Dozens of volunteers gathered in City Heights Friday for an important mission: a thorough clean-up of the home of a World War II veteran whose property had become a zone for squatters and other unwanted activity.
“This, to me, is absolutely amazing. I can’t believe what these people are doing for me here. It’s like being in a dream,” former U.S. Marine Jess Busco, 88, told NBC 7, in awe of the clean-up effort at his home in the 3800-block of 45th Street.
Volunteers included San Diego Police Department officers, city workers, staffers from Councilmember Marti Emerald’s office, U.S. Coast Guard personnel, members of the Urban Corps of San Diego and area residents, all lending a helping hand to make Busco’s home safe again.
Busco has lived at the same house his entire life.
Over the past seven months, however, his home was no longer his haven as squatters made themselves at home on his property, damaging the surroundings and hiding out in brush along the house. Police said the area had also become a zone for drug deals.
With all of this activity, Busco said his wife and tenants were afraid to go outside, afraid to walk to their cars.
“I felt like a goldfish in a bowl, watching a cat approaching the goldfish bowl. My wife was afraid to come out into our yard. She was scared to death of these squatters. They were constantly coming and going,” he explained.
Busco said this caused a lot of stress and strain in his life.
“At my age, it’s not like being a young person any more. It concerned me,” he added.
Last week, his daughter sent a letter to the City of San Diego, and leaders took action, including SDPD Lt. Martha Garcia Sainz.
Busco said Garcia Sainz helped get the squatters out and locked up and secured the area around his home. She and the city also arranged to have branches and debris cleared and the trees cut around the property to provide more visibility.
“We’re doing crime prevention through environmental design. Everyone can see what’s going on here,” Garcia Sainz said.
Officers and volunteers said helping with this project was their way of thanking Busco for his service and making the City Heights community safer for all residents.
Busco said words can’t describe his gratitude for the officials and volunteers that made this happen.
“I’m elated. I couldn’t be happier. I feel like I’m in a dream here. I don’t have the words to express how grateful I am for what the city is actually doing for me,” he said.
When asked if he was ever frightened by the activity taking place on his property, Busco said his Marine Corps training kicked in, making him act on the situation instead of fearing it.
“Fear can’t stop you from doing what has to be done. That’s how we fought World War II. That’s how the Marine Corps trains you. You can’t be afraid. You must carry out your duty. This was another case of doing my duty – getting these people out of here,” said Busco.