Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
San Diego Uses Wildfire Reduction Work to Treat Homelessness. Would It Work in Fresno?
gvw_calmatters
By CalMatters
Published 4 months ago on
December 28, 2023

Share

 

In Summary
After discovering an elaborate encampment in a fire-prone canyon, a group in San Diego was inspired to develop a skills training program for unhoused people that helps reduce fire risk and connect them with jobs.

Keith Wilson

Special to CalMatters

A potential solution to reduce homelessness and ease the effects of climate change came from a man living in a San Diego canyon.

Mark had built an apartment-like camp in a drainage tunnel on the Allen Canyon Nature Trail in Mission Hills. It had a wooden floor, a couch, a dresser, a broken coffee maker and a shattered TV.

He had weapons to defend his home, and a five-gallon can of gasoline for cooking. The gas can was uncovered and stored at the base of the canyon where nearby hotel guests occasionally flick their cigarettes.

San Diego’s canyons are some of the most high-risk fire zones in the region, according to Cal Fire. Scared that Mission Hills might burn, including areas that could contain Kumeyaay tribe artifacts, Mark and 500 gallons of trash were removed by the city – but not before Mark said something unforgettable.

“Your efforts to clean this canyon aren’t going to work,” he said. “Yeah, I will get kicked out of here at some point. But all you are doing is making the canyon nice for the next homeless person. What you really need to do is to clean the canyon and then make sure people use the nature trail every day.”

Mark, an expert on living outside, suggested a way to ease homelessness and protect the environment. His words inspired a three-year mission to find funding and an organization willing to develop an environmental restoration skills training program for San Diego’s unsheltered population.

Both worked. Earlier this year, six people at risk of homelessness – mostly women – were paid living wages by San Diego Canyonlands to form the first Environmental Career Opportunities, or ECO, habitat renewal training team.

Three participants graduated, and two eventually landed jobs. They went from living in cars to earning a living in six months.

One of the team members, Angel, recently took a break from pulling invasive weeds in Mission Hills Canyon to share part of his life story.

“Back in 2015, I was in a space so dark that I didn’t even recognize myself. I started self-harming, and making suicide attempts. The cops are always being called, and putting me on 5150 holds,” he told me. “After that, my family didn’t want nothing to do with me. They threw me to the street. It was my freshman year of high-school.”

The 24-year-old’s legs nervously rocked a bit as he sat on a sewer manhole cover.

“It was hard, and I tried to get run over on the freeway,” Angel continued. “So, they put me in a psychiatric hospital to see how stable I am, and how they might support me. And it went from there.”

“Your efforts to clean this canyon aren’t going to work,” he said. “Yeah, I will get kicked out of here at some point. But all you are doing is making the canyon nice for the next homeless person. What you really need to do is to clean the canyon and then make sure people use the nature trail every day.”

After bouncing around group homes with other young adults going through similar things, Angel started abusing alcohol. He was 18 at the time.

He eventually received treatment and support services that helped him get sober and housed in a small downtown apartment. Angel joined the ECO initiative in June, as part of the second cohort, and said he already feels the shift.

“I still go through tough situations, but now it doesn’t stop me from helping my teammates and my community. Those bonds can lift you up,” he said. “Now I have a new family – my work family. They look out for me, and they care about me. It’s the first time that has happened for me in a long time. Now I look ahead.”

Many of his teammates still lack shelter, spending each night in a scary, lonely spot.

But in the morning they perform warm-up exercises in the bright sun before grabbing their tools and gardening together, reducing wildfire risks, improving air and water quality, and helping endangered species survive.

In turn, they are helping themselves survive, and enhancing the mental and physical health of anyone who enjoys a nature walk.

Perhaps Mark would be proud of this work. There’s a job for him. With 200 San Diego canyons needing this level of care, there are jobs for 1,000 people like Mark and Angel.

About the Author

Keith Wilson is the director of strategic development for San Diego Canyonlands.

Make Your Voice Heard

GV Wire encourages vigorous debate from people and organizations on local, state, and national issues. Submit your op-ed to bmcewen@gvwire.com for consideration. 

About CalMatters

CalMatters is a nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom committed to explaining California policy and politics.

