It Takes An East Village Doer: New Grassroots Group Is An Unabashed Neighborhood Advocate

This all-volunteer organization picks up poop, “love bombs” businesses and fundraises for free burritos for cops
East Village Doers: Dave Spiewak, Cindy Cook and Marc Gonzales.

The East Village Doers have an online origin story. Less than a year ago, this Facebook-founded entity banded together to clean up trash and feces, support local businesses and engage with the police department and City Hall.

Fairly quickly, the group has become an outspoken voice for downtown San Diego’s largest and most issue-plagued neighborhood.

Cindy Cook first conceptualized the grassroots organization in December 2022. 

“I was having breakfast at an East Village restaurant with out of town guests, including a minor,” says the registered nurse, who works from home for a healthcare staffing company.

An unhoused individual was having a mental health crisis outside the restaurant patio. She says they were being vocally abusive.

“It was scary,” says Cook, a former classical violinist who has lived in East Village for three years. “Then one of my guests also commented, ‘Oh, they don’t clean the streets here.’ It triggered me to realize how we get used to things. But having outside eyes on it made me realize this is not okay.”

East Village is the epicenter of San Diego’s homelessness problem. According to the latest annual Point In Time Count, there are more than 10,000 individuals experiencing homelessness in the greater region. Roughly half reside in  shelters. The other half are unhoused. A majority of the unhoused are downtown. 

The Downtown San Diego Partnership does a monthly count of the 92101 ZIP Code. After swelling to more than 2,000 in May, the downtown unsheltered count has dropped each of the last three months.

That citywide drop coincides with the San Diego City Council’s implementation of an anti-camping ban.

East Village’s numbers don’t reflect much of a change, however. For the past four months, the DSDP’s unhoused count in East Village has been: May (918); June (728); July (921); August (861). 

An East Village Doers-sponsored cleanup at Fault Line Park. (Courtesy photo)

At first, Cook was “sharing my rage” on the hyperlocal social networking site NextDoor. Then she moved to Facebook (the Doers’ private group has more than 230 members). She began getting advice from East Village business owners and met Dave Spiewak.

“Cindy saw me walking around by myself with gloves on, picking up poop,” says Spiewak, who works in real estate for Coldwell Banker. He’s lived downtown for 14-and-a-half years.

Working from home, and being the owner of three dogs, Cook is constantly out on the streets scooping poop. Of course, two people with an uncommon shared “hobby” teamed up. 

“This group was Cindy’s idea and I’m impressed with what she’s done with it in a few short months,” Spiewak says. “Doers is about getting to know your neighbors and getting to know the shops and businesses. But also, being proactive is power by numbers. We’re tired of asking and waiting for stuff to happen.”

Spiewak says East Village problems get scant attention from public officials.

“I’ve been here for a long time and it hasn’t gotten much better,” he says. “But I feel like we are getting some attention now. From the mayor and our government officials. More than we used to.” 

Spiewak says he once spent three years advocating for the replanting of a single tree on Park Boulevard.

“It seems like no one really cares,” he says. “But if you get a group of people together with loud voices, all of a sudden politicians care–because it affects their jobs moving forward.” 

And it’s not just about replacing trees, Spiewak says. “We’re tired of seeing people defecate on the streets,” he says. “And doing drugs. It’s not good for anybody, including for the safety of people living on the streets.” 

That’s a point Cook wants to stress: “I want to be clear–we are not an anti-unhoused group. We’ve had people accuse us of that. Everybody deserves to be safe. Everybody.”

SDPD Officer Larry Turner (front row, third from right) hangs out with Doers. (Courtesy photo)

Two nonprofits serve the area: The East Village Association and the East Village Residents Group.   

“I have friends in the EVA and EVRG,” Cook says. “The Doers are different. We’re just neighbors. A community of volunteers. We love East Village and our common understanding is that our community is worth fighting for.”

“I’ve learned so much from the EVA and EVRG,” Cook adds. “We all serve a purpose. I appreciate both of them and I hope they appreciate us for what we’re doing.”

Here’s what the Doers are doing:

First Thursday. The group meets once a month to support a different small business. On September 7, the meeting was at Storyhouse Spirits, in support of home goods boutique Altered Decor (1227 J Street). FYI: Bring your ailing house plant into Altered Decor and they’ll give it a free assessment. 

Love Bombings. Can’t attend the First Thursday meeting? Each month the EVD picks one business to “love bomb.” Members are encouraged to: Spend money there. Tell friends about the place. Go take pictures. Give them good reviews. Last month, Park Boulevard eatery Papasotes got the bomb treatment.

Free Burritos for SDPD. Anybody can walk into the Modbom/Papalo dual-concept eatery (1429 Island Avenue) and contribute to the SDPD Burrito Fund. To date, the fund has amassed about $800, meaning more than 100 morning burritos have been given out for free to San Diego cops.

“It’s an awesome and generous program and it allows us to feel gratitude from the Doers,” says Larry Turner, community relations officer for the San Diego Police Department’s Central Division. “I’ve had these burritos and they’re delicious–just the right size and some excellent smoked meat.”

Modbom/Papalo breakfast burritos: free for the SDPD. (Courtesy photo)

Cleanups. The Doers organized two community cleanups in 2023. That last one was August 31 at Fault Line Park. Residents, cops, DSDP Clean & Safe employees and the city’s Parks & Rec department pitched in.

Marc Gonzales has lived in East Village since 2009. He saw a TV news clip about residents cleaning up drug needles and fentanyl foil at Fault Line Park. 

“It made me want to join,” Gonzales says. “I see that stuff around Smart Corner, where I live, and I don’t like it. I just heard about the East Village Doers and instantly joined. I’m trying to get involved and contribute what I can.”  

Cook says her primary goal is to influence culture change in the neighborhood. She hopes residents are spurred to join in group efforts and also do unscheduled good deeds. 

And above all else, she wants East Village’s collective voice to be heard.

People are listening. “There are good people working on East Village’s issues,” Officer Turner says. “The EVA is helping businesses. The EVRG focuses on policies and the social aspects of the area. The Doers are a loud voice that’s getting attention.”

Spiewak agrees. Wistfully, he also notes that 48 hours after the Fault Line Park cleanup, “the place was a dump, again.”  SDSun

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