Steve Wood, one of the residents on the property on West El Norte Parkway in Escondido, speaking with an organizer with the Party for Socialism and Liberation. Wood has lived on the property for more than two years. / Photo by Tigist Layne

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On a one-acre dirt lot in Escondido, sits a 2,000-square-foot home surrounded by several RVs, trailer coaches, pickup trucks and old cars.  

Chairs, lawn ornaments and a grill take up the only section of grass in front of the house, and a “Trump 2020” flag hangs above the front window. 

The property on West El Norte Parkway is home to six to 10 people, though the exact number is unclear, who have all lived there for as long as two years. Most were previously homeless.  

In September 2021, the property was foreclosed, and has since been owned by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The property was originally in reverse mortgage, and once it foreclosed, HUD bought the property in a foreclosure sale, according to Baron Tennelle, an attorney representing HUD. 

The previous owner, Robert E. Donelson, passed away in 2019. His stepdaughter, Terry Bearer, still lives in the house along with the other residents, some of whom have been living there for more than two years.  

The property on West El Norte Parkway in Escondido where six to 10 people are facing eviction because they are living there illegally. / Photo by Tigist Layne

The people staying there are not paying rent or the mortgage on the home.  

Bearer reportedly began inviting others to stay in the house after Donelson passed away. Slowly, it became a sort of community. 

One of the residents, Steve Wood, told Voice of San Diego that he’s been living on the property for more than two years. Before moving in, he was homeless and living out of his car. 

Terry Bearer and the residents who were already staying at the property welcomed him in. 

“They opened their home to me, and they became my family,” Wood said. “I work hard here. They work hard here. If I wasn’t for them, I don’t know where I’d be.” 

Wood is a craftsman and builds trailers out of recycled materials, which is his main source of income. He said it’s not “trash” or “debris” on the property, but the materials he uses to build. 

He added that most of the residents are employed in some capacity. 

“I’m not a squatter, and I’ve never been a squatter,” Steve said. 

Steve, like the others, does not pay rent or a mortgage. 

He said the residents have created ground rules for living on the property, which include no fighting, no drugs, and everyone has to pull their weight to take care of the property and to pay for things like food and electricity. 

All the residents describe the group as a family that looks after each other, and they fear being separated from one another. 

The house has become a flashpoint for neighbors complaining about disturbances and trash, leading the city of Escondido to file a lawsuit against the residents, citing code violations and attempting to declare the property a public nuisance. 

“Occupants are using, allowing, maintaining and depositing large amounts of trash, junk, debris, inoperable vehicles, and occupied recreational vehicles and trailer coaches connected to public utilities on the property,” the lawsuit states. “Occupants further utilize tarpaulin and green plastic sheeting to screen these prohibited items from public view.” 

Last month, San Diego Judge Cynthia Freeland sided with the city, granting a temporary restraining order barring the residents from “using the property in violation of the law.” 

The residents haven’t left, though, leaving the city and courts now looking to the landlord – the federal government – to kickstart an eviction. 

The Escondido City Attorney’s office had no further comment on the pending litigation.  

Given the house is property of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, they filed a lawsuit, too.  

Some residents illegally living in a foreclosed home in Escondido held a press conference with the Party for Socialism and Liberation on May 26 in response to a pending eviction. / Photo by Tigist Layne

San Diego Judge Robert Longstreth ruled in that separate unlawful detainer lawsuit earlier this month that HUD can evict the people living on the property as they are not paying a mortgage or rent, and they have no legal right to be there. 

Tenelle said they are waiting for the court to issue the writ of possessions that will allow the sheriff’s department to move forward with the eviction. He expects it to happen in the next couple of weeks.  

Juliana Musheyev, an activist with the San Diego branch of the Party for Liberation and Socialism, which is helping the residents, told Voice the ideal outcome is for the residents to get housing or shelter once they are evicted. The organization wants to raise money to help them through the eviction process. 

