San Diego police may have some work to do on the public relations front after a particularly unpopular recent move. Police arrested Michael Clark—also known as Red—for living in a small, mobile home that was donated to him by friendly locals in the area. Many view the decision as unreasonably punitive given the circumstances.
“Had they written him a ticket and asked him to move the house, he could have had plenty of help,” argued witness Anthony Brown. “There was no discussion of a ticket. It was immediate handcuffs.”
Indeed, it appears that Clark was given little opportunity to move house as per the officers’ request.
“They said, ‘Well, we are going to give him two hours to move it,’” Brown added. “Five minutes later there was a tow truck here and they took the house away.”
They took Clark away, too. He was charged with two misdemeanors: encroaching and lodging without consent. Clark had been homeless prior to the donation, and police certainly haven’t helped the situation. More troubling still, they only took action against Clark while allowing a number of neighbors to post up in nearby tents.
“If you look all around the street, there’s tents, and I don’t understand why he was singled out when his house was right here on the sidewalk,” explained donor Lisa Kogan. “And you can look down the street and across the street and there’s tents everywhere.”
Kogan was one of the locals who organized the effort to house Clark.
“What has really hit me in my heart is there’s a need out here, there’s a need for people to have shelter,” she added.
Kogan learned of a Los Angeles man building small homes for the homeless. Then she decided to take action.
“I became inspired, and I got my friends behind and donated money,” Kogan said. “We built it last month. It’s a little house, it’s moveable, it has wheels.”
But police were apparently in no mood to simply move the home.
“I’m outraged. When I heard the news I cried and I was upset,” Kogan said.
Clark serves as deacon at the International Love Ministries of God church, which has a reputation for aiding the homeless. He’d slept on the streets on downtown San Diego until Kogan and her friends provided him the home.
“So, Red’s place ended up right here on the sidewalk, and so this is where he was sleeping when the police came,” Kogan noted.
It goes without saying that the plight of those without homes is bad enough without having police further penalize them. As of 2005, there were approximately 100 million homeless people around the world. President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 several years ago in a bid to prevent homelessness. That same year, he signed the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act (HEARTH), reauthorizing a program designed to help the homeless. Despite the federal attention, however, homelessness remains a prevalent problem in the United States.
Earlier this year, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that there were at least 800 homeless people living in downtown San Diego alone, a 26 percent increase over the previous year.
“I think everyone is frustrated, because there’s a difficulty in claiming our title as America’s finest city when we have so many people who don’t have homes,” argued San Diego City Councilman Todd Gloria. “This is probably the top issue I hear about from my downtown constituents.”
If there’s any good news, it’s that the private sector has noticed and is attempting to address the growing crisis.
“We’re working very hard every day to solve the problem,”said Downtown San Diego Partnership CEO and president Kris Michell. “The good news is that large businesses are banding together. We’re going to continue to work with getting people into programs.”
Hopefully local police won’t get in the way.