U-T San Diego Misrepresents Work by San Diego River Park Foundation – It Does Not Roust the Homeless

by on August 1, 2012 · 1 comment

in Civil Rights, Environment, Homelessness, San Diego

Having just gotten off the phone with Richard Dhu, program manager at the San Diego River Park Foundation, I found I had to totally re-orient the article I was writing about on whether his clean river program rousts the homeless from the San Diego River area. It does not do that, he said.

I had called him because of a U-T San Diego article written by Mike Lee about the Foundation’s latest river clean-up. In his article, posted July 27th, Lee – it appears – misrepresented what the Foundation is doing. In his opening sentence, Lee spells out his perspective:

“The San Diego River Park Foundation is launching a yearlong cleanup initiative in the Mission Valley Preserve to reduce homeless camps and garbage that gathers along the river’s lower stretch.” (My emphasis.)

“That’s not what we’re doing,” Richard told me this morning when I asked him about Lee’s article. Richard told me that is not what he told Lee. There is nothing about dealing with the homeless in his group’s mission statement, plus, Richard said, they receive grant monies and not any for rousting homeless people.

Mike Lee – the U-T writer – went on in his article:

“Homeless camps have long been blamed for fouling the floodplain, and the foundation aims to reduce their numbers by removing specific types of trees that are popular homeless camp sites.”

I asked Dhu about this statement. He told me that his group does pick up abandoned homeless camps along the river, but is not clearing out current homeless camps and the group does not deal with homeless people. “That’s the work of the police,” he told me. Then Dhu asked rhetorically, who considers the U-T a reliable source anymore?

I did ask Richard about the trees, and he admitted that his group is clearing out the invasive, non-native trees, like the non-native palms.

In Lee’s article, Dhu is quoted as saying:

“It’s all about taking back our river.”

I do have a call into Mike Lee, at the U-T to see what he says now. At the time this was posted, I had not heard back from him. Here’s his article U-T San Diego .

Concerned about what Lee’s article said, not knowing he mis-characterized the Foundation, I sent it out to a few homeless advocates. And here are two responses I want to share:

Response #1:

I have started to respond negatively to all of the “Take back…” rhetoric we’ve been hearing. We should want a healthy river eco-system and do what we can to restore and maintain that. The take back our river rhetoric assumes some outside “foreign” force that threatens everything good & decent that we used to know. The reality is that we broke that river eco-system by virtue of the development in the valley, long before the homeless became a presence.

I have a homeless friend who lives in the valley because she cannot handle the restrictions and rules of the homeless centers downtown. (She is in her late 60’s and her experience in a Polish refugee camp after WWII has left deep emotional scars and fears.) She does not have the ability/means to find her own housing, so the river camps are as good as it gets for her. Winter rain storms there are brutal. The Mission Valley Library is one of the few, maybe only, public facility in the area, where people can find shelter and bathrooms.

Response #2:

“It’s always helpful to remember that the homeless people living in our streets, shelters and riverbeds are indigenous people. They were born in the United States and that’s where they became homeless. Because there is insufficient shelter beds for homeless people in San Diego and throughout the United States, for that matter, they must find somewhere else to be. The answer to ending homelessness is providing housing, jobs and mental/phyiscal medical care.

We at the Center for Justice and Social Compassion (CJSC) provide the first step toward ending homelessness by helping homeless people get their ID documents so that they can become self-sufficient. One more thought that is helpful to remember – homeless people are our brothers and sisters who are currently living without a home.”

Here is what the Foundation says about their clean river program:

Our River Needs Your Help!

Together we can make a difference

Volunteer for a River Clean-Up!!!

Twice a year during River Blitz we survey the San Diego River. The survey includes documenting locations of all of the trash we can find. Then we take action! Using the survey results, we develop a strategy to work toward a clean and trash free river. The strategy includes large and small volunteer clean-ups. This is where you come in!

Join us for a fun, rewarding, and sometimes challenging volunteer event.

IMPACT: Since 2004, volunteers have removed more than 1.3 million lbs. of trash from the river. Thousands of people have joined others to make a difference.

We invite you to join us! You will meet others, learn about the river, and get a sense of accomplishment.

TAKE ACTION: All you need to do is show up and we will take care of the rest. Wear clothes that you can get dirty and closed-toe shoes. If you have a group of more than 20 please contact us in advance. If you are under 18, check the River Calendar for how to get a permission waiver signed. See you on the River!

Questions? Contact Shannon at 619-297-7380


Groups: we love to work with groups to arrange a project

Businesses: we will coordinate a project to meet your team building or community service project. We do these throughout the year

Sponsors: can you provide trash bags, gloves, trash hauling services, financial or other support? Please let us know, thanks!

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Brenda McFarlane August 2, 2012 at 7:26 am

Thanks for clearing this up Frank! Important stuff!


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