July 1 2008 07:53 PM

Our weekly series putting faces on San Diego's homeless

homeless-prime

Lawrence Johnson is wearing a hooded sweatshirt and canvas coat on an otherwise warm June day. Granted, he's in an air-conditioned room at the Tubman Chavez Multicultural Center, there to listen to a panel discussion on home foreclosures.

When the moderator asks for questions or comments from the audience, Johnson raises his hand. He talks about how a new owner took over the apartment building he'd been living in for eight years and how he was issued an unlawful detainer-the legal action a landlord takes to evict a tenant. Now he's living out of his car. He tells San Diego City Councilmember Tony Young, one of the panelists, that more and more people are ending up on the street because of housing costs, making homelessness a growing public-safety issue.

After the forum, Johnson elaborated on his situation. He's a 60-year-old disabled Vietnam vet-he did two tours and says he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. "I never fathomed the things I'd see," he said of Vietnam.

As for being evicted, Johnson's tale goes something like this: The owner of the building he lived in tried to refinance the property late last year and was denied. New owners stepped in but didn't have tenants-or, Johnson, at least-sign a new lease agreement; nor was he informed about where to send rent. He'd been friendly with the previous owner; he was his "best tenant," Johnson said. But now, not knowing where to send the check, he stopped paying rent and waited. "There was no communication, no new rental agreement," he said. After six months he received a notice to vacate the premises within five days.

Johnson went to the courthouse to fight the notice and found some law students who helped him fill out the appropriate paperwork. He said they told him that unless the new owners could produce a rental agreement-signed by Johnson-he'd be able to get the unlawful detainer removed from his record (having such a mark would make it difficult, if not impossible, for him to find a new place to live). Ultimately, a judge ruled in his favor, Johnson said. He opted not to try to return to his apartment, though. "I didn't want to live there with [owners] like that."

That was back in March. Johnson, who receives a monthly government check for $931, said he's been looking for a place to live since then but can't find anything that would allow him to both pay rent and cover other costs.

"Market rate-that's a sign of greed. I remember when a two-bedroom was $600. Now, with no new amenities, it jumps up to so-called ‘market rate.' It's not right," Johnson said, copping the catchphrase used by KUSI consumer advocate Michael Turko.

"Market rate is a slogan to charge higher prices for less value," he said. "Put that in your paper."

Calendar

  • The renowned Mexican black and white photographer presents an exhibition exploring the principal themes within three groups: "Bestiarium"," Fantastic Women" and "Silent Natures."
  • Presented by Pacific Arts Movement, the sixth annual mini film fest features 14 film programs from 10 countries that includes everything from docs to romantic tearjerkers. See website for full lineup and...
  • Debunk some of the stereotypes surrounding cannibalism at this new exhibition that takes a hands-on approach to the subject. Includes video games and interactive activities where patrons will have to decide...
  • The former local boy and creator of the highly influential blog, Advanced Style, will be signing and discussing his third book, Advanced Style: Older and Wiser, which features inspiring pictures and stories...
  • C.J. Chenier and Bonsoir Catin headline this annual Cajun inspired festival. Also enjoy 10,000 pounds of crawfish, dancing and cooking demonstrations. Held at Spanish Landing Park, across from the...
  • A Cinco de Mayo party featuring $2 tacos, cocktails and live music from Bostich+Fussible, Javiera Mena and Gepe
  • A spoken word showcase hosted by English instructor Karla Cordero and her City College students. There will also be a special reading from poet Mercedez Holtry, as well as an art and photography show....
  • Widely known as host of "Weekend Update" on Saturday Night Live and for his role in the Showtime dramedy Weeds, Kevin Nealon brings his unique humor back to the stand-up stage
  • New works from over a dozen UCSD undergraduate students. Participating artists include Charity Algarme, Richard Lin, Joseph Maas, Ignatius Nguyen, and more
  • This video art exhibition from UCSD MFA candidate Stefani Byrd features two installations that explore the themes of breath, mediation, and the nature of time. Takes place in the VAF Performance Space,...
See all events on Thursday, May 5