Santa Cruz homelessness camp closure postponed

People come and go at Camp Ross, a large homeless camp at the corner of River Street and Highway 1 in Santa Cruz just off of Gateway Plaza. — Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian

City looking for alternate sites

SANTA CRUZ — The Santa Cruz City Council on Tuesday cancelled plans to close Gateway encampment, the controversial homeless camp at River Street and Highway 1. The council also voted to stop a plan to relocate the residents to Depot Park.

In a message to the press Thursday, City Manager Martin Bernal explained that the city is waiting until sufficient alternative shelter is available.

The American Civil Liberties Union contacted the City of Santa Cruz about possible litigation related to closure of  the camp, Bernal said.

“After hearing concerns expressed by numerous residents about locating a safe-sleeping program in a parking lot near Depot Park, the Council agreed to rescind their prior approval,” Bernal said. “Depot Park will not be used for safe sleeping.”

The camp has drawn a firestorm of controversy since it opened, with neighbors pointing to increased crime and drug use.

Emergency officials say there have been 76 public safety calls to the camp since Nov. 1. Firefighters have responded to five deaths and three fires.

The Council also approved standard operating procedures for vacating homeless encampments, Bernal said. The members also directed staff to work with the Santa Cruz Fire Chief to implement a site management plan as soon as possible to include cleanup, hygiene and security measures, and to create a sleeping space layout plan.

In addition, the Council agreed to have a formal census taken of the people camping at the Gateway encampment by a qualified third party. The census will be helpful in city planning efforts for alternative sanctioned shelter programs.

In other action, the council agreed to establish a Community Advisory Committee on Homelessness (CACH.)

The goals for CACH as identified by the Council are to increase communication and understanding of homelessness by providing a platform for community members to explore causes and possible solutions to address homeless issues.

Opening of the emergency temporary camp at 1220 River Street, which was planned to coincide with the closure of the Gateway encampment, is currently on hold as Santa Cruz City officials wait for direction from the Council on the Gateway closure.

“Addressing community needs around homelessness is taking a lot of city focus, and a lot of extra staff time,” Bernal said. “I am proud of the way city employees have stepped up to take on additional work to try to alleviate both the suffering of those living without shelter, as well as to mitigate the impacts that homelessness is having on our community.”


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