What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Campsites in San Diego are providing shelter for homeless families in need

Campsites in San Diego are providing shelter to hundreds of people and their families in a difficult spot. The Alpha Project manages campsites that currently house 200 of San Diego’s homeless, and nearly a quarter of their residents are children. Special correspondent Susan Murphy reports on the challenges - and camaraderie - shared by families who call the camps home.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    On a day when so many Americans gather at home, we are reminded how many thousands are without one. Many cities are looking for new ways to help homeless populations, and one organization in San Diego has come up with a particularly unique solution.

    From PBS station KPBS, Susan Murphy has the story.

  • Susan Murphy:

    For dozens of children in San Diego, a city parking lot covered in tents is the best option they have right now for a home.

  • Azaura Anjos:

    They feed us, they give us clothes, they give us shoes.

  • Susan Murphy:

    Ten-year-old Azaura Anjos was sleeping in a downtown park before moving to the homeless transitional camp with her parents and six siblings.

  • Azaura Anjos:

    It wasn't very comfortable because we would lay in the grass but then we would have to move off the grass and onto concrete because the — you know, what they're called sprinklers would come on.

    But the lights at the park never turned off. So it was like, argh, turn off! So we all put our heads under the blankets.

  • Susan Murphy:

    At four-and-a-half- feet tall with brown, shoulder- length hair and big brown eyes, Anjos says from the moment she moved into her new green tent, she has felt cared for.

  • Azaura Anjos:

    They don't treat us like we're in a bad situation, and I don't act like we're in a bad situation, or think we're in a bad situation. I think we're actually in a house, because that's how they treat us.

  • Susan Murphy:

    The temporary campsite is filled with nearly 150 tents, along with showers and toilets, hand-washing stations, and shuttle transportation. There are also onsite health workers, housing navigators and meals. One of the most popular amenities is a play area with toys and games for kids. That's because of the 200 people who live at the camp, almost a quarter of them are children.

  • Bob McElroy:

    They're safe. That's the key.

  • Susan Murphy:

    Alpha Project CEO Bob McElroy who manages the camp says the large number of children was not expected.

  • Bob McElroy:

    We had no idea that we'd have 40 kids and 10 families or so, but we're making it happen. The kids help out around here, they're just — they're dolls and, you know, living in not the best case scenario, but they're safe. They have access to health care. We've got some decent meals in here.

  • Susan Murphy:

    McElroy has worked to help homeless people for 30 years, he says the children have given him a renewed purpose and somewhat of a new role.

  • Bob McElroy:

    Grandpa.

  • Susan Murphy:

    They seem to understand he's the one providing their lifeline.

  • Bob McElroy:

    This?

  • Boy:

    Inside that door.

  • Bob McElroy:

    Oh, inside that door? Oh, I don't go in there, because those people in there, they try to make me work and I'd rather hang out here with you.

  • Susan Murphy:

    McElroy says overall, the camp is running smoothly thanks to his staff of 30. They work around the clock taking care of people and keeping resources flowing.

  • Bob McElroy:

    I'm trying to get the lunches here kids, I know everyone is hungry.

  • Susan Murphy:

    But he says there have been plenty of challenges, including transporting 200 people to downtown and getting kids to school and back.

  • Bob McElroy:

    But when I come down and hang out with the kids, it keeps me showing up.

  • Susan Murphy:

    Children are not the typical face of San Diego's homeless population. They're rarely seen panhandling or pushing overstuffed carts. But a count taken in January found nearly 1,000 homeless children in the county with more than 150 sleeping on the streets.

    Christine Wade and her six children, with one on the way, have been struggling with homelessness for three years. The family moved into the camp the morning it opened.

  • Christine Wade:

    It was a beautiful moment because being out there's too hard, you know? So when they came to get us, I was like — it was like a moment of like finally — you know?

  • Susan Murphy:

    Wade, a 31-year-old San Diego native, says the kids are sleeping pretty well and getting their daily routine down. That includes school and preschool.

  • Christine Wade:

    I'm grateful for everything that we get you know because I didn't think I was going to get help ever, you know? I thought I was just going to continue to try to make it on my own.

  • Susan Murphy:

    It's a sentiment shared by many at the camp. Families say they're pulling together to help one another.

  • Abbra Towe:

    It's nice for the kids to be able to talk to other kids and the parents to be able to talk to other parents.

  • Susan Murphy:

    Thirty-five-year-old Abbra Towe and her family also moved into the campground two weeks ago.

  • Abbra Towe:

    We are in a better place than on the streets, but there are still people with issues. And it can be concerning.

  • Susan Murphy:

    She and her two daughters ages 5 and 7 sleep in one tent. Her husband sleeps in his own tent in a section with other men. During the first few days, Towe says she was worried about how this experience would impact her children — but not so much anymore.

  • Abbra Towe:

    They are going to change the world. They are learning right now what I'm learning at 35. And they're smart and strong and that's what they're going to get out of it.

  • Susan Murphy:

    Little Azaura Anjos has been writing about her camp experience and interviewing people she meets.

  • Azaura Anjos:

    She has blue eyes, only sings for fun.

  • Susan Murphy:

    She'll likely live at the campground a couple more months until her family can transition into a place with a front door and walls. She says she'll always remember the friends she made and the time she lived amid rows of tents.

  • Azaura Anjos:

    How grateful I am and how well they took care of me. And how well they took care of my family, and treated us.

  • Susan Murphy:

    For the PBS NewsHour, I'm Susan Murphy in San Diego.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest