Faces of the Street: Meet San Diego’s Homeless

For a class photo essay, I walked around downtown San Diego and passed out donuts to homeless individuals and met and spoke with them about their lives. It was an incredible experience. Hear their stories…

In 2015, San Diego’s streets housed the fourth largest homeless population in the country. In 2007, it was ranked the twelfth largest, but over the last decade it has risen to the levels of Seattle, Los Angeles and New York City in homeless abundance.

I wanted to meet these people living in the streets of San Diego. I went downtown on a Sunday morning with my friend. We bought some donuts at a 7-Eleven and walked around downtown, giving them away to homeless individuals and talking to them about their lives. I was nervous approaching people at first. We stayed away from those who were sleeping, arguing or looked intoxicated.

man in hat and flannel
Steven is a veteran who grew up in south side Chicago projects. He was drafted into the United States Marine Corps in 1969. He has been to San Francisco. His favorite food is pork neck bone. He likes to sit at bus stops. “Thanks for stopping by and talking to me, y’all made my day,” he said. “Most people don’t stop to talk. Come back and say hi. And be careful out there, if anybody gives you trouble you come get me.” Photos by Victoria Moorwood.
man standing holding walking stick
Jerry said he is a scientist and an engineer. He is from San Diego and loves his city. Most of his family is deceased. He was excited about a tablet his friend had just given him. His friend isn’t homeless. When I saw Jerry, he was trying to sell a pair of men’s Michael Kors shoes. “I’m just trying to make an income to get off the streets,” he said.
Jerry's walking stick
Jerry crafted this walking stick out of a branch, which he stained with instant coffee. He melted a metal lighter he found so that it could fit like a handle. He stuck the metal handle onto the branch with some nail polish and tied a little bit of leather around for extra support. He said this is just one of the few things he’s engineered.

Some people were more timid when speaking to us. They weren’t used to people stopping on the sidewalk to speak with them. They questioned us and our motives.

Lynn is from Michigan. She was reading a newspaper when I saw her. She asked me if I had any change and if I was from the church. She ate her donut quickly. She came to San Diego with a friend. Lynn was friendly, but suspicious of us and hesitant to have a conversation. She said it doesn’t snow in Michigan—it just gets cold.

We walked into a tourist-central park. It was aesthetically rimmed with tall palm trees, equip with a stone fountain and Starbucks.

Despite the tourists walking through the plaza and Starbucks coffees being served, multiple homeless individuals sat or napped on the ground and at tables.

One of these individuals was Chalee.

Chalee spoke with an accent, but said she had lived in San Diego her whole life. She had dozens and dozens of bracelets and necklaces. They were all brightly beaded and held with elastic string. She said that she bought one of them and her friend bought her another one, and the rest she had put together herself. She did not allow me to take a picture of them. When I asked her what she likes to do she toothlessly smiled and replied, “Everything.”
Parking lot
There were far more homeless people in downtown San Diego than I had ever realized. Although I’d been in downtown many times before, now that I was actively seeking homeless people I realized there were several on every street.

About half of the current homeless population is relatively new to the San Diego streets. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s annual congressional report, San Diego’s unaccompanied homeless youth population is now the sixth largest in the United States. 

I had a fantastic time meeting and talking with these people. Each time I approached one and struck up a conversation, it got easier and I became less intimidated. I realized that they were simply human beings with stories and who were, mostly, grateful for some conversation. My friend and I fully intend to revisit 4th Avenue, where Steven says he hangs out, to see him again. Now when I walk by homeless people I smile and say hello.

I feel very fortunate that I was able to have this touching experience. Homelessness in San Diego is a much larger problem than many locals think. Meeting some homeless faces helped me put a name—names —to this issue.

Hiking in San Diego: Potato Chip Rock

Potato Chip Rock

Potato Chip Rock, an 8-mile hike located north of San Diego in Ramona, is a mostly uphill but not too difficult climb with a great place for pictures at the top. You can hike up to the peak to see the famous “potato chip” cliff that everyone poses on, and then continue down the trail or go back the way you came returning to the parking area. Although it’s mostly uphill it’s not extremely steep, and I was encouraged seeing little kids and dogs trekking up and doing just fine. However, like most hikes in Southern California, it can be very hot and dry. There are a few spots of shade, but it’s best to bring lots of water and go on a cooler day.

 The hike generally takes about 3 to 4 hours, but can vary based on your own personal ambition. Don’t forget a camera! At the top there will most likely be a line of people waiting to get their pictures taken on the dramatic Potato Chip ledge, for which the hike gets its name.

 There is parking at the bottom of the mountain. You can park along the road too, as there are rarely available spots. Additional parking can be found for $10 at the Lake Poway parking lot adjacent to the park. If you park here you will start the hike at the Mt Woodson trailhead. Dogs on leashes are allowed and this hike is family (but not stroller) friendly.

 I personally didn’t find the hike exceedingly challenging. The incline makes for an effective workout, but there’s no need to shy away from this trail if you’re not an avid hiker!

