SANTA CRUZ — Standing in the Gateway homeless encampment in Santa Cruz Friday morning, camp advocate Alicia Kuhl watched as a motorist passing by on Highway 1 blared his horn as he drove past. She said that was a frequent occurrence, and a reminder of the negative public perception of the sprawling assemblage of tents, tarps and piles of personal possessions.
Throughout the night, Kuhl said, people hurl insults at the campers, and toss objects such as frozen water bottles and fireworks onto the tents below.
Kuhl was at the camp to help the residents move out after a federal judge earlier this week dissolved a restraining order stopping the City of Santa Cruz from closing it. The city gave a deadline of 10 a.m. Friday.
Santa Cruz Police were investigating a small explosion that occurred about 8 a.m., sending a cascade of dirt into the air and drawing emergency officials to investigate. No injuries were reported.
Santa Cruz Police Chief Andy Mills said the explosion appeared to be intentionally set.
“We will prosecute anyone who may have set this device,” Mills wrote through Twitter.
Santa Cruz Police spokeswoman Joyce Blaschke refuted claims by some people at the camp Friday morning that the city was giving campers extra time to vacate.
“Today is the day, not in three days,” she said.
Santa Cruz spokeswoman Eileen Cross said that employees had made contact with all the camp residents as of Friday afternoon, handing out vouchers for shelter.
They were also giving residents 30-gallon totes to store personal property. The totes were paid for with state Homeless Emergency Action Plan funds, Cross said.
Caltrans, which owns the bulk of the property, was already on the scene installing fencing, Cross said.
“The intention is that the property will be fenced and closed today,” she said.
This man packs up his belongings and heads out of Camp Ross, a homeless camp on Highway 1 at River Street beside the Gateway Plaza, in Santa Cruz,omens before officials were set to clear the camp out Friday morning. — Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian
City officials have long contended that the unsanctioned site is a public health nuisance, and claims it has provided alternative places for the residents to live.
This includes a campground at 1220 River Street and the Salvation Army shelter.
Homeless advocates, meanwhile, say the city is overstating its efforts and that many have nowhere to go but whatever vacant piece of land they can find.
Worse, evicting the residents will make it more difficult for them to receive services such as free meals, clothes and needle exchanges, Kuhl said.
That is at the core of Quintero vs. the City of Santa Cruz, an ongoing civil rights lawsuit that alleges the city is not doing its part to help its homeless residents.
“The city is evicting people from the only place they have to stay, but not providing alternative shelter,” Kuhl said.
Mathew Hanrath, 30, said he has lived at the camp since its inception late last year. He was packing up a tent and a small plot of land brimming with his personal possessions.
Hanrath was unsure where he was going to go after he left the Gateway camp, which he said was causing anxiety and worry.
This is a common feeling for a population of people with no stability in their lives, Hanrath said.
“Uncertainty and uneasiness are one of the things you can count on,” he said.
Greg Perry, 32, was wondering what he was going to do with his possessions, which included his tent, a bicycle and two large plastic bins.
“I’m trying to downsize,” he said.
Perry said he was encouraged by recent court cases, including Martin v. Boise, in which a panel of four federal judges ruled that jurisdictions cannot criminalize sleeping on public property without providing an alternative.
“I’m just confused about how it came to this,” Perry said. “I know our rights are being violated, but in the meantime I think we are just going to have to do what they tell us.”
Santa Cruz City Councilman Drew Glover said he came to “stand in support” of the city’s homeless population.
“We can’t be pushing them out and forcing them away,” Glover said. “We need to do whatever we can to support them in reaching their goals and achieving their visions. If we spent as much money, time and resources on rejuvenating and revitalizing the camp instead of trying to destroy it, we would be in a completely different spot right now.”
Glover took time to wander through the camp and meet with occupants, activists and officials throughout the morning.
“There is a lot of emotion around this entire community,” Glover said. “We need to move forward carefully and intentionally through this process. There is little trust between the city and the people that are experiencing homelessness — people that have been dealing with the lawsuits and what’s going on out here. This all could be avoided. There is a lot of panic out here and frustration.”
Editor's note: Tarmo Hannula contributed to this report.