City of Santa Barbara, CalTrans clear homeless camps
Cleanup efforts are under way again in Santa Barbara.
Three homeless encampments were cleaned out around the Castillo on- and off-ramps to Highway 101 on Monday, along with all the encampments downtown on De la Guerra Plaza, among others.
The city’s contractors loaded the trash into trucks while CalTrans controlled traffic to keep the contractors safe as they did it.
According to René Eyerly, the city’s environmental services manager, many of the individuals who camped out at De la Guerra Plaza were waiting for housing to open up, and it finally did.
“CityNet has been working with that group for quite a while, and most of them were already in client management and were awaiting housing,” she told the News-Press.
Regarding highway cleanup, she said the city has always been doing trash-only cleanup work, but because of CDC guidance, encampments aren’t able to be broken up.
Historically, she said CalTrans had “very limited resources” so they were not able to come to Santa Barbara often enough to do regular litter cleanup, much less encampment cleanup.
So the city teamed up with CalTrans a few years ago to help efforts, which Ms. Eyerly said was “working well until COVID,” which changed it all.
“For the last year, CalTrans was refusing any access to their property including the trash-only encampment cleanups which we were doing on city property,” she said. “Most of the encampments we see from the highway are on either Union Pacific property or CalTrans property, so it’s a bit of a challenge. That’s why the city has taken leadership to ensure that the cleanups are happening, so it has taken a few months of conversation with CalTrans to get them to agree again to allow us onto their property.”
The city then demonstrated that it had “thoughtful protocols in place about how to do the work safely and not displace the encampments,” Ms. Eyerly said. The plan was agreeable to both sides, so efforts resumed.
Ms. Eyerly added that the city is “quite sympathetic” to CalTrans’ decision to refuse access to their property, but the city aims to get the encampment cleaning back on a regular schedule.
“We’re looking to see some improvements in that area going forward,” she said.
The crews now have their sights set on clearing out the Garden Street encampments, along with Milpas Street encampments in the coming weeks.
The CDC outlines criteria for encampment cleanup during COVID-19, permitting it in certain situations, such as extreme public health concerns, nuisance and fire hazards.
“But part of that important function is having social services and shelter and housing offered well in advance so that those who are living in those camps that are really dangerous situations have adequate time to move out of them,” Ms. Eyerly said.
All in all, the manager said the shelters are still having challenges with capacity because of the social distancing that needs to occur within them. She said that while the city is seeing improvement on trash and sanitary issues, the main focus right now is temporary housing solutions.
“Shelters certainly need more long-term, permanent housing, but the really critical piece is getting that temporary housing in place so that people can move out of the open environment and have a safe roof over their heads while they wait for permanent housing,” Ms. Eyerly said. “The pipeline for housing is still always challenging, but we do have a number of those who are unhoused who have housing vouchers, and we are waiting for the spots to open up.
“It’s really important for CityNet to maintain that contact, even while they’re living out on the street, until that spot opens. That’s what’s starting to happen.”