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Homeless Advocate Breaks News Through Facebook Page

Rocks under the I-5 Imperial Avenue overpass, June 24, 2016.
Katie Schoolov
Rocks under the I-5 Imperial Avenue overpass, June 24, 2016.

Homeless Advocate Breaks News Through Facebook Page
Homeless Advocate Breaks News Through Facebook Page GUEST: Michael McConnell, founder, Homelessness News San Diego

As part of an effort to cut down on homeless camps in the area, the city of San Diego in April installed jagged rocks underneath an overpass on Imperial Avenue.

The city initially claimed the rocks were a response to safety requests from Sherman Heights residents concerned about walking down the street. But city emails first revealed this month by Voice of San Diego showed the rock project was tied to the upcoming All-Star Game at Petco Park.

John Casey, then the city’s ballpark administrator and liaison with the Padres, included the rocks on a list of work to be completed "in anticipation" of the game.

"Looks like we can have this done before the All Star game!!!" Casey wrote in February to city employees.

It was advocate Michael McConnell who first tipped off reporters about the rocks through his Facebook page, Homelessness News San Diego. He started the page in 2012, which features photos of police sweeping homeless encampments downtown and coverage of homeless issues across the state.

“Nobody was really sharing systemwide information about homelessness,” McConnell said. “It just kind of grew because there was a real appetite for it.”

McConnell is also a co-founder of Funders Together San Diego, which works on homeless issues.

San Diego has denied its sweeps are specifically tied to the All-Star Game, and says the Imperial Avenue underpass was a safety risk.

“There were many concerned about this, including downtown residents, baseball game attendees who walk to nearby Petco Park, and neighbors from Sherman Heights who use Imperial Avenue as one of their primary connections to downtown,” city spokesman José Ysea said. “The city believes Imperial Avenue is now safer as a result, and will continue to reach out to homeless individuals to offer them supportive services to end the cycle of homelessness."

McConnell joined KPBS Midday Edition Tuesday to discuss how he covers homelessness in downtown San Diego. Listen to the interview here.