Homeless camp’s ‘horrid conditions’ raises healthy, safety concerns in Encinitas
The Coast News Group
ENCINITAS — Homeless resident Victor “Vic” Ballance died of a suspected drug overdose on July 24 in a swath of undeveloped land just behind Oggi’s Restaurant in Encinitas, according to the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office.
After rumors of Ballance’s death, pervasive drug use and growing reports of property crimes in the area, The Coast News, accompanied by two longtime Encinitas residents, Jeff Morris and “JD,” visited the location of Ballance’s death on the morning of Aug. 9 to inspect the area.
Morris, the controversial founder of Encinitas Watchdog and North County Citizens Coalition (NC3), has been covering the homeless situation in Encinitas for years.
During the walkthrough, The Coast News found numerous dwelling areas consisting of large tents with beds scattered throughout the woodlands; countless heaping mounds of junk and stolen equipment; islands of assorted plastics, cans, glass bottles and drug paraphernalia; putrified food containers and dirty clothes — all of which was hidden beneath the sprawling tree-covered ditch reeking of urine, feces and garbage.
A homeless man living in a tent, who requested to remain anonymous, said no one from the city or any of the local nonprofits tasked with homeless outreach have come to the area to offer services or supplies, such as medical attention, food and clothing.
The man, who was living in a tent with a makeshift carpet-sample walkway, said he was originally from Utah and had been living in Encinitas for the past four years. He also confirmed that Vic had recently died.
“My heart is broken today to find out and confirm that Vic has passed away,” Morris said. “I can’t stop thinking about what I could have done to prevent this. I notified the mayor, nonprofits, but as we heard, nobody is helping these people.”
Morris told The Coast News he used to be homeless as a child and he wants the city to help get these people out of these unsanitary living conditions.
The area, which is located just to the right of the northbound Interstate 5 off-ramp stretching from Requeza Street to Encinitas Boulevard, also contains a large drainage tunnel that connects directly to Cottonwood Creek Park, which then drains directly into Moonlight Beach.
Some residents believe homeless residents utilize the drainage tunnel to move freely from the makeshift camp in the ravine to Cottonwood Creek Park.
Rats, garbage, broken glass, old tents and overturned shopping carts sit stationary in pools of brackish water as a nearby stream trickles through the tunnel into Cottonwood Creek Park.
Overlooking the canyon is a parking lot with a fleet of the city’s Public Works Department vehicles and nearby San Dieguito United Methodist Church and preschool.
“This is a public health hazard,” JM said. “There is rampant drug use just a stone’s throw away from a preschool. And the mayor and City Council are permitting this to exist in the middle of Encinitas? These people are living in horrid conditions but none of the state grant dollars are going to help them. Why not?”
An employee at Oggi’s said the steady vagrant presence has created a nuisance for the business and its workers, using the building’s electrical ports and leaving trash on the property.
“I would say everyone who works here has had a run-in with the homeless population down there,” the employee said. “Nothing super severe but it’s a bit of a nuisance.”
In October 2018, The Encinitas City Council declared a “shelter crisis,” which opened them up to establishing a lease agreement with Jewish Family Services to operate a Safe Parking Program at Leichtag Commons, just a few blocks from the large homeless encampment along Encinitas Boulevard.
Jewish Family Services, which also operates three Safe Parking lots in the city of San Diego, approached Encinitas officials about creating a homeless parking lot program in North County after the nonprofit received a $256,000 grant through the California Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP).
But the parking lot doesn’t address or support the individuals without cars.
The Coast News reached out to Caltrans, the reported owner of the property adjacent to the freeway offramp, as well as the City of Encinitas, but did not receive a comment in time for publication. The Coast News will update the story with comments as they arrive.
“All I want is Encinitas safe again and I want these nonprofits to stop using these people for money,” Morris said. “As an expert former homeless child and thief, I know what it’s like to be hungry. I know what it’s like to see somebody have something you don’t have. And if I was homeless and was brought to Encinitas, I would steal everything that isn’t bolted to the ground.”