Ocean Beach, San Diego

If you’re stopping into San Diego anytime soon, you’ve got to visit Ocean Beach. OB is directly under both Mission Beach and Pacific Beach. It also has an atmosphere that makes it entirely unique from the two. While PB has a great bar scene and Mission is a family beach, OB takes the cake in the eclectic hippie vibe, making it possibly my favorite beach in San Diego.  Equipped with graffiti, hippie vans, and acai bowls, the Ocean Beach scene is different to any other beach and yet is also representative of San Diego’s laid back culture making this a spot a must see while on vacation. It is also home to Sunset Cliffs, a drop off hill where you can park your car and watch the sun set behind crashing waves. When I visited Ocean Beach I ate at the OB Noodle House Bar. This Asian fusion restaurant was delicious and wait time was only 20 minutes, giving me a chance to walk around and see the sights. There are many interesting spots, such as thrift stores, a record shop, a hostel painted tie-dye, and even a communal organic garden. I’m planning on spending a weekend in the hostel when the weather gets warmer so check back for a review on that too!

I’d recommend Mission Beach for families with young kids because of the arcade and rides. I’d recommend Pacific Beach or La Jolla for those seeking a more upscale experience. But for those who enjoy the au natural hippie scene or want to take a step outside of the norm, Ocean Beach is an adventure that will welcome you with open arms.

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The Dangers of Drinking Your Calories

“For the same amount of calories you could either eat lunch at McDonalds or have a coffee at Starbucks.”

Starbucks and other coffee houses like to pride their brand on supplying consumers with a quick, delicious fix to perk up your morning. What isn’t advertised is the high calorie count of their drinks that rivals meals at other fast food restaurants. Most buyers wouldn’t consider Starbucks as fast food, but the calorie amount in their drinks suggests otherwise.

 You wouldn’t think such a small beverage could be so loaded with calories and sugar, even the venti sizes. But the truth is that Starbucks Frappuccinos are on average 140 to 580 calories. The small sizes are usually around 170. The lowest calorie dose is the tall Tazo Chai Frappuccino at 140. The ventis come in around 500 calories, at most the venti Java Chip Frap at 580. The mochas and lattes also come with a heavy calorie count. A venti Iced White Chocolate Mocha is 640 calories. Most lattes and mochas range from 100-500 calories depending on size.

 These large caloric numbers don’t take full effect until they’re seen in perspective compared to fast food meals. For instance, at McDonald’s a Premium McWrap with chicken and bacon is 640 calories, the same calorie amount as the Starbucks large Iced White Chocolate Mocha. So drinking that large iced mocha is the same amount of calories as a wrap at McDonalds, except there is no protein as provided by the bacon and chicken and instead massive quantities of sugar.  In other comparison a Big Mac is 530 calories, less than a venti Java Chip Frappuccino. A McDouble Burger is 380 calories, about the same as a grande frap or mocha. For the same amount of calories you could either eat lunch at McDonalds or have a coffee at Starbucks.

 In another example, at Taco Bell the Beefy 5-Layer Burrito consists of 500 calories. Still less than Starbucks’s largest and most sugary beverages. The Combo Burrito is 430 calories and the Burrito Supreme is 390. Both totaling at around the same calorie levels of medium sized drinks at Starbucks.

 The danger in Starbucks’s calories is in the size. Sticking to light and tall sized beverages keeps the calorie count mostly below 200. It may seem like a small and insignificant snack, but compared to meals from fast food chains Starbucks drinks are more sizable than you may think.

Birch Aquarium San Diego

Love aquariums? I do! There’s a great little aquarium tucked right into the La Jolla cove called the Birch Aquarium. A great place for all ages, this aquarium showcases jellyfish, a seahorse exhibit, climate change displays, sharks, a huge octopus and much more! The exhibit overlooks the Scripps Coastal Reserve and you can look at the beautiful view while you explore the Aquarium’s tide pools. Parking is free and close to the exhibit.  College students can go for as little as $7, Adult tickets are $17, and children tickets vary at lower prices They also offer senior and Military discounts.

 The display expands through two hallways, as well as the outdoor area. It’s not a very big exhibit, which is nice because it’s not overwhelming. If you’re looking for an educational aspect right on the beautiful coast, I suggest you take a look at the Birch Aquarium.

Snorkeling in La Jolla


La Jolla Cove is a beachside gem equip with restaurants, tourist attractions, gorgeous scenery, and marine life. There are many spots to lay your towel out and stretch in the sun or visit the local boutiques and fine eateries.  One popular tourist attraction is the La Jolla Cave in which you pay $5 and enter the cave by going down flights of stairs. The seals sunbathing on various rocks and beaches are another spectacle. You can see them up close and even lounge on the sand with them. One thing everyone should do when they visit the Cove is snorkel. You can rent snorkel equipment for as cheap as $5 for three hours, which is more than enough time. When I went this past weekend the water was unbelievably warm—no wetsuit needed. You can swim off of a beach or jump off cave rocks. The clear water allows you to shift through the kelp forests and observe the dark and neon orange fish below you.  It really is quite an experience! Fun for kids and adults. You can also swim, if you’re brave, into the caves. This is when you’ll get really close to the seals and aquatic birds hanging out on the rocks. When you’re done exploring you can dry off on the beach, visit the parks, or get something to eat. One thing to know—expect to use a parking garage. Parking is impossible in La Jolla Cove, so instead of wasting time looking for a spot go straight to the first garage you see. The cheapest one in La Jolla Cove is $10 for the whole day. If you’re looking for a little adventure this weekend check out La Jolla Cove with your friends and family!