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I am a 47-year-old man and I take care of my 80-year-old father. Just recently, we have become homeless in San Diego. We are a little more fortunate than others because I have a vehicle we sleep in. It is not that difficult in the daytime. Being homeless in San Diego at night, however, has proven to be very difficult. The city and county make finding a place to sleep so challenging, it’s become one of the biggest hurdles keeping me from getting off the streets and back into a home.
I start every day by asking myself, “Where will we sleep tonight?” I was told that people were staying overnight at Fiesta Island, a place that I have frequented quite often with family and friends, so that’s where we went. The first night we stayed there, we were not told to leave. At that moment, I had a very comforting feeling knowing that now I could concentrate all my efforts during the day on bettering my life and getting my father and myself a home again.
It was nice not to have to worry about where to park and sleep at night, and especially nice to have found a place like Fiesta Island that has bathroom facilities.
But the next night that comforting feeling was taken away from me at 2 a.m. by the sound of the San Diego Police Department on their loudspeakers telling everyone that they must vacate the island or have their vehicles impounded.
Unlike the calm, peaceful night at Fiesta Island the night before, though, that night there were hundreds of people staying on the island after hours, partying, drag racing and making a lot of noise. I thought perhaps that was the reason the police kicked us out. So I decided to try staying there again, and the next couple of nights were quiet and peaceful and nobody asked us to leave. I felt relieved again.
The last night we were there, I had decided to park very close to the exit. I figured if we were asked to leave then I would be one of the first to exist the island. That proved to be a mistake. I was awoken at 10 p.m. by a loudspeaker from a police car and lights flashing directly behind me. I was again told to exit the island or be cited and towed.
As I proceeded to start my vehicle, the officer told me to hold on. Then he approached the driver’s side window and handed me a $52 citation. He said I was being cited for ignoring the initial warning. I tried to explain to the officer that I hadn’t heard a warning, but he just kept interrupting me and telling me that I was breaking the law. I have never been a lawbreaker. My record is spotless. I was just trying to find a place to sleep, but nevertheless I now have to pay a citation that I seriously cannot afford right now.
But what really got to me was when I explained to him that we were living in our car temporarily and I asked him where we could go. But instead of giving me an answer, he only told me where we couldn’t go. He told me if we went to the South Shores, the police would kick us out of there as well. I never even mentioned South Shores, and I don’t even know where that is.
Then the officer said something to me that I won’t forget. He told me he wasn’t going to allow “you people to clump together.” I thought that to be inconsiderate and a very poor choice of words.
That was the last night we stayed on Fiesta Island. I no longer have that comforting feeling of having a secure place to sleep at night with bathroom facilities nearby. I suffer from a chronic disease that results in frequent bathroom trips, so being close to a restroom is very important.
I am grateful to have stayed at Fiesta Island for those few nights. But once again, I now wake up in the morning with the pressure of figuring out where we will be sleeping that night.
For people in my position, I believe it’s become too hard to find a place to park and sleep in San Diego County. The city or the county should work together to come up with a place for people like us to stay while we try to piece our lives back together. We don’t need much, just a parking lot and a bathroom. If I had those two things, I know I would be able to get off the streets and back into a home much easier.
Joseph Santilli is a native San Diego resident. Santilli’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.