Update on River Street Encampment

City-run facility bars visitors

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The City of Santa Cruz has restricted public access to the new temporary houseless encampment at 1220 River St. in the two weeks since its opening. Both news media and houseless advocates have been turned away from the camp and denied the opportunity to speak with people staying there.

“I’ve become persona non grata just for visiting and asking what the visitation process is,” said houseless advocate and Warming Center co-founder Brent Adams. “For more than a dozen transitional encampments I’ve visited, this is the first one I’ve encountered with such a barrier of suspicion. […] I can’t even pass a note to a friend to set up a meeting for later.”

That barrier of suspicion has obstructed Adams from bringing spare supplies to the people who live at the River Street site, which at time of print houses 62 residents and has a waitlist of at least 25.

Susie O’Hara, principal management analyst for the city of Santa Cruz, said the River Street facility does not and will not allow visitors on-site. Services at the camp will be provided by city-approved partners and service providers, although any individual may volunteer for those organizations and any donations of supplies are readily accepted at City Hall.

“That’s because it’s their home. As you can imagine, if you had people showing up at your home and wanting access to your home, that probably would not be something that you would allow to happen,” O’Hara said. “We’re trying to protect people’s privacy and establish some norms around the fact that this is their home, and people need to have a sense of security about that.”

O’Hara said that because most residents are able to be out and around town during the day, residents of the camp have “plenty of opportunities to meet their connections outside the camp.”

O’Hara also said that the no walk-off policy is being enforced, and residents must use a shuttle to enter or leave the premises. The shuttle conducts seven round trips per day, the last of which is at 8:10 p.m. While some residents may be allowed to get a ride from a friend with a vehicle in extenuating circumstances, camp residents are never permitted to leave the site on foot.

Although camp director Chris Monteith previously said the camp would not be able to prevent people from leaving the premises on their own accord should they choose to do so, O’Hara said that those who leave the camp without permission will be subjected to disciplinary action at the discretion of Monteith and his staff.

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Sean D. Ross is editor for the City News desk at City on a Hill Press. Previously, Sean served as an editor for the Investigative News desk and as a reporter for the Campus, City and Sports desks over the past two years. Before coming to UC Santa Cruz, he was News Editor for the Diablo Valley College Inquirer, contributing to the Inquirer earning the Journalism Association of Community Colleges’ “General Excellence” award at the 2016 Northern California Conference. For his coverage of California fires in the fall of 2017, Sean was awarded third prize in the California College Media Association’s Breaking News competition. Sean is pursuing a career in law, and has interned for renowned California attorney James M. Wagstaffe. Besides casually browsing LexisNexis, Sean enjoys board games of all stripes, competitive Magic: the Gathering, playing the french horn, automotive racing and the literary stylings of Neil Gaiman.