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Dear Randy: Moms Around Town Refer to Santee's 'Homeless Park'

Resident: "I am writing you with my concerns with Town Center Park and the transients within the park. I want to enjoy the park as a community member and I feel that they are disgracing our parks!"

Town Center Park in Santee
Town Center Park in Santee
Santee Mayor Randy Voepel responds to resident letters and questions in his no-holds-barred style.

Letter:

Dear Honorable Mayor Voepel,

I am writing you with my concerns with Town Center Park and the transients within the park. I want to enjoy the park as a community member and I feel that they are disgracing our parks! Today I went for a run around the park only to be welcomed with pot smoke as I was trying to fill my lungs with fresh air.

Not to mention the transient that was sleeping in the bathroom at the softball field last month! Kids are at the park daily! It is a disgrace that the community paid so much for a park only for it to be de-faced by the transients. The rumors around the "mom" community it that it is called "homeless" park. How EMBARRASSING for Santee! Please help this park! Santee needs it.
Thank you for your time.

Reply from the Mayor: 
You are exactly correct. I/your City Council, City Staff and Law Enforcement/Fire have been battling the Homeless problem in Santee for over 30 years (16 for me).

For years there have been 12-15 homeless in the Riverbottom, mostly older folks and long time Santee Riverbottom dwellers. Those homeless were about 1/3 mentally impaired, 1/3 drug or alcohol impaired and 1/3 down on their luck.

Today, unfortunately that has changed for the worst. There are now 30-45 homeless, with a majority of them younger methamphetamine (methheads, tweekers, etc.) and also more young women. Many of these people are up from the San Diego river area, ironically the violence levels are higher in San Diego and many feel safer in Santee.

This adds greater danger to our children and more petty crime to support their drug habits. Our Deputy Sheriffs sweep through the Riverbottom fairly often. I go on sweeps with them periodically (I am a Vietnam combat veteran). These sweeps are muddy, dangerous, smelly (human waste & worst) rough going.

Here is the drill: We cite them for illegal camping or other violations. After three citations they are often arrested. These arrests receive various short/medium jail terms.

Some get Court orders to stay out of Santee. However these homeless have constitutional protections just like you and I have. Due process and their human rights must be protected by law.

The City is also suffering from higher copper thefts, RV batteries and other property thefts. The homeless are mainly petty thefts. There are organized theft rings that specialize in RV batteries, copper and other items. This is a never-ending struggle for Santee.

We are STILL one of the lowest crime rate Cities in the County (surrounded by much higher crime rate areas) but as they say in the US Navy at sea; "Eternal vigilance is the price of safety". So Ms. Knierim, Our City and our Deputies will continue to work very hard at keeping a "zone of control" over the Riverbottom. Remember, this homeless problem has been with us since biblical times.

Respectfully,
Randy Voepel
Mayor, City of Santee

COMMENT: Have you heard Town Center Park referred to as "Homeless Park"? Do you feel safe using the park?

