Residents of a houseless encampment alongside of the intersection of Highways 1 and 9 were told to pack up their belongings and leave by the morning of May 10, as Caltrans workers began a weeklong cleanup of the debris and belongings remaining at the site.
This left numerous encampment residents adrift, with local city- or nonprofit-run camping locations at or over capacity.
“I’ve got some people [who live here] bringing over my things in their Jeep, and I’m gonna stay with a friend in San Lorenzo,” said Wayne Bloechl, a 60-year-old camp resident who uses a wheelchair. “But after that, it sort of depends.”
The cleanup comes months after Caltrans began discussions with the City of Santa Cruz about widening the highway entrances. Since its inception, the question of relocating the dozens of houseless residents camped at the intersection has prevented the project from breaking ground.
“The biggest challenge we have right now is we really don’t have a place to send folks,” said Lee Butler, the city of Santa Cruz’s director of Planning and Community Development, at a Jan. 26 City Council meeting. “We don’t have a definitive place where we can say, ‘here is where you can go after you leave this location.’”
This question seems to have remained largely unanswered by the date of the cleanup’s start. On May 7, Caltrans workers placed signs around the intersection, which stated that houseless residents must pack up their belongings and leave within 72 hours.
“Consistent with CDC guidance to prevent community spread of COVID-19, Caltrans is proceeding with encampment cleanups if there is an immediate safety concern or threat to critical infrastructure,” said Kevin Drabinski, Caltrans public information officer, in an email statement Monday. “We will continue to work with the City and County of Santa Cruz to move people into safer situations as available.”
On the morning of May 10, about two dozen California Highway Patrol officers posted around the site were instructed to distribute the number of the Rebele Family Shelter to houseless people seeking temporary shelter. The shelter could not be reached for comment by time of press.
Like Bloechl, many residents attempted to find shelter at the San Lorenzo Benchlands, where the city has set up 122 sanctioned camping spots primarily for previous houseless residents of upper San Lorenzo park. The site is already near capacity.