She said some of the residents have disabilities, making it hard for them to find or keep jobs, and a couple of them lost their jobs during or after the pandemic. A few residents previously lived in RVs, but once their tags expired and they couldn’t afford to renew them, they had to risk parking illegally or become homeless.  

These individuals are all there because the alternative would be homelessness, Musheyev said. 

The residents held a press conference last week at the property in front of a banner that read “Housing is a Human Right! No Evictions, No foreclosures.” 

They urged the community to support their cause by pressuring the city of Escondido to find alternative and long-term housing for these residents or donating money to help the residents be more financially secure once they’re evicted. 

It was around this time that the next-door neighbor started yelling profanities at the group over the property’s chain-link fence, attempting to derail the press conference. The group ignored him, and after a few minutes, he left. 

Karen Cash, who has been living on the property for two and a half years, said she doesn’t understand why the neighbors have such a problem with them because they don’t make noise and they keep to themselves. 

“Being homeless doesn’t mean we have a disease; we are homeless because we are human beings, and it’s expensive” Cash said at the press conference. “All these people here are friends and family, and to see them go would be really hard.” 

The residents and organizers said that eviction will only add to the growing homelessness problem in San Diego. They suggested that eviction moratoriums should become permanent, and that cities and counties should consider programs for renewing RV and vehicle tags. 

When I asked the organizers about connecting the residents to shelters, they said that many shelters are difficult to get into and are often not a long-term solution. 

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41 Comments

  1. When the Marshal knocks on their door, they will be given 20 minutes to move off the property because they are — above all else — squatters. Why not interview the neighbors who have had to look at this public nuisance for two years? Not one bit of sympathy.

    1. Looking around the junky immediate neighborhood, I think there’s no one nearby who really cares. They’ve had 2 years to get back on their feet, and become cooperative friends, so perhaps now they can find a house to rent together.

    2. There has been plenty of news coverage so far interviewing the neighbors. This is the first local news article that gives these residents a voice.

    3. I’m sad to see people care more about a minor inconvenience than they care about these peoples lives and ability to survive. We must resist this kind of response to the issue that blames the victims rather than the land developers/city planners that dont provide adequate housing for our community members.

      We have to solve the root problem – the lack of housing. The issue isn’t folks that struggle to get by, its the system that allows this to happen.

      1. Feel free to open your house to them. I’m sure they would love to take you up on it. Put your money where your mouth is.

  2. It all has to start with dealing with the drug issues cuz its where most of this starts. Esvondido has a huge meth ptoblem as well as Heroin alcohol and no matter who doesnt believe itbor want to admit it but uts where most of this starts. If everyone can be honest with themselves thats where it has to begin.
    .

  3. Wow. Good on you VoS. This is the first time I have seen any news coverage that doesn’t compare these humans to trash. We just went through a pandemic and they hung on here. We are now entering a period of inflation that may lead to a recession if not depression. Give these people a break.

      1. People cant pay to take care of these people. Hard enough to afford to take care of our own family’s

  4. Definitely a motley crew, ok, no drug use? Meth users often are hoarders, disheveled and are often broke, none of these outstanding people fit that category, I call BS!
    Evict them all.

    1. I have visited several times as a journalist and activist and can confirm that there is no drug use on the property.

    2. Even if that were true (and I don’t see any reason to believe it is) people with addictions don’t get healthy on the street. Evicting people with addictions only means more of those people are on the street managing their addictions in more dangerous ways. If the problem is addiction, then the solution is treatment and evictions make it way harder to get treatment.

  5. That photo doesn’t even begin to show that amount of trash or RV, campers that are on the property. Plus you failed to mention the person that OD’d on the property and died. There is definitely drug use happening there. You can verify that with the city paramedics.

    1. This comment is false. There is no trash just laying around. There is salvaged material used to build trailers, but everything is pretty clean. There is no drug use on the property. The cause of the death on the property (which was somebody’s son by the way, try to be more sensitive) was misreported. He didn’t die of an overdose. He died of asphyxiation.

    1. This “documentary” is not related to the people in the article. Also it’s disgusting propaganda. Not only is it emotionally manipulative and dishonest, it spins a narrative that can only be used to make things worse. They went out to find the ugliest cases they they could to try and push the idea that police need to be more violent against people who cant afford shelter.

