Homelessness Persists in Gentrified East Village

For all the civic progress in downtown San Diego, large stretches of East Village are still a walk on the wild side.

All too many high-rise townhouses overlook heroin dealers and homeless camps.

So what can be done to upgrade the district's downside?

Solutions to the myriad problems have been elusive since well before ground was broken for what became Petco Park.

Redevelopment brought that project and dozens of residential and commercial ventures to East Village.

But now that it's over by state fiat and backing from the courts, deep pockets of poverty are plaguing the community.

Over four decades, East Village has morphed from a seedy warehouse outpost into a gentrifying housing, commercial and nightlife "destination".

But low-life elements that had spread farther west, in the Gaslamp Quarter and financial district, are now concentrated in the village.

"This is kind of like Fifth Avenue was in the Eighties,” says Mission Brewery president Dan Selis, whose business in the historic Wonder Bread building occupies much of the block at the southeast quadrant of 14th Avenue and L Street.

“In time, the progress pushed down to Sixth, to Seventh, to Eighth,” Selis recalled in an interview Tuesday. “And now it's at 14th. The progress is going to continue from 14th down to 15th, and so how long is that going to take? A few years?”

Mission Brewery is across the street from one of the city's new, half-million-dollar Portland Loo, an oasis of relief for the homeless who otherwise would do their “business” in landscaping and storefront alcoves throughout East Village.

Selis calls the pre-fab restroom, which has drawn public outcries over cost and logistical issues, “a Band-Aid fix” for the problem of human waste in East Village.

Folks who live and work nearby say the Loo is often littered, and filled with suspicious activity.

"I don't know that they're necessarily always using just for the restroom,” a woman walking her dog nearby told NBC 7. “I think they're using it as a place to escape being seen sometimes, too."

The homeless crowd scores of sidewalks, in the shadow of residential towers, among businesses whose employees and customers find themselves panhandled, pestered and paranoid walking around alone, especially after dark.

Whether just destitute, drug dealers or users, the derelicts won't disappear.

"The police describe it like a balloon,” says Selis. “You know -- you squeeze it, and it just pops up somewhere else."

Homeless advocates warn it'll take a lot more money for rehab and housing programs.

"It's going to go into Golden Hill, into Barrio and other places,” says Bob McElroy, founder and executive director of Alpha Project for the Homeless who’s fought funding battles at City Hall since 1987. “ It's better for us to coalesce. Let's not fight against each other. Bring as many resources as we can to the table, and solve the problem."

Right now, nearly $2 billion worth of public and private development projects are in the planning, city permit processing, or financing and construction phases throughout East Village.

Precious little is earmarked for homelessness.

There are no shortage of complaints from East Village residents, merchants and developers alike.

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