August 11, 2006

SD Police will evict 300 workers from canyon camp

By Pablo Jaime Sainz

Imagine that your wages are so low that you need to live in open air camps. Imagine that in order to take a bath, you have to do so in the nearby creek. Imagine that to have clean clothes, you have to wash your clothes in that same creek. Sometimes you even have to drink water from it, too. Imagine there’s a group of people who don’t want you near them, even though you wish them no harm, nor are you a criminal.

Imagine you had to leave your village in Oaxaca and you had to head north to find work to support your family. Imagine you don’t even speak Spanish nor English, but somehow you manage to get by.

Imagine you’re one of 300 farm workers and day laborers who are going to be evicted from camps in McGonigle Canyon, in Carmel Valley, in less than 30 days, by the end of August.


Indigenous Farm Workers Living Out of Doors . Photo by David Bacon, from the project, Living Under the Trees. Project partner: California Rural Legal Assistance. Project support from California Council for the Humanities.

Most of these workers are documented and undocumented immigrants from southern Mexico.

The San Diego Police Department is going to implement the eviction after nearby residents have complained of their presence –although no crime has been reported.

According to a Regional Task Force on the Homeless report, there are about 2,300 homeless farm workers and day laborers throughout San Diego County. These workers follow the work as it becomes available.

“The number of encampments located throughout the county has become very difficult to estimate because encampments move frequently and are now much smaller than in the past,” the report states.

Most of the camps are located in North County and north San Diego, frequently in hillsides, canyons, and riverbeds, near an employer’s property.

Camp evictions are common in San Diego.

Almost 12 years ago, about 750 people were evicted from McGonigle Canyon, the same canyon where, this month, about 300 men will be removed. That time, families were put in affordable housing, but today there’s no housing complex to place the men.

Residents in the area claim that the workers are noisy, are creating a negative impression, and are bringing down property values.

San Diego Police Captain Jim Collins said that the camps present fire danger because the men cook over open flames.

Defenders of the workers say that most of these men have never had problems with the law.

“This like many other homeless groups try to remain hidden to avoid conflict with others,” states the RTFH report cited earlier.

They usually just use the camps for sleeping, since they spend the day out in the fields, working. For years, the California Rural Legal Assistance, based in Oceanside, has helped defend these workers.

Instead of causing problems, these workers are the victims of crimes. Once they get paid, they can become easy targets for criminals who pretend that they´re going to hire the workers and rob them instead.

A few weeks ago, several Minutemen, also known as cazamigrantes or border vigilantes, arrived at the McGonigle Canyon camps and began filming the workers. As usual, when these Minutemen are present, there was verbal confrontation between Minutemen sympathizers and staff from a mobile health clinic that was treating workers at the camps.

After the evictions, many men will have no place to go.

There’s only one traditional homeless shelter that specifically addresses the needs of farm workers and day laborers. La Posada de Guadalupe, operated by Catholic Charities of San Diego, is located in Carlsbad.

And since these workers don’t earn much money, they rather send the few dollars they earn back to their families in Mexico than to spend most of the money in renting an apartment. The ones that do rent, often share the apartment with up to nine other men.

The Regional Task Force on the Homeless has stated that there are several unmet needs among homeless farm workers and day laborers. Some of them are a need for permanent affordable housing, a need for health care, a need for emergency food and clothing, and a need for transitional housing.

To learn more about the present situation of homeless farm workers and day laborers in San Diego County, visit www.rtfhsd.org. To contact the California Rural Assistance, call (760) 966-0511. Catholic Charities of San Diego: (619) 231-2828.

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