      As someone who has been homeless and worked with homeless people for years I can tell you that while drug abuse is a big problem out there, its not even close to being the biggest problem. There are single mothers who can’t get childcare, kids who got kicked out of their house for being queer, disabled people and people who are trying to recover form some sudden emergency that cleaned out their bank account. Even the ones who are struggling with addiction, need some kind of stable housing for treatment to work.

      Giving cops more power won’t do anything but increase the amount of violence all of us have to deal with every day. Increasing the criminalization of homelessness doesn’t help anyone its just more violence against homeless people.

  6. Since most of them work why don’t they all find a nice big house and all chip in with the rent and utilities? For the ones that are too old and disabled surely they can qualify for ss benefits or welfare to earn their keep in the new spot??

    1. It is difficult to find an affordable house even to share, especially for people who are low income. Most rooms are upwards of $800 at least. Plus utilities. The housing market is at an all time high. Plus there is the cost of rental applications, moving costs, etc. Most landlords want to see that you have 2 or 3 times your rent in income, plus the security deposit. Qualifying for disability benefits takes a lot of time and many people do not qualify even though they are disabled. It’s very complicated.

    2. I became disabled following a motorcycle accident in 2015. Sense then I have been trying to apply for disability benefits. I’ve spent a good chunk of that time homeless and I would not be alive today if not for the support I’ve received from people who are willing to see me as a human being who deserves the dignity of basic human rights.

      Even when everything goes well, applying for benefits can take a couple years. Navigating the complex web of government agencies and non-profits that are supposed to help people get benefits is extremely difficult. So many disabled people, my self included, have been trying to get the help they need for YEARS without seeing much progress. Even when they start receiving benefits it’s not enough to live on. In California SSI disability averages to $700 a MONTH and once someone starts receiving those payments they loose access to food stamps.

      The fact is, these people, whether they are working or not, are people and have a right to a home.

  7. This article illuminates the VOSD’s blatant liberal, anti-taxpayer bias at its best.

    Or worst.

    No effort was made to find out what TAXPAYERS think about having their property earning nothing. These people are STEALING from taxpayers, without even pretending that their actions are legal. The property can either be sold or rented out so that the taxpayers benefit.

    A fictitious “Party for Socialism and Liberation” gets good press, but no taxpayer proponents were interviewed.

    No effort was made to find if these people were working, or if they are simply expecting taxpayers to pay for their leisure time.

    If we REALLY wanted to help these apparently drug-free homeless people, government (through nonprofits) should find them jobs and Spartan housing in OTHER states that desperately NEED workers — even unskilled workers — and have far lower rents. Free interstate transportation and low rent housing arrangements should be made to help them transition to a livable location where they can become functional human beings again.

    There are 17 states that have 3% or less unemployment and a much lower COL. The CA unemployment rate is among the highest in the nation — 53% higher than the 3% max rate in these other states.
    https://www.bls.gov/web/laus/laumstrk.htm

    If these squatters choose not to work or move (or at least to pay rent), it should not the taxpayers’ responsibility to subsidize them with free rent, free food and free everything else in uber-expensive California.

    1. As a tax payer myself, I think we should do much more to help these people. There’s more vacant homes than people without homes, so I think giving people a place to live is a much better use of the money than some millionaires 5th home going vacant.

    2. Richard who freaking hurt you? Cuz I was raised with morals that doesn’t shame people for what they make or what they produce or live… especially a bunch of people just trying to survive on the property they have after a pandemic and sky high rent and utilities. I’ve been there before and these are regular Americans trying to be resourceful with that little they have and the city is basically making it impossible for them to live in peace. Incredible how many people are willing to turn a blind eye and not actually talk to the residents there. Incredibly disturbing to know so many would rather just not care. I’m Neighbors and taxpayers (aka all of us are tax payers including them…) that don’t have a heart for people and helping our fellow Americans during this time of crisis should be shamed for being as heartless and cruel as the system we are in.

