He had never volunteered before.
But in 2018, Juan Salgado, an administrative analyst at the County Psychiatric Hospital, decided to participate in the annual homeless count.
He chose the San Diego River, where count volunteers are guided by the San Diego River Park Foundation. While Salgado was counting homeless people in the area near Mission Gorge Road, he noticed the large amounts of garbage on the river banks.
Salgado learned the San Diego River Park Foundation oversees cleaning the river and decided he would volunteer his time and help to remove trash.
“Counting the homeless was such a positive experience, it inspired me to continue volunteering and pick up trash,” said Salgado, who’s been with the County for three years and has been in his current position for the past three months. “I saw the mountains of trash and thought, ‘This is terrible.’”
In 2018, Salgado volunteered one day each week, donating about 180 hours of his time to remove trash from the river. Every year, Foundation volunteers remove about 200,000 pounds of trash.
Salgado said it’s a common misconception that the trash and debris that end up in the river is dumped there by the homeless people that live in the river banks.
He said the trash in the river is the result of storm water and winds that blow trash into the river. Trash also comes from motorists and people who dump unwanted items into the river.
“We’ve seen places where people just leave their trash in the river. It’s carelessness about the river,” said Salgado, who recently was the guide for the Asian Pacific Alliance of County Employees and Emerging Workforce Association volunteers when they travelled the river banks documenting invasive plant species using a smartphone app.
Earlier this year, Salgado was a guide during the 2019 homeless count and said he will do it again in 2020. He is still volunteering on weekends and plans to do it for the foreseeable future because he wants to continue serving his community. He lives near the river along Mission Gorge Road.
“It’s really gratifying. When we’re out there, people realize how pretty it is down there,” Salgado said. “You get some exercise and you’re helping your community. Volunteering is such great thing to do.”
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