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Schools and homeless: Concern for brush near school campuses and homeless

Neighbors say they've complained about Paradise Hills bushes prior to fire.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — Flames erupted at Paradise Hill Elementary around 11 p.m. on Thursday night and tore through three classrooms, causing $95,000 worth of damage. Investigators say the cause of the first was a nearby homeless encampment.

Crews spent Friday morning cleaning up the damage. However, neighbors say this is a part of a growing problem.

Dominic Cruz said he's happy no one was hurt but he's upset that it had to come to this.

"It makes me sad that you have to wait for a fire to start, for homeless people to move in before you pay attention,” said Cruz.

News 8 spoke with neighbors who live near Paradise Hill Elementary, and they said that leaving this brush to grow has been an eyesore to the community and a safety hazard for kids at this school.

Johnny, who lives across the street from the school, says most of his neighbors saw the man they think is responsible for the encampment and the fire.

"The guy always carries trash," said Johnny.

He continued to say, even when the man responsible for the homeless encampment isn’t around, he leaves behind evidence of his stay.

"Look right here, you can see right there. He always has a bunch of things in the back,” said Johnny. “The bushes are too high. You see the bushes through the middle. It’s very high."

It's not just Paradise Hills Elementary with this issue.

News 8 stopped by Nye and Horton Elementary and saw the same problem of overgrown brush potentially inviting the same problem.

San Diego Unified School District officials told News 8 that they stopped trimming bushes while students were out of school due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now that kids are back in school, district officials say they will start trimming bushes and create a district wide plan for natural surveillance to prevent situations like this from happening again.

Cruz said it shouldn't have taken this long.

"There's not a lot of money to be made off kids, so they leave them hanging," said Cruz. “How about we focus on the kids before the stadiums, how about we focus on the kids before the money, that way we can move into a community instead of focusing on the rich people."

As for the homeless seeking shelter, Cruz says there should be a solution for them too.

"The best thing we can do is be love to the people who need these places to live. They have no clothes, the best thing we can do is be love to them."

The COO of SDUSD says they'll start to address the overgrown shrubs at Paradise Hills Elementary next week and will start working on a plan to address the shrubs at schools across the district.

The three classrooms that were damaged in the fire at Paradise Hills Elementary were empty and were scheduled to be torn down and rebuilt before the fire.

WATCH RELATED: San Diego's top stories for Nov. 5 at 6 p.m. 

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