Camp cleanups shuffle Santa Cruz’s homeless population around city
By Jessica A. York, Santa Cruz Sentinel
SANTA CRUZ >> Santa Cruz’s homeless population was put on the move this week, as separate encampment cleanups around the city coincided.
Santa Cruz Police Deputy Chief Rick Martinez told the city Public Safety Committee on Monday to expect Caltrans cleanups along Highway 1 to have rippling impacts throughout the rest of the city, relocating the city’s homeless to parks and open spaces, downtown and the neighborhoods.
“Hopefully we can find that magical place called ‘somewhere else’ where those can receive a system of care and get them off the streets,” Martinez said. He said “hundreds of people” were residing along Highway 1, past the bypass to Santa Cruz Memorial and uphill to Mission Street.
Caltrans crews began their Santa Cruz cleanup efforts on Jan. 26, said Caltrans District 5 spokeswoman Susana Cruz. Caltrans has targeted properties along Ocean Street, along the San Lorenzo River, Swift Street and Western Drive since then, she said. More cleanups are scheduled for Shaffer Road and Plymouth Street in coming weeks, Cruz said.
Martinez told the commission that Santa Cruz officials had asked Caltrans to address the growing number of encampments on their properties since October or November of last year.
“This has been going on for years,” Cruz said of Caltrans crews’ efforts to address trash buildup and homeless encampments in Santa Cruz. “They (Caltrans workers) do do this, but they have a list of work that they have to do, so every once in a while, they have to stop and just take care of the encampment thing, the homeless issue.”
Separately, residents of the city’s largest homeless encampment, comprised of 70 or more people in tents along the San Lorenzo Park benchlands, were temporarily evicted Tuesday evening through Thursday morning for a semi-regular city site cleanup effort. While past city camp cleanups have extended for only 24 hours, an extra half day was allotted this week due to the extended duration of time needed by campers to clear the area, city Parks and Recreation Director Mauro Garcia said.
By the conclusion of the cleanup Wednesday, city Public Works and Parks and Recreation workers had loaded some 2.6 tons of debris into a packer truck, Santa Cruz city spokeswoman Eileen Cross said. A 20-yard Dumpster on site has been averaging 2.5 to 3 tons of trash per pickup, for a cumulative 17.2 tons of trash collected since Oct. 30, Cross said.
Homelessness issues advocate Brent Adams has been posting videos of day-to-day experiences of people living at the benchlands through his Homeless Outside in Santa Cruz Facebook page. During this week’s camp clear-out, Adams spoke to several people who relocated to temporary camps near the Water Street Bridge.
When campers returned to the benchlands Thursday, they saw the nearly 60 outlined campsite spaces reduced by one space that had been damaged by a camper who dug deep trenches around and through their site, Garcia said. Though his department’s general rule has been to restrict one tent per campsite, city workers have been “flexible in enforcing this rule, depending on the situation.” Some campers have been allowed to set up secondary “E-Z Up” tent structures to extend their shelter space, Garcia said.
During the benchlands cleanup, the city dispensed with offering overnight storage space for campers’ possessions, an amenity officials had previously provided, because “several storage bins from previous cleanups have not been claimed,” Garcia said.
In a likely unrelated occurrence, storage-related issues came to a head for one man who told officials he had been evicted from an Eastside private storage space and then opted to store his possessions on Santa Cruz City Schools’ property at the Branciforte Small Schools campus Thursday and Friday.
Though an on-site school administrator was aware of the man’s actions and permitted it temporarily, his extended stay caught the attention of local residents and Santa Cruz police, said department spokeswoman Joyce Blaschke. The man was cited by police and his possessions picked up by a moving truck Friday afternoon, Blaschke said.