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By Robert Gehr

August 20, 2022 (El Cajon) -- Previously, I’ve written freelance articles about El Cajon for East County Magazine - the attractions, beauty, things to do, and its once dilapidated condition rising from the ashes of fire like the mythical Phoenix to become a nice attractive place to call home.

Sadly. I’m now giving my opinion on how this city is once again falling into disrepair.

It seems that everywhere I look as I walk around, I’m witnessing more trash, unkempt sidewalks and gutters in front of most businesses (that are supposed to be kept clean as per city municipal codes) cigarette butts, vomit, urine, excrement (human and dog) and rundown buildings (some that are abandoned) and the ever-increasing population of homeless people.

There needs to be better enforcement on businesses to clean and sanitize the areas in front of the buildings, sidewalks, including the gutters. This should be their responsibility, at least in part, not entirely the taxpayers.

Fresh paint and upkeep will go a long way to make places look nice and attract customers.

Now, I don’t have an exact answer as to why folks are homeless.  Perhaps through no fault of their own. Unaffordable rents, emotional health issues, job loss, or something else?

I do have a fairly good idea that many self-medicate with alcohol, and or drugs in a vain attempt to dull the aforementioned emotional pain. This of course exacerbates the problem of their plight, actions I certainly don’t condone.

These homeless individuals range from young children to seniors, with a variety in between.

Men, women, children, even veterans of the military. Backgrounds and causes of their situation no doubt run the gamut of personal horrors most of us simply cannot comprehend.

Does the city of El Cajon have enough resources to properly combat homelessness?

I’m not sure, and equally not sure if they use every possible method available. I mention this because some homeless people don’t want to comply with the requirements placed upon them by the available service providers, such as faith groups. These individuals, often with mental health and substance abuse issues either cannot, or will not adapt to the new way of life and conditions offered to them.

So what can be done?

I’ve presented some thoughts to the mayor and a city council member in the past. I’ll repeat them here.

Of course, nothing is guaranteed to solve things, but I think every tool available should be employed.

Based on what I’ve read that works to some extent in other states / cities, I believe that in addition to helping get cooperating homeless people off the streets and into a living environment with a job is safe parking lots for those with vehicles is needed, and an area for “camping” for the ones who don’t have a vehicle-- places that could create a conduit for these folks to heal and feel good again.

This can be achieved by bringing free, volunteer social services to them. Food, clothing, medical, job assistance, toilets, showers, laundry machines. That should be very cost effective for the city and taxpayers. City parking lots for vehicles, and fenced (privacy fencing) off sections of selected parks for campers. Simple idea, and not complicated to enact.

Giving them dignity might go a long way for these folks in turning their life around.

For sure, some type of security personnel and basic rules will be needed to keep the peace, and Faith groups could fulfill the necessary requirements.

My thinking is this; City leaders have a choice. Either continue to do what doesn’t entirely solve homelessness, or step up and add extra humanitarian efforts to help people.

Add additional resources as I mentioned, or continue ignoring the plight of homeless folks hanging around the streets, parks, etc. I believe that many would rather have a place to be, than having to exist day to day wandering around the city streets.

The reality is that anyone can become homeless at any time. Job loss, a house fire, unaffordable rent, illness. The reasons are many.

Most people don’t want to see homeless people around, especially the ones under the influence of some type of substance, and aggressive types. Yet the average citizen has no clue how to help resolve this situation long term. Giving money, food, clothes, etc. is a nice gesture, but this doesn’t “fix” homelessness.

Bandages cannot stop the hemorrhaging we are experiencing.

City leaders can do more and should.

My strong suggestion: Get out and walk various areas of the city, while diligently observing conditions and make notes on improvements needed. There are many. Remember, you’re paid with tax dollars that come from citizens, your constituents who vote to put some of you in office.

Let’s help the phoenix to rise from the fire and ashes once again.

Beautify the city by creating cleanliness, attractive buildings, and assisting the homeless even more.

Help make the streets safe again for seniors to go for a walk without fearing being accosted, or worse.

One final note: Please do a makeover on the waterscape area, it looks terrible.  The water fountain rarely works anymore, the water itself smells horrible, the walkway and benches need to be power washed occasionally, and cigarette butts need to be picked up.

In fact, Prescott Park should be included in the regular cleaning and cigarette butt abatement.

It would help tremendously if the “No Smoking” laws were actually enforced as well.

There are people who blatantly smoke in these areas with apparent impunity, despite the signs which state in part - No Smoking, No Camping, and so forth.

Yes, I see tents in the park every day. Additionally, the sidewalks downtown need to be power washed regularly to clean and sanitize the areas of human and dog urine, vomit, and sometimes excrement.

Residents and tourists alike will enjoy a cleaner environment to enjoy once again.

The views reflected in this reader’s editorial reflect the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of East County Magazine. To submit an editorial for consideration, contact























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The White House

on July 12 announced over $40 Billion in American Rescue Plan Investments in our Workforce. "American Rescue Plan funds are being used to recruit more Americans facing barriers to employment – homelessness, disability, prior criminal justice involvement – and giving them pathways into the workforce." This is the type of effort that Father Joe's villages (my favorite charity) engages in locally.