In emails to the city department that oversees the concourse, Jenson describes rampant drug use, sex out in the open, pit bulls, an abundance of knives, rat and bug infestations and "people lying in their own filth." I ran the content of those emails by Damian Tryon, an organizer with AFSCME Local 127, who's spent a significant amount of time at Occupy San Diego.
Re: “Being neighborly” [“The Front Lines,” March 26]. I am one of the private businesses at the Civic Center and deal with the homeless on a daily basis. While there will always be good homeless and bad, I would say that most of what goes on down here is bad. On a daily basis, security or the police are called to the Center to deal with the violent behavior (stabbings, beatings, robberies), the drug and alcohol abuse and dealing (yes, they smoke pot, shoot up and deal right in the open).
I have had to call 911 and security so many times, it is ridiculous. I have been threatened for the last two months by a homeless man—just released from 20 years in prison for murder and who just stabbed a man in the public bathroom a couple months ago—because I refused him free coffee, and we are talking a 4-inch blade. He has more rights than me, and there is nothing I can do unless he harms me? We must be to work every morning in the dark and often leave in the dark. We fear for our safety daily. Yesterday, I had to call security to help me remove a very disturbed woman who became violent and was screaming and pounding her fists on my counter. The overwhelming smell of urine and feces is disgusting. Just another day in paradise for business owners in Downtown.
Each morning, the 100 or so homeless that had been sleeping there had to be rousted by security or the police and kicked out before the mayor or Mr. Aguirre and the other city employees arrived. I wonder how much this is costing the city? Believe me, if they had seen that mess, they would have been absolutely shocked, and they, too, would have feared for their safety, as we do.
Yes, I have complained, and I guess, as Mr. Aguirre puts it, these criminals have had to deal with my “wrath,” but they are breaking the law. Next time he comes through the Plaza, have him come by so I can point out the homeless man who sits there with his knife and stares at me everyday. You just never know when he may pull that knife out again and use it.
He said organizers tried to keep in touch with the coffee-cart employees to make sure they were OK. He said he checked in with them two days before Jenson went on TV. He doesn't recall speaking with Jenson personally.
"They said 'everything's fine,'" Tryon said. When the cart's tip jar was stolen, the Occupy folks took up a collection that yielded more than was taken. "They were appreciative."
While he questioned the veracity of some of Jenson's claims, he said she's not entirely wrong. He said one of the stairwells smelled like a sewer and folks were relieving themselves into a storm drain. Occupy originally had a committee charged with making sure things were kept clean, but once the camp was dispersed, there was nowhere to keep cleaning supplies.
"It was unsanitary after the first week," Tryon said. "Without the ability to have a structure, it's impossible to deal with sanitation conditions."
Tryon said that signs put up around East Village about free food being handed at Occupy San Diego out drew homeless folks to the concourse. This isn't unique to San Diego, Tryon pointed out; it's an issue that's driven a wedge in the movement when the folks who show up are mentally ill and unruly. Though, as Tryon pointed out, "It's a societal problem, not really an Occupy problem."
Update: Occupy San Diego sent out a press release, referencing Jenson's letter in CityBeat. From the press release: "Occupy San Diego suggests that instead of closing, these carts should extend their hours of operation to service the many participants at the Civic Center Plaza after regular business hours."