Can ‘the situation’ in South Palm Springs be solved?
Business owners live in fear of retaliation, police are stretched thin, and a growing community of unhoused residents vows to stay where they call home.-
Rocky moved to Palm Springs “a while ago” and has no plans on leaving. That’s not good news for Isabelle Jacquet.
Jacquet is co-owner of Tredi Interiors, which stands nearly alone in a four-shop retail building in the 450 block of South Palm Canyon Drive. Two neighboring storefronts are vacant — “The woman next door was from Seattle. She moved because of the situation,” Jacquet offers. Another store, Window Visions, is yet to officially open its doors, but its owners are already well aware of why the Seattleite left.
Rocky is part of “the situation” — a growing population of unhoused city residents who have congregated in South Palm Springs for years, but who have been notably more problematic for business owners and law enforcement since around the time COVID-19 began to grip the planet.
A security guard watching over a business near Tredi, preventing Rocky and others from congregating there, theorizes how the battle with the pandemic led to the growing homeless crisis in Palm Springs.
“Things are closing in on everyone during COVID,” she says. “They are closing in ten times worse for the homeless. They have their own community — their own little city within a city. But the less businesses were open during COVID, the less opportunity they had to take advantage of those businesses or get help from them. Less opportunity leads to more desperation.”
Short and muscular, Rocky is animated and opinionated, as well as thoughtful, as he speaks of the homeless community that calls South Palm Springs home. Across the street is the parking lot to Jacquet’s high-end interior business that specializes in modern Italian design. Rocky explains that he practices “the D’s” — Don’t Doze During Deals — and offers an assessment of the situation.
“I know they want us to clean up our trash, and we’re trying to work on that,” Rocky says. “But the rudeness of the wealthy community I don’t like. Who do they think cleans up all the recyclables in this town?”
Next to Rocky is a young man who prefers not to be named. He is openly taking drags from a thin, straight metallic pipe that police say is most likely being used to smoke heroin. He nods off after one drag, but not before offering his take on issues as well.
“We don’t have any resources,” he says. “We know this town is tourism driven, and they’d like to ignore that we exist, so they ignore our needs. That’s why we try to keep ourselves to a certain part of the city.”
More and more, that part of the city is South Palm Springs, in an area that stretches roughly 2.5 miles along Palm Canyon Drive from West Baristo Road to the Smoke Tree Village shopping center.
The area between West Baristo and West Ramon roads is where Tredi has been for three years. But it’s also where the abandoned Palm Canyon Shopping Center is vacant and up for sale at $6.8 million, and where popular restaurant Woody’s Palm House is listed at $3.35 million. It’s also where piles of soiled clothing and garbage are scattered in the parking lot; where feces, needles and sleeping people are found at the entrance to businesses; and where those who try to ask the people responsible for the mess to stop report that they are often the targets of harassment.
“Some mornings we can’t even open our doors because there is somebody sleeping there,” Jacquet explains from inside her shop before venturing outside to show broken and boarded-up windows near what looks like a camping spot. “They have no fear. They’re entitled to be here. I’ve never seen anything like that in my life. It’s very scary.”
Jacquet turns down a request to be photographed. She doesn’t want to invite any retaliation. Her neighboring business owner is new to the building and may have less fear. She agreed to appear on camera when a local television station came to report on her efforts to organize South Palm Springs business owners to combat the issues they face.
“When you argue with them they come back at night and seek revenge,” says Jacquet. “They will break your windows, smear feces on your door.
“Things are not going to end well. Someone is going to get shot.”
Palm Springs police hope it doesn’t come to that. At business owners’ request, they’ve agreed to meet Wednesday evening, along with City Manager Justin Clifton and others from City Hall, and representatives from a community group formed earlier this year. All have the same goal in mind: Find a solution, any solution, to win what seems like an unwinnable tug-of-war playing out on city streets involving an estimated 500 homeless people.
The meeting is private, but authorities have been very public in their response to both business owners and residents who look to them for help. Police Department leadership routinely meets with Downtown business owners, including during monthly meetings of the Main Street Palm Springs business association. They are transparent with data that shows officers respond to hundreds of calls each month and thousands every year involving members of the homeless community. And they have repeated a message that seems to be understood:
Try as they might, staffing shortages and the fact they have to cover 95 square miles means officers are often hard-pressed to show up every time they receive a report of drug use, violence, arson, or mental health issues involving the homeless population.
“It’s a challenge in that area, among many other areas,” explains Capt. Mike Kovaleff, whose officers are on the front lines. “What’s needed are long-term solutions. We frequently just move these issues from one area to the other.”
Are there short-term things businesses can do to lessen the attractiveness of their storefronts and parking lots? Yes. Kovaleff says what business owners who attend the meeting might hear are what others have heard for years, such as suggestions to remove any available outdoor power outlets or water sources. Hiring private security appears to work as well, as evidenced Tuesday where next door to Jacquet’s shop the Rite Aid appeared problem-free as the security guard stood near an adjacent building.
“We can’t be everywhere all the time,” Kovaleff adds. “I wish we could, but we can’t.”
Jacquet says she has no plans to leave South Palm Springs, but that it’s tempting.
“We’d like to stay here,” she says. “But when we think of going to Rancho Mirage, it’s different, and it’s not going to be good for our business.”
Rocky has no plans to leave either.
“I used to live with my grandmother in San Bernardino,” he says. “But I have more of a purpose here than when I had a home. I have more better days and more better nights out here on these streets. It’s home.”