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Without Ross Camp, Homeless In Santa Cruz Spread Out

It’s been a week since bulldozers and workers in hazmat suits finished clearing out a large homeless camp in Santa Cruz. It was home to over 100 people since November. 

Now, the densely-packed tents are gone. All that’s left is a barren dirt lot. But, Santa Cruz’s homeless problem hasn’t gone away.

Since the large homeless encampment known as Ross Camp closed, Brent Adams has been busy. He runs the non-profit Day and Night Storage Program. It’s a place where homeless people can store their belongings.

“Oh we saw a huge influx in people storing their stuff with us. We probably saw 40 to 50 new clients since Ross camp decamped,” Adams says.

The storage center is in an office building near the former Ross Camp, just across the San Lorenzo River bicycle and pedestrian bridge.

Adams leans against a metal rack full of black and grey plastic bins. About 350 local homeless people currently store their belongings here.  

“It removes one of the main problems of homelessness, that people have to carry all of their stuff around,” says Adams.

Things like clothes and family photographs. While their belongings are here, the homeless people are sleeping in the woods, on the streets, or staying in shelters.

About 60 people moved into an outdoor tent shelter at 1220 River Street. A security guard stands out front; a metal fence surrounds a gravel lot. Inside, rows of green tents are set up on wooden platforms.

Last spring and summer, the city of Santa Cruz managed a similar shelter. This second time around, the Salvation Army is managing it, under the direction of Salvation Army Captain Harold Laubach.

“As you can see, the walkways are clean, there's no garbage anywhere, there's drinking water available here all the time, bathrooms, handwashing stations,” Laubach says.

It’s now the fourth shelter the Salvation Army is running in Santa Cruz County. Laubach says they’re serving about 220 people per night.

“Which according to the last point in time count is about 10 percent of all the homeless in the county,” Laubach says.

Case managers come here to help people find housing, employment or drug and alcohol treatment. Meals are also provided. A shuttle makes trips around town throughout the day.

Porter Hoover says before coming here, he was sleeping on the streets or in motels when he could afford it. He never stayed at Ross Camp.

“To me, it was just over, it was too crowded, too packed,” says Hoover.

But the services and setup at this outdoor camp work for him.

“I had two surgeries last year, one in October on my neck and then my lower back. So for me, it's a blessing,” Hoover says.

That blessing has an end date. The shelter is supposed to close June 30th, when current funding runs out.

Homeless advocate and Food Not Bombs Co-founder Keith McHenry says once again, people will have nowhere to go. Just like what happened after Ross Camp closed.

“It seems to me most of the people have gone to either doorways downtown and then a lot of people have been like trying to nestle up against the vacant areas by the freeway. And so that’s where we are now,” McHenry says.

McHenry stands on a sidewalk near a wooded area along Highway 1. About 12 people are living just behind where he’s standing.

“The people that live outside are not going to evaporate. And I think there's some kind of hope that they will just somehow go away,” says McHenry.

Instead of going away, McHenry hopes the homeless will regroup for community and safety.

In fact, he has a few spots in mind, including right back at the original location of Ross Camp, where the city just cleaned up.

Erika joined KAZU in 2016. Her roots in radio began at an early age working for the independent community radio station in her hometown of Boulder, Colorado. After graduating from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University in 2012, Erika spent four years working as a television reporter. She’s very happy to be back in public radio and loves living in the Monterey Bay Area.
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