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Merchants air out homeless complaints

Tough economic times are spurring La Jolla Village merchants to get serious about proactively dealing with a problem they’ve lived with for a long time: homelessness.

A group of merchants near Vons shopping center at 7544 Girard Ave. sat down last week with Wes Mangum of the San Diego Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Team to discuss what they can do to counteract homeless habitation of their area.

Today, the La Jolla Town Council also will tackle the topic at its 6 p.m. meeting at the La Jolla Recreation Center, 600 Prospect St.

“We have serious problems with the homeless camping out in our back lot,” said Phil Coller, who owns Everett Stunz luxury bedding with wife Nicki. “It really doesn’t bother us that people are there. What bothers us is the urination, the defecation, the sex acts, the trash: the stuff we have to clean up every morning.”

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“Needles, too, used syringes by my back door,” added Troy Quick, store manager of Jonathans gourmet market.

“My girls are scared to leave at night when they start camping in the back,” agreed Nicki Coller.

“We consider that quality-of-life crimes,” Mangum said. “When you see this type of turmoil, or unsightly behavior or smells or whatever, it affects everybody. I know you lose business over it.”

“It’s more than a quality-of-life issue,” said Deborah Williams of Encore apparel, “because it’s keeping people away from the shops.”

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Mangum said merchants can protect themselves against transients illegally trespassing or lodging by filing a “Letter of Agency with policy” giving them permission to act as their agents when confronting the homeless on their property. Such letters give police a tool to work with. “If these individuals are committing criminal activity on or about your property, and the Homeless Outreach Team contacts them and gives them verbal warnings, then eventually they can end up making a custodial arrest,” he said.

Chronic offenders can be barred by the courts from accessing specific properties or areas for up to three years - an effective deterrent, he added.

Other things merchants can do to combat homelessness, Mangum said, are to lock up their Dumpsters and/or make them inaccessible, and remove all cardboard that the homeless use for bedding.

Daisy Fitzgerald of Ark Antiques For Animal Charities said a Letter of Agency worked for her in dealing with “Christine,” a chronically homeless cross-dresser with a long history in the Village.

“That allowed me to take him into custody,” Mangum said. “Unfortunately, he declined treatment, and now he’s out. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to give up.”

Quick, whose store shares an alleyway with Vons, said the Vons recycling center has become a homeless hangout. “They’ve turned it into a day camp,” he said.

Vons store manager Robert Pareda said the recycling center is required by the state.

“We have no control over that,” he said, adding that if it were not there, it would have to be moved somewhere nearby, such as Jonathans.

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“My view on the recycling center is it produces cash immediately, which they then spend on alcohol or whatever,” Coller said.

Mangum added that another group of merchants two blocks away at 7400 Girard have hired a temporary security guard as a short-term solution to dealing with the homeless.

Those encountering problems with transients can call (619) 531-2000.