Santa Cruz Homeless Camp Draws New Faces

Apr 10, 2018

A new city-run homeless camp in Santa Cruz is reaching homeless people who don’t normally turn up at shelters.  

People like Mark Hemersbach. He climbs out of his tent holding a cup of coffee. His tent is one of 49 in a fenced dirt lot at 1220 River St. Called River Street Camp, the temporary outdoor homeless camp opened last month.

“I’ve never been in a shelter situation like this before,” says Hemersbach.

He says he’s avoided shelters in the past because of the rules. Many programs only operate overnight.

“They kick you out at five in the morning. Well guess what, I just spent the whole night being really warm. Now, you get to kick me back out into the ice cold and that’s going to be colder and more painful,” he says.

At River Street Camp, people don’t have to pack up and go; they can stay as long as they want. Tent searches are not conducted, pets are allowed and couples can stay together.

Program Manager Chris Monteith says the City of Santa Cruz created this kind of flexibility to reach as many people as possible. The camp opened shortly after the city cleared homeless campers out of San Lorenzo Park. The goal of River Street Camp was to provide shelter, safety and hygiene. Monteith says that's happening. But he says the biggest reward is  helping some out of homelessness.

“We bring services in here so that you don't have to go around the county seeking them. I think that people are now feeling a sense of safety so that they're a little more grounded and able to follow through on some of the services. And the service providers have a place to come and they can follow up also,” says Monteith.

Monteith says so far two people have gone into rehab and one man went into a veterans’ transitional program.

“We have some people here with Section 8 vouchers who are actively seeking housing, a difficult proposition in Santa Cruz, but you know, they’ve done all the groundwork and now it’s finding a place,” Monteith says.

River Street Camp costs about $90,000 a month and is funded by the city and county. The camp is set to close at the end of June, when its funding runs out. The City of Santa Cruz is working to establish a permanent, year-round shelter in about three years. City leaders are currently looking for places to host another temporary shelter until then.