WATSONVILLE — Crews descended on Struve Slough Thursday, halfway through a three-day project that not only cleared the overgrowth, but disposed of the trash left behind from homeless encampments.
The work, conducted along the Ohlone Loop Trail, was an effort of the California Conservation Corps, Watsonville Wetlands Watch and the City of Watsonville.
Watsonville City Councilman Jimmy Dutra said the city has been experiencing a rise in homelessness in recent years, and with it, more homeless people living in the sloughs.
According to the Santa Cruz County Homeless Census, released by Applied Survey Research, the number of homeless people in Watsonville increased by 23 from 2015-2017, with an estimated 463 homeless living in the city.
Dutra said he witnessed first-hand the living situations of homeless people when he went on a tour of area sloughs recently with staff from Public Works.
The “band-aid” approach of cleaning sloughs that forces homeless people to move from one area to the next needs a more permanent solution, Dutra said.
“We’ve got to figure out what the solution is,” he said.
He suggested providing more mental health and addiction services in South County, as well as bringing on a staff member who is devoted to homeless issues. To prevent people from rummaging through garbage, which ends up in the waterways, Dutra also added that businesses should lock up their dumpsters.
“Let’s all take pride in our city and work together in getting this solved,” he said.
The work, which helped clear the slough to allow for improved drainage in preparation for a rainy season, said Dan Casella from Watsonville Wetlands Watch, is also one more project during a busy time for the California Conservation Corps.
Brenda Herrmann, district director of California Conservation Corps, said crews from Watsonville have recently returned from battling fires that are scorching the state, including the Thomas and Garza fires.
“This year has not given us any breaks,” she said.
As such, the organization is “desperately” trying to recruit young adults for the program in Watsonville, according to Herrmann.
For information, call the California Conservation Corps at 768-0150.