Officials have made it clear that the conditions on public property won’t be allowed to continue. They’re now trying to ban encampments and offer shelter as an alternative. 

Over the last several months, I have spoken to nine people about how they got to where they are, what obstacles they face and what they feel is missing from the region’s response. 

Some have struggled with substance abuse and others are down on their luck. And because securing housing can take years, they’ve instead created their own homes and communities on San Diego’s sidewalks, river banks, freeway underpasses, shelters and shopping centers. 

These are their stories. 

Carmen Battle

Carmen Battle, 55 years old in her room at Alpha Square in downtown on Jan. 11, 2023.
Carmen Battle, 55, in her room in downtown on Jan. 11, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

When I approached Carmen Battle she was talking to an unhoused person next to state Route 94 freeway in the East Village. Battle was homeless for two years until she secured a home reserved for low income and homeless individuals. Her studio came furnished, a sheet hangs instead of a curtain and she has written on a wall. A certain section of it is about a sexual assault that she says happened while living at the housing project. She never reported it.

Battle heard voices and saw people who were not there while we were talking. She says she’s bipolar but is not taking medication for it. She sometimes sleeps on the street because she says that helps calm the voices in her head. 

Before becoming homeless, Battle was living in an apartment with her 10-year-old daughter and working at a Goodwill store. But then she started drinking and using drugs again and eventually her older daughters adopted their youngest sister. She hasn’t seen her five kids since 2019. 

The 55-year-old worries that she might lose her studio because of damage to the room that she claims she never did. She wants to get treatment for substance abuse but feels that she doesn’t have the proper support.

Josh Nicols

Josh Nicols, 51, sits in front of a shopping cart with his belongings in a parking lot in Lemon Grove on Feb. 9, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

Josh Nicols, was sitting next to a shopping cart with his belongings at a shopping center parking lot in Lemon Grove. The Navy veteran has been homeless since 2014. He has never stayed in a shelter because he worries they will be overcrowded and have too many rules. He doesn’t want to be cramped. He says he hasn’t seen much change on the street when it comes to homelessness and would like to know where the money is going.

Before becoming homeless the Wisconsinite lived in an apartment with someone he didn’t know very well. He says that his roommate introduced him to drugs. The 51 year old says embracing that lifestyle, dipping into his life savings and not working, is what led to him being homeless. 

“When you’re out here you see things through a different lens,” he said. His plan for the future is to “survive.”

Kirsten Williams

Kirsten Williams, 49 years old stands in her front of the fire to get warm in San Ysidro on March 6, 2023.
Kirsten Williams, 49, stands near a fire to get warm in San Ysidro on March 6, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

Hidden in overgrown bushes along a San Diego freeway in San Ysidro, Kirsten Williams stands in front of a fire to keep warm. The 49-year-old has been homeless on and off for six years. She has six kids, the youngest is 11 and adopted by another family, to which she says, “he’s a blessing for someone else.” Still, she hopes to see him again one day. 

She stays in motels when she can afford it, but prefers the tent she shares with her two dogs over a city shelter, where her dogs might not be welcome or complicate getting into one in the first place. 

She says they’re worth it. They’ve kept her safe when men have attempted to enter her tent. She says she’d like politicians to go out and speak to homeless people about what they want. And for the city to offer more resources beyond downtown. 

She has many other hopes for the future — getting her teeth fixed, being drug free and cooking for her family — but for now, this is her reality. 

Marie Garcia

Marie Garcia, 18, near an East Village homeless encampment on March 26, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

I met Marie Garcia at an encampment downtown. She’s 18 and five months pregnant. Garcia has been in trouble with the law since she was 12 years old, she told me. “It’s easy to get into the system but hard to get out of it,” she said.

She’s been without a home for five years but on the street for a little over two. “You don’t really connect with the outside world when you’re down here,” Garcia said. She said living in an encampment feels like being in a different world. Garcia does not want to go to a shelter because she feels there is no privacy and doesn’t feel comfortable staying in a big room with people she doesn’t know. Her mom is also homeless and stays in a tent nearby.

Silvia Ibarra

Sylvia Ibarra, 52 years old in front of her parked RV in San Ysidro on March 2, 2023.
Silvia Ibarra, 52, in front of her parked RV in San Ysidro on March 2, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

Silvia Ibarra opts to stay in an RV with her boyfriend in San Ysidro over a shelter because of her dog, too. She tried staying in a shelter once but her dog caused problems and she didn’t like having rules. She wanted freedom.