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Send your questions or comments on any topic, preferably a local issue, to steven.bartholow@patch.com, and we'll pass it onto Mayor Voepel, or reach out to him directly here.
Kevin January 22, 2014 at 01:56 PM
I've personally gotten to know these people. Some have major problems, but there are quite a few who are down on there luck. Most of them have alcohol problems, yes. But like friends and family members they need the support and help of the community. Not to be down cast by some of you so called good people. We need to all rally together to help them. Pushing them out just makes them bitter to all of us. Please help and make a difference. Don't be snobby about the situation. It could happen to you. I know first hand things can change in a matter of minutes, hours, days or months. I hike these are and find it disscusing. PLEASE HELP.
You Know Reno January 22, 2014 at 02:03 PM
Kevin..help HOW?? What can I do to help the homeless in Santee & keep our local parks clean & safe?? What are you doing to help the homeless?? Any idea would be appreciated.
Lisa Ramos January 22, 2014 at 02:19 PM
I do have children who enjoy the parks on occasion and I always park my car in the garage. Anyway, does anyone think an active neighborhood watch would help some of the crime in the area?
Lisa Ramos January 22, 2014 at 02:30 PM
I like the idea of a clean living shelter, that would get some of the homeless who truly need help and don't want to leave Santee off the streets.
Matthew T. Saadeh January 22, 2014 at 03:34 PM
Good job Reno...once more diverting the attention to avoid YOUR issues. Homeless folks are not the scum of the Earth like some suggest, and like Kevin said, people can change and will change in dire need of survival. I'm willing to adapt to whatever is necessary for I cant stand watching my city that I grew up in go to shambles.
Sleepless in Santee January 22, 2014 at 05:28 PM
I must agree, our main problem is a lack of law enforcement (who is responsible for that?) I have been to the Sheriffs, code enforcement, the Mayor and City Council regarding a different issue. Over 2 years- photo's- and exact times these laws are being broken and NOTHING changes. When they are informed of exactly when and where daily these events happen and daily these events continue. Something is very WRONG with our law enforcement. Weak and inconsistent will not improve our City and Who oversees our Law Enforcement? Someone needs to stand up, take charge and make changes.
sheeple herder January 22, 2014 at 06:44 PM
Here is the solution with a double win: take sheriff supervised field trips with kids from the grade / high schools ( you pick the age) to show them what hard work, dicipline, and correct life choices gets you vs. "Living in a van down by the river." The ( insert PC term here ) will either be shamed into changing their lifestyle of living au naturale and making the parks and anywhere they congregate UNSAFE. They will either leave, or actually get a hand up, NOT a hand out and get back to a meaningful life!
Circus Freakshow January 23, 2014 at 12:34 AM
When you have BUMS wanting money instead of food when holding the "Will work for food" sign...there's a problem. We used to have a very nice city. It used to be very clean 5-7 years ago. It has changed...and not for the good. It's not the quaint city tucked away that had a rural feel to it anymore. It's very sad that this mayor has RUINED this city. How about leading by example? How about having a SHERIFF that knows how to run a department and treat his people right and motivating them to WANT to go out and do their jobs to the best of their ability? I said what I said about Janet's Cafe and 7-11 because I have seen it with my own eyes. I have been at the Santee Public library and seen 4 -5 Sheriff's units parked having breakfast at Janet's Cafe, while homeless puke their guts out on playground structures at Mast Park. Then they complain they don't have enough personnel to do their jobs? How about taking a 1/2 hour breakfast or lunch instead of sitting there for 1 - 2 hours? How about enforcing the laws at a school where there are no speed bumps and people drive by while school is in session at 40-50 MPH? No...they would rather look/gawk at women instead of doing something for the amount of money they paid. Move the BUMS out of Santee. I am actually contemplating moving my family out of Santee due to the crime rate going up and the amount of homeless rising. Anyone who lets they children walk ANYWHERE around Santee, that are under the age of 16 without an adult present are just asking for trouble. It's going to happen....PLEASE don't trust the people you see roaming the streets or hanging out in the parks because you think they are "Nice people".....be afraid...VERY AFRAID.
You Know Reno January 23, 2014 at 10:00 AM
Matthew T. Saadeh please go away. I am here like the others trying to find a solution. I posted my opinion & you felt the need to insult my 23 month old child. Some of us have obviously been more affected by this situation than others. Some respond out of compassion, some respond out of anger. I think we can easily say there needs to be a better solution than the current. Keeping my child safe is my number one priority.
Sleepless in Santee January 23, 2014 at 11:15 AM
Circus Freakshow said it perfectly.
Matthew T. Saadeh January 23, 2014 at 11:16 AM
