SANTA CRUZ — The second wave of Santa Cruz’s phased closure of a longstanding homeless encampment moved forward Monday, affecting dozens of occupants caught between chain link fence borders.
Similar to the scene at last week’s initial “Zone 1” closure, personnel from the Santa Cruz Police Department and Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office were on hand as remaining occupants moved their possessions during the enforced clear-out at the San Lorenzo Park Benchlands. Of the 54 individuals counted last week in “Zone 2,” 15 accepted offers to move to the city’s Overlook tent encampment on leased land at the National Guard Armory in DeLaveaga Park, said Larry Imwalle, city homeless response manager. Others were seen carrying their possessions away from the city park or deeper into the encampment. Meanwhile, local homelessness rights activists gathered to watch and assist occupants throughout the day.
Occupants of the next slice of encampment scheduled for closure — “Zone 3” — will be notified Tuesday of the third round of camp clearout, set to take place Sept. 27, Imwalle said.
Sizeable homeless encampments have remained a continuous presence at San Lorenzo Park since shortly after the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020. A prior city effort to close the camp in December 2020 was halted by a federal court injunction.
Deputy City Manager Lisa Murphy told the Santa Cruz City Council during an update in August that the camp’s closure “will be visible” across the community and city officials would work to prevent the re-establishment of similar large encampments. Murphy told the council, however, that there was not enough space to shelter the city’s homeless population. According to recently released results of the 2022 homeless point-in-time count, of the approximately 2,299 individuals experiencing homelessness countywide, an estimated 1,439 resided within the city of Santa Cruz’s borders.
In order to shutter the Benchlands camp, Santa Cruz declared the area “a significant threat to public safety, public health and community welfare.” City management announced plans in recent months to close the area, occupied by more than 200 people at the city’s count, as alternative shelter spaces opened.
As of Monday, approximately 50 city-sponsored shelter spaces remained unoccupied, according to Imwalle. Similarly, large-scale operations have shuttered unsanctioned encampments elsewhere in the city, in locations such as behind Santa Cruz Memorial cemetery, Sycamore Grove and along state-owned Caltrans rights-of-way, in the past two years. The encampment closures parallel Santa Cruz city efforts to beef up local homelessness response with a one-time $14 million state grant, new employees, enforcement ordinances and planning efforts.