I met Ibarra, 52, while she was sitting in a wheelchair in front of her RV on an empty lot. Before becoming homeless she was employed, but a stroke left her unable to work and pay rent, she said. The county eventually took away her nine children. 

She still has trouble speaking and while we talked she had a hard time focusing. She is on a waiting list for housing, she told me, but she has been waiting for more than five years.

Albert Maldonado

Albert Maldonado, 60, says a big problem on the street is sanitation, and that there could be more washing stations and portable public restrooms. He was sweeping the sidewalk near his tent downtown when we met. 

Before Maldonado slept on the street he was staying at a sober living facility, but he’s decided he can’t live in that type of environment. 

Originally from Philadelphia, Maldonado quit school at 13 years old. He had run-ins with the law and ran with the wrong crowd but says he is now working on being a better person. 

Rachel Hayes

Rachel Hayes, 55 years old sits in her tent off Commercial Street in downtown on Feb. 7, 2023.
Rachel Hayes, 55, sits in her tent off Commercial Street in downtown on Feb. 7, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

When I approached Rachel Hayes she was smoking a cigarette near her tent at an encampment downtown. The street cleaners were cleaning one side of the street, and she and her boyfriend, Richard were getting ready to move their tents to the side that had been cleaned.

The 55-year-old says she became homeless because of a series of bad choices and has been homeless since 2012. She struggled with drugs off and on since 2005 but has been sober since Nov. 4. She attends weekly meetings at Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

Hayes has stayed in a few shelters but said she didn’t sleep well there and doesn’t feel like she is shelter material. She likes her freedom. She has been on the list for housing and has been told she should be moving into her new place in May. 

Chad Daniel

Chad Daniel Camou, 50 years old poses for a photo along the riverbank in Mission Valley on Feb. 16, 2023.
Chad Daniel Camou, 50, poses for a photo along the riverbank in Mission Valley on Feb. 16, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

Chad Daniel has been homeless on and off for almost five years. I met him near the River Bottom in Mission Valley, where he stays. He wants to be housed, and he’s on a list, but so far a spot has not opened up. 

The 50-year-old moved to San Diego during the pandemic after reconnecting with an old flame. When that didn’t work out he was homeless but still working. He told me he would shower outside before going to work and tried to save money, but he couldn’t keep up and then was let go when work slowed down. 

He doesn’t want to stay in a shelter because he is worried about theft, which he hears happens often in shelters. He also has more control over his life on the street, he said. For now, he tries to make money by selling items he finds on the street. 

 “Everyone’s got a hustle,” he told me, “we are trying to provide for ourselves.” 

Danielle Patrice Draeving

Danielle Patrice Draeving and her son JD on their way to visit her friend at an encampment on Commercial Street in downtown on March 21, 2023.
Danielle Patrice Draeving and her son JD on their way to visit her friend at an encampment on Commercial Street in downtown on March 21, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

Danielle Patrice Draeving lost her job during the pandemic after working as a flight attendant for 10 years. She drove to San Diego from Wisconsin last September with her 5-year-old son, JD. When they made it to San Diego, she would deliver food through a delivery app so that her and her son could sleep in a motel. Eventually her car broke down and she couldn’t pay the fees for towing. 

Draeving and her son now stay in a homeless shelter downtown. She still delivers food through  a delivery app but now uses a bike that has an attachment for JD to sit in. Since it’s rained a lot recently she hasn’t been able to work as much as she would like.

The 32 year old feels that everything is taking too long, from getting an EBT card to getting on the list for housing. She understands everyone is doing the best they can but wished that the process would move a lot faster. 

She says not everyone is drunk and high who are homeless, “sometimes people have a bad year.” As for the future, Draeving is hoping that she and her son will soon have a place to call home. She wants to work in home health care and is hoping to home school her son.

Ariana Drehsler

Ariana is Voice of San Diego's multimedia journalist.

Join the Conversation


  1. Super nice job giving us the stories and faces of some of San Diego’s unhoused individuals Ariana! It’s important to show they are everywhere (San Ysidro, Lemon Grove, etc) and not just downtown. Glad they mentioned why they don’t like staying in shelters. Some are well managed, but some have serious issues with theft and privacy that never get addressed. That needs to change – when it does, word will get out and more will use them. Keep up the great work.

