Households all across San Diego are struggling from record rent and utility hikes, inflation and rising gas prices in the midst of a continuing pandemic. This is the context in which San Diego’s local CBS 8 published articles on April 15 and April 21 about a property in Escondido, Calif., “overrun with squatters.”
The report failed to mention the so-called “squatters” had been living there long before most of the neighborhood, with one of the residents being the step-daughter of the deceased owner. When the owner died, the Department of Housing and Urban Development bought the property at a fraction of its value before anyone else could and is now trying to evict the residents. Since homes are bought and sold as a commodity for profit, the likely outcome is the further development of the neighborhood into expensive single family homes.
The CBS 8 report featured the voices of a few people in that neighborhood making claims that the property is “accumulating trash” and has “an outhouse as a restroom” with one interviewee saying: “It’s a beautiful neighborhood and it was beautiful until these people came in and took over. Now, it’s next to impossible to get them out.”
The real story in Escondido
Since CBS 8 and other outlets did not bother to interview the residents of the property or tell their side of the story, Liberation News went to see what is really going on.
Upon entering the property we were greeted by one of the residents, Steve Kukuk. Kukuk welcomed us and proudly showed us the trailers that he is building with recycled material. This is the main source of income for Kukuk, who is a craftsman by trade.
The “trash” that the neighbor complained about on the news segment is actually the salvaged materials used for the trailers. Kukuk is not the only one who benefits from building and selling the trailers: “Everybody pitches in, so when I sell one everybody gets paid.”
Kukuk said, “People that I haven’t seen in years have called me with concern and doubt in their voices. I am all of a sudden trying to convince people that I am not, nor have I ever squatted anywhere. Even some of my business contacts have backed away from me, all over this news broadcast.”
Kukuk has been living at the residence for two years: “When I lost my wife, I went out on my own and however my past brought me here, I have never squatted anywhere in my life … I’m not doing anything wrong. On the contrary, I believe I am helping a lot of people.”
As we entered the house on the property, the residents warmly welcomed us. Contrary to the CBS interviews, there is no “outhouse” on the property. At one point there was temporarily a portable restroom while construction was being done. There is also no RV sewage accumulating as residents mostly use the bathroom inside the house.
The residents on the property are like a family and care much for one another. Kukuk stated if the residents were kicked off the property “they would be homeless.”
We were later joined by Terry Bearer, the previous owner’s step-daughter, who said, “We’re not going anywhere, this is our family.” Bearer’s boyfriend Michael Kluey added, “We’re all going down to court on May 3rd to back [Terry] up. She’s not going to lose mom’s house.”
CBS 8 demonized the residents of the property and publicized their address with no consideration about what they may be going through or the effect it may have on their lives. The mainstream media coverage reflects not reality, but the values defined by complex laws designed to benefit wealthy developers, instead of the human values of justice, respect and dignity for all people. Housing is a human right and it is unjust to force people out of their homes, especially during an inflation crisis and global pandemic.