River park bike path runs through homeless encampments

The first half-mile of parkway is open to the public this week after 12 years and nearly $2 million. Everyone seems to think it’s a great idea, except those who don’t have a voice – the most desperate of San Diego’s homeless, who are already being flushed out of the hiding places they call home. What was once a dark swamp under a freeway is today a well-lit causeway for people to bike, run and walk along the long-neglected San Diego River.

“A system of parks and trails that will really go from the top of the river all the way to the ocean. So a river-long system of parks and trails,” explained Sarah Hutmacher of the San Diego River Park Foundation. “We’ve really worked to turn that around, so the river isn’t an eye-sore; that it’s really a natural amenity and it supports a lot of endangered wildlife, a lot of really beautiful areas… you can just get to them.”

But look past the path into the tall brush and you see the other side of the story: the side no one wants to notice. People live along the river, hundreds of San Diego’s homeless. Directly beneath Highway 163, where it crosses Interstate 8 in the heart of Mission Valley, you can find them – the hide-aways of the homeless. Behind the reeds that act as walls or partisans person can see that there are dug-out sleeping quarters. A lean-to, a hut, a tunnel, a cave. Nobody is going to come there to disturb them…

Until now. Hundreds of cyclists, joggers, walkers and their pets are expected to walk the short inaugural stretch of the river trail every day. And the people who found sanctuary there are already moving out. So where do they go? And who helps them get there?

“That’s a really complex issue, that has a lot of different policy decisions that involve a lot of different agencies in San Diego,” continued Hutmacher.

In other words, the River Park Foundation is not in the business of people relocation. But the United Way is.

“Year over year this past year, we saw a percent decrease countywide in homelessness, so it’s good,” said Shaina Gross of San Diego’s United Way. “It’s not great, but it’s good.”

What’s not good is the outlook for hundreds of river dwellers – Vietnam vets who find the escape they need among the reeds, families who stay there so they can stay together. It’s going to flush them out. Where do they go?

“We need to find them permanent supportive housing,” stated Gross. “Nationally, we know that supportive housing is the best practice. It isn’t a temporary solution, it is long-term. It’s as permanent as the name implies and it brings individuals all the services that they need  in order to be successful.”

One of our community’s leading advocates for the homeless said this:

“Hurray for the river parkway!” 

San Diego Rescue Mission President Herb Johnson says he and his outreach workers will be looking for more homeless to migrate to the city, where he hopes once they come out of hiding, they will find the help they need. 
Categories: KUSI