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By Cari Hachmann
Nearly two weeks after the North Beach homeless moved to the city’s designated lot on Avenida Pico, campers appear to be calm and content.
Elijah Jackson usually works the overnight shift as a security guard at the encampment. In an interview with San Clemente Times on Friday, May 31, Jackson said his job has been easier than expected. “The light goes out at 10 p.m., which is considered quiet time. Everyone’s in their tent, doing their own thing, and it’s been pretty quiet,” he said.
The SecureGuard employee said security guards rotate between three 8-hour shifts, so there is 24-hour coverage at the encampment.
Since campers arrived on May 24, Jackson has watched the lot’s 24 designated spaces fill up, with more tents squeezing in. “We might be opening more spaces,” he said.
Meanwhile, some residents of Sea Summit, the ocean-view, resort-style luxury homes situated across the street from the Pico encampment, are not happy about their new neighbors. At the Tuesday, June 4, city council meeting, some homeowners expressed fear for their safety after witnessing homeless campers roaming around the Sea Summit neighborhood. They said the homeless site is destroying the property values of their homes, and many worried for their kids, who play at Pico Park, located across the street from the encampment.
Conditions at the camp remain minimal. Those living inside the fenced half-acre lot may use one of two Porta Potties installed there, while the third is for security guards only. There is no running water for drinking or bathing, and no electricity. Residents must walk to a nearby 7-Eleven for food and water, although they have received some food donations at the lot.
No drugs or alcohol are allowed at the camp. Smoking is permitted only outside the fence, Jackson said. Security guards cannot go into campers’ tents, but if guards see suspicious activity, they’ve been directed to call police.
Darren James, a San Clemente man who said he’s been chronically homeless for 15 years, said there are “a lot of locals, and some newbies” living at the Pico encampment.
He says he has had few problems at the new location. “Every so often, people will drive by blaring their horns and say, ‘Go away, bums!’ and scream obscenities. It’s nothing compared to over there,” said James, pointing toward the North Beach parking lot.
James is one of three residents named in a civil lawsuit against San Clemente. Through the help of Mercy House, a nonprofit organization, and other services, he will be leaving the camp and moving into his own apartment in Lake Forest.
“I am so happy,” James said, likening himself to the boy in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory who found the golden ticket. “I signed my lease on May 30, and I move into my apartment Thursday, June 6.”
After hearing the frustrations of Sea Summit residents at the council meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Dan Bane said that the Pico site is “clearly a temporary solution.” He said the reason the city couldn’t give a better timeframe on a permanent location for a homeless shelter is because the council is working toward a regional, county solution. “I have no idea how long that’s going to take,” he said, though the council hopes it is less than a year.
The city has offered some mitigation efforts, such as adding foliage at Pico Park to block the view of the encampment, but Sea Summit homeowners rejected the idea, Bane said. The council had a second reading of the May 21 urgency ordinance (No. 1674) prohibiting camping on public camping. They unanimously adopted it, but decided to bring back a new ordinance with an amendment to include a sunset provision, meaning the law could be repealed once a specific date is reached.