  2. What a joke of a City! I was forced to illegally cross the border at age 3 in 1988, that was a bad choice!!! Till this day I struggle with mental health, drugs, alcohol, I paid for my BA, raised my siblings after my mom died from cancer, pay taxes (no child credits me!), and I am still “ilegal”.
    How can these campsites not be illegal? When just a few years ago, hard working families were getting stopped, detained, and deported, right along those same streets!

    1. I enjoyed this article because it opens the eyes to people that don’t truly understand what it’s like to be homeless in San Diego. I’m a 36yr old female. I am homeless. I want to work, but things have happened to put me into a situation that’s hard to get out of. I’m not a drug addict or alcoholic. I have a medical condition that I recently found out about in 2022 which is life threatening. So I went from working, having savings, my car, place to live. To absolutely nothing.

      I’ve lost everything but my life, where’s my help? I’ve had to live in hotels, and in my car since 2021 I still had my job thank god but when 2022 came and I almost died. So please people don’t be quick to judge homeless we all don’t choose this lifestyle, we aren’t all mental or suffer from some sort of addiction. I want to change it but I have my hurdles to but not being given a chance or opportunities doesn’t help.

  3. “They’re now trying to ban encampments and offer shelter as an alternative. ”

    According to the latest count by the Downtown Partnership there are about 1,700 people on the streets of downtown. Councilman Whitburn’s proposed ordinance would push the homeless off the sidewalks and other public spaces.

    Let us be very clear, we do not have even a fraction of the shelter space of any type, to house 1,700 people. It’s not that the shelters are full (they are), it’s that space for that many additional people does not exist.

    If the city pushes the homeless off of a patch of sidewalk, they don’t disappear, they are still homeless, they still need a place to stay, they still need help. They will move someplace else, usually close by, and the game of “Whack-A-Mole” will continue because they have no place to go.

    What we have really done is make it hard for the outreach workers who could get some of them a place to go, or help for their problems, to find their clients who have now been scattered to the winds.

    1. Right no shelters but they DO HAVE THE MONEY TO DO SOMETHING!!! It’s San Diego politicians .do you realize there’s a lot of open space abandoned buildings and homes that can all be made into TRANSITIONAL LIVING!!! they can start with safe camping sites where those who really don’t know or want to live indoors. As well as SAFE tiny home villages .. GET INTO IT!!!

    2. Exactly, Bruce Higgins, thank you for clearly stating the truth!
      I also strongly object to the selection of people covered in this article. The population is incredibly diverse yet you’ve chosen some of the toughest cases to portray as representative. This doesn’t help, it supports the prevailing narrative that people on the streets are broken, made a series of bad decisions, want the freedom to use substances. This was not well done!

  4. VOSD couldn’t find a single one that said ” I could really use a job so I can get out of this”.
    I know the article was meant to be a sob story, but I have a hard time feeling for a woman who given free housing , takes that charity and starts defacing the wall.

    1. Well of course I want to work. And I have a great resume however ..while I work will you sit with my tent so caltrans and the local thieves will not take the little I have encluding my dogs!!! . See that’s the problem everyone thinks we’re all the same and we are not . We don’t all have mental health issues and drug addictions. Thank you very much

      1. So basically you refuse to support yourself until you can store your belongings on a public sidewalk indefinitely and receive dog sitting services for multiple dogs and you DON’T think you have a mental health issue?

    2. I’m actually training for home healthcare and fighting to get my job back I can work here in San Diego with my old job so I am finding a job.

      1. @Daniella Draeving I saw you at the city council meeting with your son, I pray that you both get the resources you need to get housed!!❤️

  5. Respectfully, this series of profiles suggests the majority – if not the totality – of homeless population consists entirely of drug addicts, people who have inherent problems with rules, and/or who came to San Diego without any basis for substantial presence other than to live on the street.
    The proposed ordinance may not ‘solve homelessness’ but neither does it criminalize homelessness per se. These people all need help, but they are not going to find it living on the street, in a RV or in the bottom of a riverbed.
    It is patently clear we need laws to protect sensitive areas, parks, open spaces, waterways etc and I hope this is the start of the application of some common sense approaches – for the benefit and safety of both ‘unhoused’ and the majority of San Diego residents.