Excuse me? I'm not going to "go away" because of your inability to see the bigger issue here. Your individualistic views on this is far beyond embarrassing. The homeless SHOULD NOT BE homeless. We are not an impoverished country, we take care of those who need it no matter if they may be a bag egg or not. This shelter, if provided, will not have bums roaming rampant on the street like some suggest. They'll have a home to stay in and clean up their act. Only patronizing them will ultimately lead to thier ultimate dismay for they no longer find the need to want help because of people like you Reno who want to "protect their children". Stop hiding behind that fallacy and wake up.
Linda O'Connor Van Wickel January 23, 2014 at 11:19 AM
The only place I feel safe walking is at Santee Lakes. They also have nice play areas for the kids.
Jeff C January 23, 2014 at 11:27 AM
Matthew when was the last time you were in downtown SD. They have shelters there and it is a real mess. Shelters won't help. Like the mayor said they are drunks and meth addicts. There might be a few that just are down on their luck but a majority don't want help. They just want money so they can get their next score. I don't trust them, I don't like having to look over my shoulder when walking with my daughter on the trails at Mast Park. They need to go. I want a clean Santee back.
sheeple herder January 23, 2014 at 11:39 AM
Matt, while on your high horse, what have you done personally to alleviate the BUM problem since you want to call everyone out? If you haven't, why not?
Stephanie Bovee January 23, 2014 at 11:40 AM
I no longer live in Santee, lost my jobs unexpected just before Christmas and had to move to live with family. My kids and I lived here 6 years. I was sad to leave, like this city. My son was most prolific reader two years running at Rio Seco. I myself was homeless, even homeless on the street for a period, when younger when I was too disabled by epilepsy to hold a job. When I lived in Santee I knew most of the regular homeless guys here. One guy asked me if it was okay for him to say hi to my children when they rode their bikes by home from school, and I said fine. He wanted to watch over them, make sure they were okay. Yes I go to the Megan's Law site and coach my children on safety. I did stop going to the city park for a while when all the homeless guys were always there every day getting drunk. While I know them and all, sometimes I just wanted to go to the park and have some quiet time with my kids. People, please remember that being on the internet does not give you social permission to say things you would never dare say to a person's face in real life. What I am saying here I would say to any of you face to face, the homeless guys I know, the wealthy privileged, the mothers at the park. Don't mock and name call others. There have always been the poor. Change the culture at the new park and Mast Park. Have volunteers, or social workers, folk, actively engage with the local homeless folk at those locations daily, for lengthy encounters (think religious folk knocking at the door style), offering referrals to social services, reminders about city laws such as public drunkeness and littering, and also have police and law enforcement engage the individuals daily actively at those locations. Like the other poster said, getting out of their cars and walking over to engage. Do a two pronged repetitive daily engagement by both social workers and police. Work together with pre-existing nonprofit orgs. Offer van rides to locations where help can be obtained. I have also noticed there do seem to be more homeless folk in Santee. When I go there I don't know them anymore, they are strangers I don't know their names of.
Dean Velasco January 23, 2014 at 11:41 AM
I have a solution for some of the issues mentioned above. We need to start on own local Guardian Angels group! If and when we see any stuff going down we can call the Sheriffs away from the 7/11 break. I am very invovled in this great city and i do want to see our parks a little safer. I have no problem giving a little more back.
You Know Reno January 23, 2014 at 11:43 AM
I have no response to someone who thinks that protecting their child is a fallacy, laughable at the least. I do agree Santee Lakes seems to be the safest place to walk, take children to play & enjoy the outdoors.
Kim Joralemon January 23, 2014 at 11:52 AM
Having lived downtown and in PB, I am very familiar with the more dangerous homeless that will punch you if you don't give them money. I'm also very familiar with the quiet ones that are down on their luck, that you WANT to reach out to. the shelters in place become loitering areas and drug. dealing areas. other than Father Joes that keeps them moving along. I thinkif a temporary shelter is built, it would encourage more folks and more crime. plus, no one wants it in their neighborhood. I think te volunteer force with the sheriffs should approach these people. give them reachout resources. ask them if they need help getting home, etc. The bad guys will start avoiding open areas where our kids are and move along. the ones that truly need help will take it. we can start with compassion. when that doesn't work, start transpoerting them back downtown. Matt will volunteer, right?
Jeff C January 23, 2014 at 12:00 PM
Just like in Field of Dreams, Build it and they will come. Hey everyone Santee has a new shelter, let's all leave downtown where we get hastled and move to nice quiet Santee, they won't bother us there. Hey they even have nice parks we can hang out in all day. I personally don't want that.
