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Saturday, Nov. 10, 2007 | The highly politicized fight over where to erect the city of San Diego’s tent shelter for the homeless arrived right on time again this autumn. Operated by several government and nonprofit organizations, including the Alpha Project, the shelter houses 200 homeless people each night during the winter months.
This year, the tent was to be moved from Barrio Logan to downtown’s East Village and open Nov. 1. But the new location enraged nearby condo residents.
And so, the City Council decided Oct. 30 to relocate the shelter to Tailgate Park, an East Village parking lot used for events at Petco Park. The move pushed the opening of the shelter back, but organizers expect it to open sometime next week at the new location.
We caught up with Molly Hendrick and Michael Hudson one recent morning at the Neil Good Day Center run by the Alpha Project agency. There, they told us bits of their stories and shared their perspectives on the shelter’s move and the problems with making generalizations about the homeless.
So one of the things that we wanted to do was not just talk about this tent as just something political … it’s going to be here, it’s going to be there. We wanted to talk with a couple of real people (that could be affected by the shelter delay). Molly, let’s start with you. How long have you been in San Diego?
Molly: All my life. … I was born in Texas and only lived there for a couple of weeks. And then National City. And North Park. I lived between two homes, my parents and grandparents. … I went to Sweetwater High School and Chula Vista High School.
And what have you done since then? Tell me a little of your story.
Molly: Uh, let’s see. I have grown children. My oldest daughter’s a police officer. But not here, though. Not here — she’d probably give me an illegal lodging (ticket). (Laughs.) My younger daughter is a security guard at the million-dollar condos right next to Petco Park. Yeah, and she was telling me a lot about how the people are affected with us. You know, they feel for us. Padres and Chargers (players), they live right up in there. And they feel for us; they’re really trying to help.
How often do you come to the center?
Molly: Well, I’ve been back out (on the street) for 30 days now. I was in Coronado, taking care of my grandkids. Getting my daughter off the ground, you know? First expensive apartment. Got a car, furniture, two babies. I’m really proud of her, right? … And my older daughter’s on her fourth home.
Mike, tell me a little about you. How long have you been in San Diego?
Mike: I came to San Diego in August of ’88.
OK, and what brought you here?
Mike: Opportunity. I’m originally from Louisiana, and I got out the military in ’80, and I lived in Los Angeles for several years. And I came down to San Diego on a whim, and I’ve been here ever since. … When I first came here, I was living in City Heights, but over the years I’ve lived just about all over the San Diego County.
You said opportunity brought you to San Diego; what kind of work were you doing?
Mike: Well, actually my resume is quite extensive. Since I got out of the military, I started working at Bank of America. And since that time, I’ve been doing just about everything. Construction, security. I run the gauntlet.
And are you doing security these days?
Mike: Currently, I’m doing temp — I’ve been working for this temp agency for the past several years. I do everything from catering to security.
For the both of you, how does the fact that the tent is moving — does that affect you at all?
Mike: Not likely. I’m, uh — how can I put this? It’s too many people for me. I’m hoping to [be] an employee, like a security guard or something. I’ve done that the last couple of years. If I can do that, it would be beneficial to me. … But to stay there, there’s too many people for me.
Molly: I might utilize the tent. I’ve been out (on the street) for 10 years, off and on. … It’s a good thing. They need that tent there … They can’t have it anywhere else. It needs to be in the downtown area, to utilize all of the services. The counseling, the medical. If people are disabled, mentally ill, probation, parole — they can utilize [nearby services].
It needs to be here for survival. And for safety at night. You know, there’s a lot of people who come around drunk from the Gaslamp and attack the homeless. It’s not all homeless-on-homeless crime. … A lot of people come from the Gaslamp — there’s people who are attacked [with] bottles. They just discriminate really bad.
But, because now, with the fires and stuff, maybe that will change.
It does seem that it’s something that gets people thinking, maybe differently. Or maybe some people lost their homes. …
Mike: Yeah, like, to realize — it can happen to you.
Molly: I have options. … But I’m thinking about going into the tent. I think it’ll be the most positive year for it. I think everybody’s going to — we’ll probably be in the spotlight. Because, you know, there were thousands of people affected by the fires.
It’s definitely in the public consciousness.
Molly: Yeah, and this is an untapped workforce. … But it’s hard. You have to have a bus pass, lunches, and access to clean clothes.
You know, within the homeless, we have our elite, like yourself. (Points to Mike.) And then we have the people who want to get there.
Mike: In society, there’s always going to be classes. Seems like, when it comes to homeless, we’re always looked on as the lowest of the low. Whereas, circumstances have prevailed upon us to be in the circumstances that we are in. And that’s not necessarily because of any addiction or criminal background that we have. It’s just that circumstances have come upon us. And yet, we’re still American citizens. We’re still … pursuing the American dream. It’s just that circumstances preclude us from doing so.
And if society as a whole can come to grips with — just because you’re homeless, doesn’t mean you’re any less. If we could get past that misconception, it wouldn’t be as bad for those of us who are in this circumstance.
Molly: I think there’s a lot of us that wreck it. Make us look bad. I don’t panhandle, I don’t cause trouble. …
I had a crime happen to my family; I came to the streets to cry. The guy got 25 to life. Raped and tortured four of my family members. … I came to the streets to get the anger out. Basically, I walked away from everything. … I didn’t know what else to do.
Where will you sleep tonight?
Mike: On the street.
Molly: On the street. And my sidewalk’s always clean, and I didn’t do anything to anybody, and I have a clear conscience when I go to sleep. And I go to church at night and I say prayers before I go.
— Interview by KELLY BENNETT