    3. The fact of the matter is, there are jobs in San Diego that pay less than what is needed to afford the cost of living. What do you suggest the workers at these jobs do? Or do you think we can live in San Diego without the service workers, childcare workers, janitors, EMTs, and many other low paying professions? The problem is the rents are too high and the wages are too low. The solution is not just to move.

  8. I am an organizer who has been working closely with the residents of this property. I can tell you with full confidence that they are good hard working people. They do want to work, but there are many obstacles – homelessness and lack of transportation being just a couple of the many. Some of them are elderly and disabled and can’t work. There is no drug use on the property. These are good people. If you would like to help please check out our gofundme: https://gofund.me/10c8dbe6

  9. Housing is a human right! If anything, the city should be working with the residents to help improve their situation rather than wasting taxpayer dollars on a lawsuit and unjust eviction. They aren’t bothering anyone. They just want to be left alone in peace. Support the residents!

  10. Nowadays we are all just one accident or economic crisis away from being homeless. We should all stand with our neighbors and demand patience from the city government. Especially when the city is failing to provide affordable housing or even adequate employment for everyone in our community.

    As a tax payer and concerned citizen, I say these folks should be treated with respect and welcomed with open arms.

  11. It is ridiculous to me that HUD would blame people for having insecure housing when it is their job to ensure decent housing for us all–especially in this dreadful economy.

  12. Its sad to see so many negative and degrading comments on here. Seems alot of folks dont realize how hard its become for many people to stay afloat. Instead of demonizing low income/un housed neighbors or folks suffering from addiction, we should be demanding housing, healthcare and to take care of our community!

  13. Have a little empathy, people. Being disabled in America is no joke. Getting disability or social security is not as easy as you think — in fact it’s quite difficult. Look at the price of rent, groceries, medicine, and gas and then ask yourself if you can make it on $1000 a month. The answer is no, you can’t. One room in San Diego County is $1000. Wages and disability/SS income have not kept up with the rising cost of living. These are HUMAN BEINGS, so have some empathy.

  14. Well written. This is what we can expect from a skyrocketing housing market. It’s shame that other stories and covering this seem to view them as the problem and not this insane housing market.

  15. Maybe these homeless people shouldn’t choose to live in one of the most expensive places in the country. Hard working, law abiding citizens can’t afford in San Diego. Why do these homeless just get a free ride.

    1. They are also hard working. San Diego has jobs that are low paying, where are those workers supposed to live? Out of state? That makes no sense.

  16. It’s so sad that our state (California) has become a hub for homeless people. I understand that the majority of homeless people have chosen to live this way. But there are many families that have not chosen to be homeless. We are all capable of becoming homeless. The way the rent in California has gone up it’s ridiculous. I feel if these people are taking care of the property and not causing issues in the neighborhood they should meet with the bank who own the home and come up with some kind of agreement to pay some kind of “rent”. It’s not fair they get to live there rent free. I definitely agree with that. But I also don’t with that these folks become homeless. There has to be a solution.

  17. It’s unfortunate we live in a society where property is more valuable than human beings. I support these people trying to survive the best they can. Maybe the neighbors can talk with and work with the people living there to find a solution that supports human needs. There are so many barriers to living in this society that make it difficult for anyone with any sort of challenge. The city should focus on supportive solutions not punitive approaches.

  18. Here we go again..
    Victims..
    Seems ppl have it hard enough
    Not gonna support grown men that for whatever reason can’t manage their lives
    You’ve ALL had two years free rent
    Now get the hell out

  19. Sorry Dude , you are a squatter, a vagrant and should probably be in jail for trying to take over someone else’s property. I feel sorry for the neighbors who work, pay their bills and their TAXES yet the City does not protect them from this. Shameful.

  20. 8 people in low income jobs or on welfare can pool their money and rent an abode. Liberals here favor theft over thrift.

    Free housing for anyone who doesn’t want to pay rent is just fine with them. And stealing from others to get that free housing is deemed a “right” by progressives.

    I get that.

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