  6. Outstanding !!! It is refreshing to see ALL the different peoples point of view. Homelessness can happen to anyone for a multitude of different reasons. I honestly believe absolutely no one has chosen this life for themselves, I know that I definitely did not! If you would have asked me 15 years ago where I saw myself it would not have been living under a bridge as a homeless human! Yes bad decisions, poor choices have led me here. ALL of that has changed since November 4, 2022. I have a future planned out now and being part of the homeless human community has been one of the biggest blessings ever in my life!!! Thank you Ariana and The Voice of San Diego for putting a different perspective on the homeless human community, it is much over due and appreciated. Also I would like to acknowledge the fact that you took the time to actually come down, talk to us and put the time in to open the eyes of the non homeless community to our plight.

    1. God bless you, Rachel. Congratulations on your sobriety. Keep going on your journey and good fortune will come.

  7. Great article. It humanizes the struggles. How about reinventing the shelters to provide private space for the lodgers to make them feel more human? Barracks living is not the place for older people.

  8. THANK YOU for this essential reporting, very much a public service. I have worked with houseless residents since 2009, sheltering over 3 dozen myself in my home & business, with 3 of these people my housemates since 2019. I heartily second the Comments of Peggy Peattie, Bruce Higgins, Rachel Hayes & Chuck F. Re the latter: only 60 of the current 1784 City-funded Shelter beds are non-congregate, most of the 1724 Congregate shelter beds are bunk beds, which means Seniors & persons with limited mobility can’t use almost half (top bunks). For those who decry houseless residents who don’t want to “follow rules”, I suggest they try living in a congregate shelter for a few days. It’s not unlike jail; people avoid jail, and they avoid shelters.

  9. I am not about dehumanizing the homeless, but we cannot allow the encampments to flourish on our sidewalks, beaches, canyons etc. Encampments are not neighborhoods that provide safe, stable communities. Safe camping should have happened at least 10 years ago. Out of the 9 interviewed 4 were not from San Diego. How about sending them back to the communities they came from? I would imagine there is better options in those places.

  10. A friend of mine was homeless. I needed a living In.caregiver. He went through I I HS and is now my living caregiver. He still has friends he tries to help you are homeless? I try not to have them around my area simply because I too could be Homeless If my.landlord.. Saw homeless people around our area. The main theme from all the homeless I’ve spoken to is that they wish to be free And free from rules and yet they want everything given to them that a person who is productive get…. They want housing and yet they want no rules they want food and yet they don’t want to work for any of have it so Seeing it from both sides I have to agree that they sometimes make their own Choices and yet complain about their circumstances.

  11. Ille give my example i been living in the jungle over five years some people went with vouchers go motrl rooms and took them from the jungle so when i went or looked for these workers nobody knew who they were i even went to the location on ruffin road i didnt even get a pamphlet tge best i got was program is over. So i got the impression that its a random, then i was able to purchase s vehicle so i got out of the jungle living out of my car but also noone knows about the voucher program but many got their apt. Thry placed them in motels and tgeir workers expedite everything until thry get their place me i was told to keep going go this parking place of imperial ave but they didnt know how long it would be also they ofered a homeless shelter but i had to wait in line till a spot opened i honestly thought of just going back to the jungle and wait for them people to come takes us to motel rooms. Im not saying these places are indifferent and i know lately theres been more emphasis but the overall feeling where i have gone a feeling of maybe yes maybe no just wait. One last thing theres this lady on a eheelchair on industrial blvd between palomar st abd j st she really needs help looks like mental and echonomical its really easy to find her or have somebody call me and ille find her for you , she really needs attention 6195127956

  12. Yeah what thry all said is true everybody has a different story but in in my case in the jungle we looked out for each other but we ewould also steal from each other but yeah we keep watch whk came in who past by and do our best to creatw an atmosphere of security and peace but it wasnt perfrct but in general homrlessnes separates you from general public i guess its the way yhey look at you and how they sometimes express about homeless people we get blamed for all the wrongs and and our right doings only your dog sees it guilty just for walking down the street thats how it feels yet most crimes are commited by regular people even my family changed their tone of voice and theres a lot of good people i know but you cant disginguish yhem until you talk to them i personslly would be ok if they expedited women first they are more vulnrable on the streets

  13. res·i·dent | ˈrez(ə)dənt |
    1 a person who lives somewhere permanently or on a long-term basis: it was a beautiful hamlet with just 100 residents.
    • a bird, butterfly, or other animal of a species that does not migrate: arctic residents are joined annually by long-distance migrants.
    • US a person who boards at a boarding school.
    • historical a British government agent in any semi-independent state, especially the Governor General’s agent at the court of an Indian state.
    2 North American a medical graduate engaged in specialized practice under supervision in a hospital.

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