El Niño Puts San Diego Homeless in Flood Danger

While California prepares nervously for the coming El Niño, a host of unwanted consequences from the expected rainstorms could prove troublesome for the drought-ravaged state–mudslides, flash floods and now, a threat to the state’s unsheltered homeless population.

The nonprofit organization Alpha Project is warning the roughly 500 homeless people encamped along the San Diego River that the coming El Niño could create dangerous, potentially life-threatening flash flooding.

Alpha Project outreach supervisor Brandon Smith led a recent trip to the river to keep homeless people apprised of the coming storms, according to KPBS. The nonprofit organization–which also provides substance abuse treatment programs, mental health counseling and employment training to the homeless–handed out snacks and made housing referrals where possible.

The El Niño is expected to hit the Pacific Coast as early as next month. Forecasts from several weather agencies have predicted that it is likely the event could be the strongest ever recorded in North America, stronger even than the severe 1997-98 event that caused massive mudslides, hundreds of thousands of evacuations, billions of dollars in damage and dozens of deaths across five Western states.

The hundreds of homeless camped along the 52-mile-long San Diego River have few options. Most of the city’s shelters are packed to capacity; according to a local government count, more than 8,700 homeless people live in San Diego, while only 4,500 live in shelters. The rest–including 181 children under the age of 18–are on the streets, unprotected and unprepared for the coming storms.

Smith told KPBS that he and his Alpha Project team would work throughout the winter to help homeless San Diego residents adapt by providing food, makeshift shelters and other assistance to those is need.


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