Over the Hill

Paso Robles deserves praise for keeping homeless safe

Members with the Paso Robles Police Department make contact with folks living in a homeless camp along the Salinas riverbed in early March to warn them of the upcoming cleanup of the camps.
Members with the Paso Robles Police Department make contact with folks living in a homeless camp along the Salinas riverbed in early March to warn them of the upcoming cleanup of the camps. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

As a Paso Roblan, I was pleased earlier this month by my city’s efforts to get homeless people out of the Salinas riverbed before the recent rain storms.

Between March 5 and 12, my wobbly rain gauge caught 2.52 inches of rain. That wasn’t as much as was feared or as much as was hoped for. It wasn’t enough to break the drought, and it wasn’t enough to make a major flood in the Salinas riverbed.

Most of the time, the Salinas River has to be taken on faith. In the North County in recent years, we’ve seldom seen actual water flowing in the riverbed. We usually just see sand, and motorcycle tracks, all-terrain vehicle tracks and thickets of trees and brush.

But even when we can’t see the Salinas River streaming, it’s still there flowing all the same. It runs slowly underground through its sandy bed. Then last month we actually saw water flowing on the surface. But it was more like a trickling creek than a river.

Then early this month, we got those substantial rains and the Salinas again looked like a real river. Sure, it’s a minor-league river, but it’s our river and it was flowing.

So on March 7, I went to see it. I first looked down from the Niblick Bridge. Then I walked down the bank and under the bridge. I walked out to the brink of what I call the river’s third bank. The river there seems to me to have three banks, like giant stair steps down to the main channel.

I stood looking down from the edge of the dry top step. The second step looked muddy. The river must have flowed over it shortly before. The river was then flowing swiftly next to the first “step” between two pairs of those stout, concrete columns that hold up the bridge.

I only saw two people that day near the river, both on bicycles. One was a young man in dark clothing riding a wheelie bike. The other was a man in work clothes riding an out-of-style, full-size bike with balloon tires. He could have been a river resident checking things out.

I also saw an innerspring mattress and sleeping bag, maybe left behind when someone evacuated.

This Wednesday, I again walked beneath the Niblick Bridge. The water was lower and slower than during my earlier visit, but it was still a river. The mattress was gone and I saw no people.

Earlier this month, The Tribune reported that Paso Robles police found 24 occupied camps along the Salinas River. The officers spoke to one or more people in each camp, telling them of the predicted storms and the need to move out.

Cooperating with the police was the nonprofit organization Paso Cares, which in turn worked with churches and other interested groups to provide overnight shelter. But even with a flood of goodwill, homelessness remains an extremely complex problem to solve.

Phil Dirkx’s column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades, and his column appears here every week. Reach Dirkx at 238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.

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