Residents in Mountain View are tired of the homeless encampment fires coming too close to their homes.
Their concerns come as the state of California grapples with a growing homeless population. Those residents told NBC7, though, that housing is just the tip of the iceberg and that the focus should be on deeper underlying issues.
A fire in October of 2021 was the turning point for Greg Perello, a renter who lives with his landlord in a Mountain View home. Several more fires followed in November and December.
“Saw this giant plume of black smoke, and it’s just like, 'Oh my God, there’s a fire,' " Perello said. "So we just rush to the window, and it’s like, 'Oh my God, that’s really close,' and the wind is blowing in our direction,” Perello said.
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For about a year, he told NBC7, he called police to complain about noise and fighting coming from the 10-12 person encampment set up on a private lot next door.
“They all had their own rooms," Perello said. "Some of the places had doors on them — padlocks and chains."
The city of San Diego paused homeless-encampment-enforcement laws for several months due to COVID-19, but enforcement resumed earlier this year and, eventually, the encampment next door to Perello was cleaned up. In 2019, the city adopted a ten-year community action plan on homelessness, which officials say has already met more than half of its new housing goals.
“It’s gonna take more than just like, 'Oh, here’s a place to live,' to help these people," Perello said. "They need drug therapy. They need counseling. They need social workers."
Officials need to address, Perello said, the deeper underlying issues of mental health, substance abuse, addiction and the lack of affordable housing — and not just in San Diego, but across the whole state.
“It’s just Band-Aids on a gaping wound," Perello said. "And it’s not just a wound. There’s somebody else, like, continually stabbing. And we’re not even addressing the stabbing, we’re just putting Band-Aids with kittens on it, and its just kind of dumb."
In the meantime, a new encampment has already set up down the street from Perello's home.
The city is using what it calls a "progressive enforcement model" against encampments, in which people are first offered shelter. Those who refuse will then get a warning, followed by an infraction citation, then misdemeanor citation and, finally, face potential arrest.