didn’t leave.
At about 7:45pm as people were exiting the library for the night, some of the homeless who regularly sleep on the sidewalk had gathered in front of the library. They too were watching the events as they unfolded. No one dared to claim their spots on the sidewalk with the clean up crew, the safety ambassadors and the cops still around. The talk among the homeless was that they expected those poeple to leave around 8pm and then we’d be allowed to start bedding down for the night. But that didn’t happen and most the homeless lingering in the area dispersed to other places in the city for the night. Others of us stuck around in hopes that by 9pm, the time when we could legally bed down, that the cops and others would leave us be. Instead, at around 9 one of the safety ambassadors rode her bicycle over and told us that no one would be allowed to sleep in the area, “any more”. She said that some dignitary was going to tour the city tomorrow (today).
Gentrification – rich people move in, forcing poor people to move out. Oh well, that’s a story as old as time.
When the safety ambassador told us that we could not sleep the night, one of the few people gathered asked, “you people keep telling me where I can’t be, tell me some place were I “can” be.”
She the told us that the west and east sides of the post office downtown is were they were allowing people to sleep. I remembered walking by the post office earlier in the day. About 2pm the sidewalk was already full of people claiming their spots to sleep. One block over was the salvation army building, were I’d spend my first couple nights in San Diego, a year ago. That’s where I found space to put out my sleeping bag. There was not enough room for my tent. I secured my cart as best I could. I put a tarp over the whole thing and locked it to the fence which bordered the property. I laid down and noticed that the street had a lot of car and foot traffic. Sleep was not going to come easily.