RIVERSIDE: City warns homeless of El Niño

pe.com | November 10,2015 – 

Riverside city officials outlined steps Tuesday, Nov. 10, that they’re taking to warn the homeless to stay out of the Santa Ana River bed as a strong El Niño storm season approaches.

“The flood threat from El Niño is serious,” Riverside Mayor Rusty Bailey said at a news conference at Ryan Bonaminio Park, near the river bottom.

Earlier Tuesday morning, a team of 10 city officials – including police and members of the homeless outreach team – fanned out to the river bed next to the park to pass out fliers to people living in encampments and remind them that camping is not permitted.

City officials say they’re worried about the threats from flooding as well as fires that might be started near homeless camps. In the past two weeks, four fires, including a 25-acre blaze on Halloween that threatened homes, started in the river bottom.

The fliers describe the flooding and fire danger the homeless would face if they continue to live there. The back side has phone numbers they can call for help.

It’s part of an effort to prepare for the storms that are expected soon. During the last El Niño storms, in 1998 and 1999 from November to March, the city got as much rain in one month as it usually does in a whole season, said Anthony Coletta, the city’s emergency services administrator.

The storms also swelled the river to the point that it ran full from bank to bank, he said.

The outreach includes sharing information on shelter, food, medical and other aid that’s available, Bailey said.

“Riverside is a caring city that provides a wide range of services to people who want to make a change,” he said.

Emilio Ramirez, deputy director of community and economic development, said one of the biggest obstacle is earning the trust of the homeless , some of who may be resistant to change or distrustful of authorities. However, he believes that many already understand the severity of the expected storms.

In addition to reaching out to the homeless, city officials are also clearing out storm drains and preparing sandbags. Firefighters are conducting regular drills for flooding or river bottom fires and have a swift-water rescue team on hand.

“These steps now to prepare will go a long way to minimize the impact of El Niño,” Coletta said. “We’re in this together and we’ll get through this together.”

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