Homelessness is a problem that’s not unique to any one particular area of Southern California.
While it’s an issue that was perhaps not quite as common in southwest Riverside County, residents of the Temecula Valley are now all too familiar with the daily sight of people panhandling on street corners and wandering with nowhere to go for shelter except maybe a tent in a remote creek bed.
But there’s a difference between seeing California’s homeless crisis on the streets and experiencing the effects of it every night near your home.
And that’s exactly what is happening to Carlos Porter.
Porter, 40, is an active duty U.S. Marine who owns a condominium in south Temecula, off La Paz Road and Temecula Parkway.
The complex was nice and quiet when he purchased it in 2007, he said. But he realized something had changed when he returned from a tour of duty in Japan in 2017.
He had rented out his unit to a woman with children while he was gone, and when he got back, she complained of problems with people loitering behind the unit – it backs up to an empty lot next to a Circle K at the corner of Temecula Parkway and Bedford Court.
“She told me in the summertime when the windows are open, she could smell marijuana, and she could smell another substance. She didn’t know what it was,” Porter said.
She also mentioned loud music being played at times, he said.
Porter soon learned what his tenant was talking about when he moved back into the unit in 2018.
He said he had his kitchen window open one night when he heard a group of people whispering and shushing each other. He peeked over his fence to find them tagging a nearby wall adjacent to the gas station.
Porter also learned there had been a killing behind his unit – in 2016, 30-year-old Walter Selva Jr. was stabbed to death in the empty lot next to the Circle K.
Nothing that serious has happened since 2016. But how often does Porter have to deal with people causing problems behind his home?
“Every day,” he said. “Every single day.”
Porter, his wife, his 19-year-old stepdaughter and his 3-year-old son all live in the condo. Porter said in one particularly bad incident, his son was awakened by a loud fight happening outside.
“He had woken up, and he came in our room. He was crying,” Porter said. “I took him back to his room, and that’s when I heard it. I’m looking out the window, and I can see people down there scuffling.”
Porter said he called the police, but by the time they arrived, it was too late.
“They show up, and everybody’s already gone,” he said.
In another instance, he said a group of loud people woke him up at midnight, playing music with a portable speaker around midnight, and they refused to leave. He ended up chasing them away, he said.
Porter said he’s even had people threaten him, though fortunately many of those situations turned out not to be serious.
“I had one guy tell me he was gonna stab me,” Porter said. “It turned out he had a magic marker.
The incidents are too numerous to count, according to Porter. Sometimes he sees people using drugs. Sometimes they’re spray painting graffitti. Sometimes they’re just playing loud music. Regardless, he said, it’s a problem when it happens night after night.
The problem has gotten so bad, Porter said he’s gone to the extent of purchasing a sensor that detects when someone is in the area adjacent to his back fence so that he can head off any potential trouble before it begins.
“I want them to know that I’m here, and I’ll call the cops on them,” Porter said. “I don’t want them back here.”
But he said he knows there’s not much the police can necessarily do unless they’re actually able to catch any loiterers in the act of doing something illegal – not likely given the area’s topography. The empty lot is uphill from Temecula Parkway, and the area behind Porter’s unit where people tend to congregate has cover from a transformer.
“It’s basically an area where you can’t be seen. You can see the cops driving up before anything,” Porter said. “I actually had a guy back here; I called the cops on him and he saw the cops and bolted off … the cop said, ‘man, I’m not chasing him,’ which I understood that, it was him by himself.”
But Porter said there was no doubt that particular person was doing something illegal.
“He just bolted off, but he was definitely back here smoking something,” Porter said. “He left a pipe and everything.”
The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department Homeless Outreach Team in Temecula is aware of the area adjacent to the Circle K being an area of frequent homeless activity.
They, too, acknowledge that there may not be anything they can do at times, but they do regularly check the specific area behind Porter’s residence, and they do as much as they can.
“Here in Temecula, we have four guys assigned to (the Homeless Outreach Team), and they’re very proactive,” Riverside County Sheriff’s Sgt. Robert Menchaca, who oversees the HOT team, said. “We made over 650 arrests last year. That’s like an average of 55-60 a month.”
And, he said, the sheriff’s department was able to get 85 people into some kind of housing over the last year.
“We’re trying to get them off the street, get them to rehab centers, whatever they need to be successful,” Menchaca said. “We do have a lot of that, so we’re pretty proud of that here as a team.”
Robin Gilliland, the homeless outreach administrator for the city of Temecula, said the city and sheriff’s department encouraged residents like Porter to continue to call law enforcement when they see something that may be a problem or to utilize the city’s mobile app, which had the added benefit of allowing users to upload photos when reporting problems.
“That’s one of our big messages to the community is to please report in a variety of ways,” Gilliland said.
Porter said he’ll soon be re-
stationed at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, so for now, there’s not much more he can do about the homeless problem behind his home than wait to move.
Will Fritz can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.