 

RELATED TOPICS:

DON'T MISS

The Pickle Flavor Frenzy and Its Rise in Food Trends

DON'T MISS

Kate Hudson Had a Lifetime to Make a Record. The Result is ‘Glorious,’ Out in May

DON'T MISS

Long-Lost First Model of USS Enterprise from ‘Star Trek’ Boldly Goes Home

DON'T MISS

California Leaders Take Sides in Monumental Supreme Court Case on Homelessness

DON'T MISS

Man Sets Himself on Fire Outside Trump Hush Money Trial Court

DON'T MISS

McDonald’s Ice Cream Machines Are So Unreliable They’re a Meme. They Might Also Be a Climate Solution.

DON'T MISS

Real Estate Experts Talk Fresno’s Economic Future. Are Tough Times Ahead?

DON'T MISS

Unlocking the Secrets to Fresno State’s Superb Baseball Season

DON'T MISS

‘This Is How to Improve Reading Proficiency. We Just Have To Execute It’: FUSD Board President

DON'T MISS

Does Dyer Support (or Endorse) Bredefeld for Supervisor?

UP NEXT

Biden Administration Restricts Oil and Gas Leasing in 13 Million Acres of Alaska’s Petroleum Reserve

UP NEXT

California Sets Long-Awaited Drinking Water Limit for ‘Erin Brockovich’ Contaminant

UP NEXT

Will State AG Rob Bonta Jump Into 2026 Race for CA Governor?

UP NEXT

Local Leaders Must Put Their Shoulders Into Making Fresno ‘Education City USA’

UP NEXT

New Study Calculates Climate Change’s Economic Bite Will Hit About $38 Trillion a Year by 2049

UP NEXT

Carbon Capture Isn’t Nearly as ‘Green’ as Fossil Fuel Promoters Make It Sound

UP NEXT

Vital Climate Tool or License to Pollute? The Battle Over CA’s First Carbon Capture Project

UP NEXT

CA’s High Construction Costs Limit Housing. A Supreme Court Decision Might Help

UP NEXT

A Fresno Edition of Monopoly? That’s Capitalism at Work, Baby!

UP NEXT

Biden’s Embrace of Trump’s Tariffs Could Spell Trouble for His Reelection: Fareed Zakaria

California Leaders Take Sides in Monumental Supreme Court Case on Homelessness

24 hours ago

Man Sets Himself on Fire Outside Trump Hush Money Trial Court

1 day ago

McDonald’s Ice Cream Machines Are So Unreliable They’re a Meme. They Might Also Be a Climate Solution.

1 day ago

Real Estate Experts Talk Fresno’s Economic Future. Are Tough Times Ahead?

2 days ago

Unlocking the Secrets to Fresno State’s Superb Baseball Season

2 days ago

‘This Is How to Improve Reading Proficiency. We Just Have To Execute It’: FUSD Board President

2 days ago

Does Dyer Support (or Endorse) Bredefeld for Supervisor?

2 days ago

Get a 3D First Look at Merced’s High-Speed Rail Station Design

2 days ago

California Court to Decide on Transgender Ballot Measure Wording

2 days ago

Rare House Vote Sees Ukraine, Israel Aid Advance as Democrats Join Republicans

2 days ago

The Pickle Flavor Frenzy and Its Rise in Food Trends

You might have noticed that the tangy taste of pickles has taken over more than just the condiment aisle. From pickle-flavored popcorn to pi...

23 hours ago

23 hours ago

The Pickle Flavor Frenzy and Its Rise in Food Trends

23 hours ago

Kate Hudson Had a Lifetime to Make a Record. The Result is ‘Glorious,’ Out in May

23 hours ago

Long-Lost First Model of USS Enterprise from ‘Star Trek’ Boldly Goes Home

24 hours ago

California Leaders Take Sides in Monumental Supreme Court Case on Homelessness

1 day ago

Man Sets Himself on Fire Outside Trump Hush Money Trial Court

1 day ago

McDonald’s Ice Cream Machines Are So Unreliable They’re a Meme. They Might Also Be a Climate Solution.

2 days ago

Real Estate Experts Talk Fresno’s Economic Future. Are Tough Times Ahead?

2 days ago

Unlocking the Secrets to Fresno State’s Superb Baseball Season

MENU

CONNECT WITH US

Search

Send this to a friend