Taking center stage in the ongoing San Clemente homelessness drama is a dirt lot full of homeless people camping across the street from $4 million homes full of angry suburban residents.
On Tuesday, June 18, a city council meeting in the Spanish Village by the Sea featured infuriated residents complaining about the encampment across from the affluent Sea Summit neighborhood, and a few homeless people speaking about their living conditions.
“People are coming to San Clemente now because they can camp by the beach for free,” resident Susan Smith told the city council. “We’re not only affecting home values, but we’re inviting everybody and their dog to come camp in San Clemente.”
The city council voted to allow public camping on the lot until the end of June 2020, which didn’t satisfy residents. According to them, the camp’s proximity to homes and parks means that it should close or relocate within six months, rather than a full year.
There are still no city plans to build a shelter. According to Councilmember Dan Bane, the city is exploring options to deal with their homelessness crisis, and hopes to work with the county to solve what he calls a “regional issue.”
According to the 2019 Point in Time homelessness count, San Clemente has approximately 145 homeless people living in the city.
“I was walking on the trail and noticed that every bench on the trail… had homeless people on it,” Sea Summit resident Marci Skinner said at the meeting. “They weren’t doing anything illegal, but what if they were? There was no one to do anything about it.”
Skinner added that the only reason she feels safe is Sea Summit’s 24/7 security service.
While many residents at the meeting spoke of fearing the homeless people, resident Gregory George mocked the city’s solutions during his three minutes at the lectern.
“The way we fix things in San Clemente is rub money on it,” George said. “Oh, I’m scared, rub money on it… I think I want a security guard because I’m scared and I’m a cupcake.”
Gregory called on other residents to help people who need it, but also added that some of the homeless people should be put in a sanitarium because of their debilitating mental issues.
The city can’t prohibit homeless people from sleeping outside without another option for shelter, due to a 9th Circuit ruling declaring that said doing so violates the 8th Amendment.
“I would never treat anybody like they do up there [in the camp],” said Tiffany Hudelson-McCall, who is homeless. “If you don’t feel loved, your brain don’t function right.”
Hudelson-McCall said that she feels a sense of community within the camp, despite earlier violence at North Beach, where the camp was formerly located. She said the other campers make her feel more safe.
“I know that if they’re around, they won’t let anyone hurt me,” Hudelson-McCall said.
But not all the campers feel that way. Jordan Barton, who is autistic, said that drug use is rampant within the encampment, and that he feels unsafe and picked on by people he described as “ultra-hardcore prisoner types.”
According to Bane, the next step is a regional shelter, but residents criticized that idea as well.
“Our problem with the regional shelter is going to be the density, the amount of people you’re going to try and house in there,” Gregory said. “Nobody’s going to like it. It’s going to be an aggregate problem.”
An editorial intern and news junkie with a hankering for all things spicy, Jackson gained a passion for journalism writing about housing and homelessness in the Bay Area for the Daily Californian and the Tenderloin Tribune. When not writing, Jackson can be found rambling to anyone who listens about old movies no one else cares about. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.