Encampments cleared out in National City - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Encampments cleared out in National City

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NATIONAL CITY (CBS 8) – Dozens of homeless families were forced Thursday to move out of their encampments in the Sweetwater riverbed in National City.

“It's awful what are we going to do, what can we do?” said Sherry.

The mother did not want to give her full identity but says a messy divorce forced her to set up a home in the Sweetwater Riverbed across from Plaza Bonita four years ago. Her roommate has lived there for 14 years.

“We have put a lot of time and effort down here. We clean the field and keep the creeks clear,” said Sherry. “It gives us our shelter and our safety.”

The encampments are not made of tarps and tents but homes built with plywood with solar panel roofs.

“I'm not ashamed,” said a mother who identified herself as “Marie.”

She lives in the riverbed with her husband and three children ages 8, 11 and 13, “It's not too bad down here, it's comfortable,” said “Marie.” “Trying to make a home for our kids the best I could and they are happy.”

She says her children go to school everyday. They started living in the riverbed in November 2013 when they had to move out of their $500 monthly rented duplex because it wasn't up to code.

National City officials and police say the families are illegally camping and on Monday gave them 72 hours notice to move out. Officers say at least 10 fires have started in that area of the riverbed since January, 2014.

“Unfortunately some of them they have illegal fires which cause those brush fires,” said NCPD Sgt. Alex Hernandez. "It's dangerous and a risk."

On Monday police gave them a trespassing notice and brought outreach groups to offer assistance to the 75 or more who live in the riverbed.

Police say the area needs to be cleaned up and there is too much danger and drugs.

"I feel like we are getting the short end of the stick because not everyone is bad,” said “Marie.”

Sherry admits she has spent time in jail for non-violent offenses but says she is not bothering anyone, “We try to be low key but there are some that try to ruin it for the rest of us.”

The families who live on the land say they keep it clean. They know the land is not theirs—rent free—but say this is where they built their home.

“It's not the stuff in it, it's my house, it's a place where I bring my kids too,” said Sherry.

The families in the riverbed say they don't want to live on the streets and impose on people. They believe kicking them out will cause more problems.

“Nobody knows where they are going to go right now. It's just sad,” said “Marie.”

Tow away signs lodged in the ground above the riverbed show enforcement and clean up will start at 6 a.m. on Thursday.

If families are not gone they will be arrested for trespassing.

On Monday, police arrested 13 people for drugs and warrants.

Outreach agencies have assisted in helping the families that want help.

The Sweetwater Valley Civic Association tells CBS News 8 they are glad to see this area cleaned up but believe this will push more homeless people to other areas of the Sweetwater Riverbed that stretches from National City, San Diego County and Chula Vista jurisdictions.

Cleanup is expected to take months.

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