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Foundation building trust one pair of socks at a time

San Diego River Park Foundation is hosting a sock drive for homeless residents from 3 to 5 p.m. on Dec. 4 in the organization’s headquarters parking lot at 4891 Pacific Highway.

Foundation founder Rob Hutsel said there are two reasons the organization is collecting socks for residents experiencing homelessness who camp along the river: the socks themselves, and as a means to build trust.

The San Diego River originates in the Cuyamaca mountains, runs locally with tributaries like Chocolate Creek and Peutz Creek in Alpine, through Lakeside and Santee, and continues to San Diego with homeless residents camped near the river bed at multiple points along the way.

“We know the vast majority of the people living there are the hardest to reach. For whatever reason, they decline services and a lot of that has to do with trust. Someone who works in the riverbed every day can grow to overcome that lack of trust. When we give socks as a care package, they see us as someone they can trust,” Hutsel said.

Completely apart from the Regional Task Force on Homelessness’ Point in Time count which takes place one night each year, the foundation completes a quarterly survey of everyone they encounter living in the riverbed, Hutsel said, and can identify where to locate individuals.

“We know there are 402 people currently living in the riverbed, know exactly where the people are and go out with homeless outreach workers from PATH to hand out care packages directly to people where they live,” Hutsel said.

Foundation staff documented over 90% of trash removed from the riverbed with each cleanup is due to homeless residents who camp there, a problem Hutsel says is not just about people needing a place to live but also creates environmental damage.

Gaining trust through socks is a first step toward connecting homeless residents with help, not just for their own benefit but to preserve local watersheds and the river system.

“We have people out on the riverbed two days a week doing data collection, and three days cleaning up trash— there needs to be a level of trust with the people who live in the riverbed. Some of them can be a little scary, or threatened by our presence. By handing out socks, we can create an environment where we can complete our ecological mission,” Hutsel said.

Visit for more information on volunteering, donations, or other SDRPF events.

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Source: East County Californian

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