Centro residents are riding the crest of a wave surfacing with the new Aquatic
Center but its rising tide did not lift all boats as some, including those who
frequented Adams Park, are struggling to stay afloat.
Jessica Solorio, founder of Spread the Love Charity located just blocks away on Main Street, see the other side of the coin that faces most of her clients, some of the most needy in the county.
“I was happy El Centro was
getting something so amazing as the Aquatic Center but super sad the homeless
weren’t taken care of before,” she said in an Oct 31 interview. “The
homeless were told to move, but when there is no home, where do you go? They’ve
scattered, yet most stayed in the vicinity and now about 50 homeless are in the
alleys and parking lots of downtown.”
The Aquatic Center was built on city-owned park land along between Adams and Park avenues between Fourth and Sixth streets. It opened Oct. 26. The area was formerly the site of numerous homeless camps.
More Than Just a Park
Henry Poston, 63, has been in Imperial
Valley 21 years, arriving from Oklahoma. He has worked in construction but poor
health has hampered him most of his life. Now with a heart murmur, he also
suffers lower intestinal stress and numbing in both legs. For a time he was
able to recycle bottles and metals but almost no recyclers remain in the
“I was going to Adams Park when I
was looking after an elderly couple, Frank Beltran and his wife, and they gave
me a room to stay at their place,” recalled Poston. “I was working
landscaping but I can’t anymore since I can’t strain my lower intestines.”
Poston previously went to Adams Park
to get meals from one of a number of churches that did outreach there. But
Poston was anxious when he first heard the Aquatic Center was going to be built
“I didn’t like the idea, but I
understand the community wants a place for the neighborhood to go,” he
said. “But we liked to use the restrooms and we could use the sink to wash
up in. It wasn’t great but we got halfway cleaned up.”
A special hardship for Poston was when
the police vacated the homeless from Adams Park when resident complaints became
prevalent. He lost his documents, particularly those needed to obtain
disability benefits, but now with the assistance of Spread the Love he will
able to replace his medical card.
Rudy Villalobos, 55, is also now homeless, but 10 years ago he took
care of his parents and earned a paycheck providing in-home assistance to the
disabled. He also partook of the church-sponsored meals at Adams Park and relies
on Spread the Love charity.
“The pool construction wasn’t
great from me, especially when they closed the bathrooms,” he said.
“Now we have to go to the transit station (Seventh and State streets).
Well, the pool is what it is. But Spread the Love gives us something to eat.
And I have some family in El Centro to help me.”
Besides the homeless who were forced
to move, the center is a big change for its more permanent neighbors. Shawn
Benson, an employee with the Gun Shop on Broadway, just two blocks from the
Aquatic Center, explained it will definitely bring traffic to the area.
“But I don’t know if they (pool
patrons) will be interested in stopping by the shop to buy ammunition on days
they are using the pool,” he said, perhaps in jest. “But according to
our boss, the pool is a great addition to the neighborhood. And we sure hope
the children enjoy it.”
Julie Gobae, a neighborhood resident,
was strolling past the Aquatic Center gates just hours before Halloween trick
or treating began. She explained the pool is nice but the city opened when it
was too cold.
“But the price of $5 (admission)
is a lot for kids, especially if you have four or five kids,” said Gobae.
“I remember the Plunge (the former city pool) when it was 50 cents. I
think they should lower the price to $2, then all the kids can go. But I think
the pools are fantastic and beautiful, And, yes, I’ll be swimming there.”
Wendy Luevano, owner of Simply@Home, a
vintage furnishings and collectibles shop on Main Street, is certain the
Aquatic Center will attract crowds from across Imperial Valley. While she said
she sees its value, she also noted the city needs to address its homelessness.
“The community needs this,”
she said. “But the city needs to get on board with the homeless. Some have
addictions and others need mental health services. But El Centro has closed its
eyes to the homeless. It’s not just downtown because they’re now camping around
the (former) Smart & Final (on North Imperial Avenue). It breaks my heart.
But the pool is great for the community. It’s always a challenge for what kids
can do here. We need more recreation and museums down here.”