Santa Cruz homeless camp occupants struggle with eviction – California

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SANTA CRUZ — By 10 a.m. Friday, neither a planned activist protest nor a hard move-out deadline had manifested at a large unsanctioned homeless encampment next to Highway 1.

Beside the nearby Riverwalk, city officials continued staffing tables, as they have for several days, offering shelter signups and information. Officials said they had gone from tent to tent to converse with remaining occupants Thursday. Occupants’ confusion about the eviction logistics and timing, however, reigned Friday amid quickly spreading rumors.

“The whole idea is we want to give people the opportunity to leave on their own, so we don’t have to use any type of police presence. The expectation’s been clear, everybody has been talked to,” Santa Cruz Police Chief Andy Mills said Friday morning from a sidewalk running past the camp. “But, make no mistake about it, we’re fully prepared to execute the orders of the courts. And so, we’re ready to go, but it’ll be on my time frame, when we’re ready to do it with our people. And it’s not going to be before that.”

Mills and other public safety officials repeatedly declined to specify details of the forced eviction timeline to reporters and inquiring others.

Many of the camp occupants waited for help to gather their belongings and move out of the homeless encampment ordered closed by a superior court judge. (Dan Coyro — Santa Cruz Sentinel) 

Move-out day

Nearby, on the less than 2-acre crescent of state- and city-owned lands that have visibly hosted hundreds behind Gateway Plaza since November, signs of camp occupants’ departure were visible in a cross between dorm move-out day and the morning after a well-attended concert.

A bungee-corded suitcase stood upright, a neatly packaged tent case, hoodie and baseball cap resting on top. Shortly after 10 a.m., a woman, smoking furiously and walking briskly down the camp’s main aisle, called out that she had just arrived and needed to deal with her tent.

Shannan Vudmaska, one of numerous plaintiffs in a federal homeless civil rights lawsuit raising concerns about lack of sufficient alternative shelter against the City of Santa Cruz, said she had moved much of her possession out of camp in recent days, only to find park rangers clearing out her new campsite. Vudmaska, 51, said she had not eaten in two days, busy moving back and forth between the two sites. The city was able to move forward with its efforts to shutter the unsanctioned encampment Friday after a federal court judge lifted a temporary restraining order against the city in Vudmaska’s case Monday.

“What’s the point of packing up everything if you can’t go anywhere,” said Vudmaska, citing her dog Sparkplug and large amount of possessions as barriers to receiving long-term shelter. “They’re in the Pogonip and taking our stuff, pushing at both ends.”

Traffic headed south on Highway 1 flows past a large homeless encampment that has sat on publicly owned land since November. Friday was the camp’s posted eviction date for occupants. (Contributed) 

Spiting its face

Alicia Kuhl, who has helped to organized a “Camp Council” group with the area and is leading the charge on the federal lawsuit, was on hand Friday. She said she worried about what was next for those who were displaced and did not “fix into the city’s box” for alternative shelter or who exceeded the shelters’ temporary and limited capacities. Kuhl, who lives with her partner and children in a recreational vehicle elsewhere, said the city was “cutting off its nose to spite its face” in closing the camp.

“All the things they’ve been complaining about are about to increase (elsewhere), based on the decision they’ve made here,” Kuhl said. “No matter what, this is going to bolster into a bigger problem in a couple months.”

Activists and community volunteers helping with packing and trash cleanup mingled with journalists documenting the morning unfold. Brent Adams, operator of the grassroots Warming Center and Day and Night Storage programs, was loading occupants’ possessions into his van for relocation to areas not sanctioned by the city as alternative shelters.

“We’re helping people to decamp, because this is when things become really desperate,” Adams said.

Camp remains

Numerous occupants, however, remained at the camp through Friday morning.

Richard Monjaraz, who was given credit for being popular and bringing lots of people to the camp, was hanging out outside his extremely large tent. As Monjaraz ate oatmeal with bananas, he surveyed the scene.

“This just happened,” Monjaraz said as he recalled the last several months of living at the camp. “I had just gotten out of jail and didn’t have anywhere else to go.”

“It’s weird what happened,” Monjaraz added. “Before, you couldn’t pass a certain line, but we’re passed that.”

Monjaraz said that when there were only a few tents in the location behind Ross Dress For Less, they were given some leniency. He was sentimental, thinking about leaving the spot he called home for more than six months. Monjaraz said he reluctantly took three truck loads of stuff to store at a friend’s home, but was not sure where he would be sleeping Friday night.

“I’ll probably stay up the whole time,” Monjaraz said.

Sentinel Staff Writer Elaine Ingalls and Managing Editor Melissa Murphy contributed to this report.

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