Two deaths, one fire in same day at homeless encampment

A homeless camp at River Street and Highway 1, on the edge of Gateway Plaza, is slated for closure. (File photo by Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian)

SANTA CRUZ — Santa Cruz Police officers and firefighters on Tuesday responded to two deaths and one fire at the Gateway Camp, the sprawling amassment of makeshift tents, shanties and lean-tos at Highway 1 and River Street along the San Lorenzo River Levee.

The causes of death in both cases are not suspicious, the Santa Cruz Police Department said in a Facebook post. One death was due to natural causes and the other is still under investigation by the coroner.

A camper cooking inside a tent caused the fire, the statement said.

The incidents occurred as the city prepares for a March 15 closure of the camp, which houses an estimated 200 people.

On Feb. 12, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors approved a plan to shut the camp and use the Salvation Army shelter on Seventh Avenue in Santa Cruz for men.

A 40-bed shelter at the Salvation Army Laurel Street location will be used for families with children, single women and “mobility impaired” people.

“SCPD is continuously working to provide assistance to the homeless in our community and hold those accountable who break the law,” the statement read. “We also understand that we cannot resolve the issue of homelessness alone.

“Collaboration with our county partners, mental health and addiction services, city resources, our neighboring cities, and other public and private resources is the key to reducing the homeless presence, not only in our community but everywhere.”

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