River Park Foundation head forced to become homeless expert
By Kelly Davis/ San Diego City Beat / September 1, 2009
A breakfast forum last Thursday on the subject of homelessness included Rob Hutsel, executive director of the San Diego River Park Foundation. Hutsel, who’s headed the nonprofit for eight years, has become an unlikely expert on the people who call the river banks home: The organization’s twice-monthly trash pick-ups and bi-annual “river blitz” clean-ups have somewhat become field studies of the living conditions of river-bank dwellers.
“When we first started, there really was an area [where] people were told, ‘Just go down to the river and get out of here,'” Hutsel said in a phone interview.
Mixed in with what he refers to as “legacy trash”-old, abandoned cars and other large items-were homeless encampments. The area had been left alone for so long that its inhabitants had formed a makeshift community, Hutsel said; they even had their own mayor.
“On one side of the river, it was the tweakers, and then on the other side it was the non-tweakers,” he recalled.
“There were two-story structures down there. They had taken a lot of the vegetation and cut it down and built little structures. It was really quite amazing. You’d see [car] batteries all lined up; they’d have a nice little stove set up and a kitchen area.”
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