Jeanette Reynolds sweeps up trash in the area where she and her friend stay downtown. Photo by Chris Stone

Sixty-nine-year-old Jeanette Reynolds relaxed in a lawn chair next to a friend and spoke of her almost life-long dream of moving to California.

As a child, she regularly watched the 1960s show “The Beverly Hillbillies” in which Jed Clampett fired his shotgun and out of the ground came a bubbling crude — and a millionaire’s lifestyle.

“I’d say: ‘If God ever lets me live to get grown, I’m going to California,’” Reynolds told Times of San Diego last week.

Shopping carts filled with belongings line a street in downtown San Diego. Photo by Chris Stone

Her friend Benny, 63, who served in the military for 15 years and once taught eighth grade, has a soft face and smiles a lot. He laughs as he listens to her.

“Every day you meet someone new coming from a different state,” she said of her neighbors.

Despite the social aspects, they aren’t happy in their neighborhood. The view from their chairs isn’t from a front porch, but rather a street in downtown San Diego’s East Village.

They are homeless.

“We have to get out of here because it’s very dangerous for us,” Reynolds said. In fact she says they’ve already put down a deposit on a U-Haul rental, aiming to go to Georgia.

Among their current pressing problems: filth.

“Once we are bedded down at night, they (other homeless people) put feces out there,” she said.

“When we get up in the morning to break down, me or him have to clean it up. I get the broom and gloves and scrub it.”

She and Benny set up a tent after 9 p.m. and tear it down by 5 a.m. — former rules for the unsheltered downtown.

People who soil her area “sometimes get very violent and want to beat you up, cuss you or call you names, so I just keep my mouth closed and just clean it up myself.”

She buys three gallons of bleach each month when she gets her Social Security check.

“The homeless can do better,” she said. “I’m not talking against them because I am homeless, too, but if they would get up and clean up, it would be a lot easier for us out here. … See that trash? That’s a lot of the big problem over there.”

Seventeen people have died and more than 400 sickened by hepatitis A, which can be spread through contact with feces. Last week, San Diego police cleared homeless encampments from 17th Street, National and Commercial in the city’s effort to deal with the disease.

Jeanette and Benny have been vaccinated, so they’re not worried about infection.

Reynolds said: “I don’t have nothing bad to say about San Diego because I have some good points happen to me here, but I don’t want to be out here, so have to go back where I know I can be inside.”

“Nobody wants to be homeless — I know I don’t. But if you are going to be homeless, at least here churches bring food, they bring clothes, blankets and water because you have a lot of sick people out here, diabetics, cancer and heart problems.”

Her life in San Diego didn’t start that way.

After a series of hurricanes in Florida, she finally lost everything to Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

“And I got so depressed, very depressed,” she said of that time.

When she came to San Diego in 2007, she intended to “get off Social Security” and return to work.

She hoped to be a trolley or city bus driver because she used to drive heavy equipment in Florida.

But after knee surgery, she said, “I knew it wasn’t going to work because [I have] a plate in the knee.”

She paid $1,100 a month for an apartment, but after complaining to her landlord about what she said were a faulty refrigerator and stove, the landlord told her to move out.

Reynolds and her friend prefer not to live in a shelter.

“I’m a vet,” said Benny, living on San Diego streets for 20 years. “I don’t like to do this and do that. I have more freedom out here.

A city notice in a tree well notifies the homeless of upcoming power washing on 17th Street downtown. Photo by Chris Stone

“And I meet different people out here who talk to you and tell you what’s going on. All kinds of people will come out here and talk to you and feed you and then they will fall in love with you and will help you out, help you get a job and get a place to stay.”

Benny said he sometimes runs into kids he used to teach.

“They give me a hug and a couple of dollars on the side,” he said.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer has proposed erecting three large industrial tents with beds, showers, restrooms and hand-washing stations by the end of the year.

Not all homeless welcome that arrangement.

Richard, a homeless man living downtown, said: “Let me tell you something. That’s not gonna work. They gotta put dividers in it. Don’t make it like a concentration camp with bunk beds, no privacy.”

He continued: “It’s going to be loud. Nobody is gonna want to be there, because half the people in there are going to be drunk or on drugs and acting stupid.”

Reynolds and her friend stay out of the shelters, forgoing the three meals a day offered at Father Joe’s Villages. They can shower there, though.

Some homeless sleep on the sidewalks during the day. Photo by Chris Stone

They are at the mercy of churches and volunteers to provide them food and water.

And on Mondays and Wednesdays, food and water are scarce, she said.

People who are homeless frequent God’s Extended Hands mission on Island Avenue between 16th and 17th streets, Father Joe’s Villages and the San Diego Rescue Mission.

Reynolds wishes Father Joe’s Village would provide sack lunches for people living on the streets.

What’s the biggest public misconception about the homeless?

“They think that all of us is the same,” Reynolds said. “And we are not, because many homeless people out here have had a good life, good education, good jobs but things happen in people’s lives, and some people get depressed and they can’t get back to where they were and then they just change.”

“A lot of good and decent people [are] out here,” she said.

The second-worst part of living on the streets of San Diego are people dependent on alcohol and drugs, she said.

Reynolds said she neither she nor her friend uses drugs or alcohol.

“If you don’t click with the clique, and there’s drugs and alcohol, you can get robbed, you can get beat up, you can get mugged and it’s pretty dangerous,” she said.

“I haven’t been a victim of a crime, but I have been in a situation where somebody come to rob us and kill us. That was about two years ago,” Reynolds said. The attacker left when she told him she called 911.

Reynolds believes it’s harder for a woman to be homeless — especially with a shortage of restrooms.

“They go over to the bushes, take off their clothes and urinate and poo-poo and then they get naked out here,” she said.

The city has installed at least 20 toilet and washing stations throughout downtown San Diego — 11 of them open 24 hours. But the nearest round-the-clock facility to 17th Street is in the tailgate parking lot off Imperial Avenue and 14th Street.

A homeless woman using the facility near Petco Park said she appreciated the sanitation units and thinks the only way they will remain clean and usable is if they are monitored by guards.

The homeless in downtown San Diego move along streets with their belongings. Photo by Chris Stone

The number of homeless people in East Village varies according to the time of the month.
When many homeless people get their Social Security checks at the beginning of the month, Reynolds said, they spend two to three weeks in a hotel and then return to the streets when the money runs out.

The first of the month is also a time when more partying takes place in the street, she said.

“You have women hollering. You have people partying, playing music,” she said. “You try to get sleep and you can’t sleep. You know you just don’t say nothing and let them do their thing, mostly when it’s check time.”

For now, Reynolds and her friend sleep in a tent and dream about moving away by the end of October.

They used to sleep on a street over Interstate 5, but moved to a tent after young men burst urine-filled balloons in her eyes.

But the danger hasn’t ended.

Reynolds said she prays nightly that she doesn’t have to leave her tent to go to the bathroom, “so you’d better do it in the daytime because it’s rough out here.”

About 1 a.m. last Thursday, she said, she heard the zipper of her tent opening “and I know that I locked it.” Reynolds said the intruder was a woman — and asked her why she opened it.
The woman left without harming them.

“This is the kind of thing,” Reynolds said. “You can’t sleep sound. It is not safe, and you don’t know if you’re going to be alive the next morning.”

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