Circus Freakshow January 23, 2014 at 12:28 PM
I don't care if you are in front of my face or not. I won't avoid a BUM. I will say what I think about and to them. I pay my taxes here. I have a house here. I didn't live past my means and lose a job or a house or have a drug problem. I live here and I won't be pressured or scared by ANY of these leeches. I don't care if you were homeless or not. I have rights to say what I wish and just because you or they are down on their luck or wish to live on the streets...it's not MY responsibility to take care of them. That's why I pay taxes and that's why I hope that the Sheriff's Department has my best interests in mind. But it's obvious they currently do not. I agree, a homeless shelter would only attract the street urchins and leeches to Santee which is already the easiest trolley stop to get off at if you are drunk and on the trolley. Sorry...I feel no sorrow for the BUMS of Santee. Maybe we should have bumper stickers made up like OB had made...oh but that wouldn't be POLITICALLY INCORRECT. Then our "mayor" would have to go kiss butt and explain why his residents are revolting against the homeless...god knows he wouldn't want to do that. We're the LaJolla of the east .....right? (LAUGHABLE)
Circus Freakshow January 23, 2014 at 12:35 PM
More crows and more BUMS...coincidence? I think not......BOTH ARE SCAVENGERS! Our city can't get rid of either one.
Lisa Ramos January 23, 2014 at 12:36 PM
Well I guess this is all there is, we'll bicker and attack each other with no real resolve except venting. I have lived in Santee for 16 years and I'm not leaving, I love my home and my neighborhood. Homelessness is EVERYWHERE in San Diego, there is no moving from it. I guess I'll continue to watch the homeless population grow, my daughter is smart enough not to engage in conversations with strangers and well, the parks are pretty much done for. I have read a couple of good suggestion but it will take us as a community to take an active role…I can read here that’s not going to happen. Most will wait for someone else to do it. I’m going to walk my own streets and keep an eye out for wrong doers. I will call the police if needed and hope they’ll take action. I’ll also keep an eye on the homeless, if they’re doing something wrong, I’ll take a photo with my phone and take it and my complaint to the Sherriff’s station, again in hopes they’ll take action. I’ll try to do my part; it’s all I can really do. The change in Santee started with the Trolley but we as an active community can make a change for the better. If we chose not to, well then it is what it is.
sheeple herder January 23, 2014 at 12:57 PM
Lisa, the answer is in my post.
Stephanie Bovee January 23, 2014 at 01:39 PM
If somebody wants to set something up I'll volunteer. I have free time right now, and I'm not scared of homeless people, lulz. You wouldn't want to be doing a hand-out, but a referral/outreach approach. I have a bachelor's degree, some legal training, and over ten years of customer service, very good with people. Best wishes from over here in Lemon Grove. You get the homeless folk in Lemon Grove on Broadway hanging out near the social services office.
Matthew T. Saadeh January 23, 2014 at 07:30 PM
Lisa is right, we're solving anything by bickering with each other. I apologize Reno.
Matthew T. Saadeh January 23, 2014 at 07:31 PM
*not solving
Gary Strawn January 24, 2014 at 01:26 PM
Just finished the annual homeless count along the San Diego River in Santee, from Carlton Oaks Golf Course to RCP. Found 17 or 18 camp /structures, which is down from this time last year. We did not count the camp on Forester Creek or the ones on San Diego City property between 52 and Westhills Pkwy. The problem remains serious, but it appears that the Santee is doing a good job of controlling the problems. The FACTS show that the perception of a huge and growing problem is not true. Thanks to Friends of Santee River Park, San Diego River Park Foundation volunteers and the City of Santee for their hard work. Gary Strawn PS We don't harass the homeless, we just haul the trash out of abandoned camps.
Steven Bartholow (Editor) January 24, 2014 at 07:30 PM
Thanks for the info Gary! And for all your volunteer efforts. I spun off your comment into this post: http://santee.patch.com/groups/around-town/p/santee-homeless-count-finds-less-camps-than-last-year-says-volunteer
Circus Freakshow January 25, 2014 at 12:26 AM
So you make it easier for them to stay and live in an area illegally. While people the parks were built for avoid them or have to dodge trash and shield their children from a problem you assisted in creating. Thanks for the help. Maybe we should get our own teams together and make them move from the area ourselves? You know...take back OUR neighborhoods where WE pay TAXES for where WE live. Where WE are upstanding citizens and where WE don't try to leech or scavenge off others. This is pathetic.
Circus Freakshow January 26, 2014 at 10:42 AM
Here are the 3 ways the homeless problem in the county should be dealt with. (taken from UTSandiego.com comment) 1. Place the lazy and the addicted on work parties paving roads and cleaning parks. 2. Place the mentally ill back into hospitals where they can get treatment 3. Jail the ones who dont want to participate in option 1 or 2. It's pretty simple.

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