Recent violent and random attacks by homeless people on unsuspecting San Diegans have some calling on the city and police to do more to keep streets safe.
“Walking through America’s Finest City shouldn’t feel like you’re in the Walking Dead,” says Aislinn Fava.
The sidewalk outside her building is as far as the petite 31-year-old has made it outside her apartment alone since she was attacked three weeks ago.
“I used to feel kind of invincible,” Fava said. “And I felt really safe in San Diego and never thought anything like this could happen. Ever. And that completely changed on that day.”
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Fava was walking along Broadway between 4th 3rd avenues to grab a smoothie in the middle of the afternoon when a homeless man ran up from behind her and punched her in the back of the head, slamming her into the ground. She said he punched her a second time and tried to steal her purse before police arrested him. Giovanni Moore, 31, is now in jail and facing criminal charges for battery and robbery.
“The thing that really freaks me out the most is that there really wasn’t anything I could do to prevent it,” Fava said. “I couldn’t have seen in coming. I didn’t exchange words with this guy. Nothing. It was so bizarre, so random, that’s kind of the freakiest part.”
Fava shared her experience on social media and the comments came flooding in. Below are just a few examples:
“…East village is a war zone for women. I had an incident near Albertsons last year. I pepper sprayed him to get him off of me…”
“…I work on India St and I have seen so much aggressive behavior from them such as dancing with a knife and wielding it at people…”
“…I had a homeless woman charge at me, screaming obscenities..."
The same week of Fava's attack, a City Heights surveillance camera captured the moment a homeless man struck another man from behind with a skateboard. Police say the suspect did it again to another random victim just minutes later.
"We have an uptick in violent crime in general,” Mayor Todd Gloria told NBC7. “And being homeless is not a crime, but being homeless is not a get out of jail free card either."
Gloria acknowledges there has been an increase in people living on the streets over the last year.
"A lot of that has to do with the fact that during the pandemic we had to enforce social distancing rules in our homeless shelters,” said Gloria. “That meant that literally hundreds of our beds have not been able to be occupied."
Those same public health orders compelled the jail to release low-level offenders, and some repeat offenders were sent right back to the streets.
But in the last two weeks alone, Gloria said the city has sheltered over 300 people now that social distancing rules have relaxed. In March, the city launched a new street outreach team with mental health counselors and housing workers.
Gloria said those outreach workers track everyone they interact with into a database. So far, he said it's yielding results.
"For those individuals who raise up the issue of homelessness as a concern, I'd ask them to be a part of the solution," Gloria said. "I'd ask them to participate in the efforts. We have to build more housing. We need to have more shelter beds. That's something communities often struggle with accepting."
Fava just hopes to see changes soon - saying for many living downtown, dodging human feces while walking your dog or constantly fearing an attack from a stranger is now a daily routine.
“This dysfunction has become the norm and it’s really unacceptable,” Fava said.
NBC 7 asked SDPD for the percentage of violent suspects that are homeless, but we were told that is something neither police nor the city is keeping track of.
In the city's latest proposed budget, Gloria allocated an extra $10 million towards creating more shelter beds and intermediate housing, particularly for those struggling with mental illness and substance abuse.