Sunny skies and free lunches aren’t the only benefits that attract transients to San Diego County.
Local advocates for the homeless confirm that for decades, government agencies, churches and social service agencies in other states have provided free transportation to San Diego and other California cities to help rid their own cities of transients.
According to lawsuit recently settled, a Nevada mental hospital was accused of sending 500 patients by Greyhound bus to San Diego and other California cities.
Christopher Earl Destrude was one of the patients from Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas who ended up in San Diego, according to the lawsuit.
Law enforcement records confirm Destrude was classified as a sex offender in Montana following his 2004 conviction for sexual intercourse without consent. According to the Montana records, Destrude’s victim was a 9-year-old girl.
According to news reports, Destrude fled Montana in January 2011 after failing to register as a sex offender. He made his way to Las Vegas where police arrested him, records show. Destrude was sent to the Rawson-Neal Hospital, but patient busing receipts obtained by the Sacramento Bee confirm the hospital bought Dustrude a bus ticket for San Diego on Jan. 26, 2011.
Dustrude’s aunt told the Sacramento newspaper that her nephew had no family in San Diego and no ties to our community.
Court records confirm the U.S. Marshals Service in San Diego tracked him down two weeks later at the county mental hospital in the Midway District.
“He’s in violation (for failing to report as a sex offender) in three different states,” Deputy U.S. Marshal Omar Castillo told reporters at the time.
“It pisses me off that they are sending their most infirm to other cities and not taking care of them themselves,” homeless advocate Bob McElroy said about government and social service agencies that give their homeless and mentally ill free bus tickets to other cities.
“We get two hundred new (transients) here every month from other cities,” said McElroy, executive director of the Alpha Project in downtown San Diego. “I’d say half of them are sent here without having any local contacts.”
When the Sacramento newspaper documented the extent of the problem in a series of stories about alleged “patient dumping” by Rawson Neal Hospital and the state of Nevada, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera took action.
In 2013, Herrera sued the state of Nevada and various Nevada state agencies, alleging that Rawson-Neal Hospital administrators sent a “substantial number of… mentally ill and indigent” patients to California, “despite the fact that virtually all the patients… required continuing medical care” were not residents of California and “were not provided any instructions or assistance in finding shelter… or basic necessities,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleged the patients applied for and received a total of $500,000 worth of housing support, medical care and “basic necessities,” paid for by San Francisco taxpayers.
Court records reveal San Francisco prosecutors reached out to colleagues in other cities, including San Diego, to gauge their interest in joining the lawsuit.
Despite Christopher Destrude’s well-documented arrest in San Diego, a spokesman for City Attorney Jan Goldsmith told NBC 7 Investigates that in 2013, legal investigators here did look into reports of patient dumping at Rawson-Neal Hospital but could not confirm that it happened in San Diego.
McElroy said homeless “dumping” is well known and openly discussed by social service agencies.
“Everyone does it, and everyone complains about it,” McElroy said.
San Diego did not join the San Francisco lawsuit but will benefit from the settlement won by San Francisco prosecutors.
According to the settlement, approved by a San Francisco judge on Dec. 17, the Las Vegas mental hospital will now provide travel assistance to California only for patients who lived in the area to which they’re being sent, who have a “family member or adult friend… willing and able to care” for them, or who have been “accepted for treatment at a medical facility or mental health program” in the community to which they are being sent.
The settlement also details that all patients must be accompanied on their journey by a chaperone, who will meet the patient in Nevada and travel with them to California.
Nevada, which did not admit any of the allegations in the lawsuit, will also pay San Francisco $400,000 in legal fees.
McElroy said he doubts the agreement will put an end to homeless and transient “dumping.”
“They only changed things in Vegas because they got caught,” he said.