Rocks placed below San Diego overpass to deter camps: ‘We’re not anti-homeless. We’re pro-resident’

Riprap next to the walls of a 5 Freeway overpass in San Diego was installed last week at the request of nearby residents.

Riprap next to the walls of a 5 Freeway overpass in San Diego was installed last week at the request of nearby residents.

(John Gastaldo / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Jagged rocks installed to deter homeless encampments below a freeway overpass have sparked a debate between people arguing for compassion and residents demanding safer, cleaner streets.

City crews installed the riprap next to the walls of the 5 Freeway overpass late last week at the request of Sherman Heights residents, who had complained that homeless encampments on Imperial Avenue had made it difficult and sometimes dangerous for pedestrians.

“When we saw the rocks going up, we celebrated,” resident Ildifonso Carrillo said.


Carrillo, a member of the Sherman Heights group Compassionate Solutions, said residents were fighting to improve the quality of life in their neighborhood. “We’re not anti-homeless,” he said. “We’re pro-resident.”

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Devonna Almagro, executive director of the Sherman Heights Community Center, said residents recently had approached Mayor Kevin Faulconer with concerns about the overpass when he was making an appearance in the neighborhood. “Sometimes they couldn’t even walk through the sidewalks because of the people there,” Almagro said.

The decision to put in hardscape — which according to Bill Harris, supervising public information officer for the city, cost $57,000 — was criticized in some quarters.

The Facebook page Homelessness News San Diego posted photos of the rocks as they were being installed, and many of the 250 comments included requests for people to call Faulconer’s office to complain.

Jeeni Criscenzo, president of the homeless advocacy nonprofit Amikas, led a news conference outside City Hall on Tuesday to protest the hardscape and to petition for another solution.

“Instead of coming up with innovations, they came up with pest control,” Criscenzo said as she stood next to a shopping cart filled with prop rocks and carrying a sign that read, “Give them shelters, not rocks.”

Criscenzo and board members from Amikas then went to Faulconer’s office on the 11th floor to deliver a petition they said was signed by 9,000 people asking the city to set aside land for temporary, affordable tiny houses for the homeless.

The petitions, including 8,700 signatures that were collected on, asked Faulconer to allow the homes to be put on vacant sites on a six-month trial basis.

“We won’t know until we try,” she said about the proposal.

Sherman Heights resident Silvia Leon said the rocks have made the stretch of Imperial Avenue below the 5 cleaner, but since their installation she has noticed more homeless people near her residence four blocks away.

“It’s cleaned up,” she said of Imperial Avenue. “But now, I walked out of my house this morning and I have homeless on my block, picking up their sleeping bags. They’re being pushed into our neighborhood.”

Warth writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.


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