New Sanctioned Camp in Benchlands Park is Constructed While Other Camps get Swept

Written by Angela Landes (News Writer)

During a court battle between the city of Santa Cruz and the Santa Cruz Homeless Union, the city has proposed to form a city-sanctioned camp and was given the legal ability by Federal Judge Susan van Keulen to evict long-term residents at San Lorenzo Park. After the eviction of park residents, people began to move into this new sanctioned camp. The city installed 40 outlets and a water fountain with a water spigot for larger containers, which is unprecedented for Santa Cruz considering its long and recent history of shutting off and tearing out water systems when unhoused people moved into parks and other areas.

Shortly after this sanctioned camp began, the Santa Cruz Police Department worked with California Highway Patrol and CalTrans to evict the hundreds of residents living outdoors around the intersection of Highway 1, Highway 9, and River Street on Monday, May 10th. 

            The eviction consisted of five communities around the intersection, some of which have been established for over a year. After being given three days of notice to find a new place to live, pack up, and move all of their belongings to these new places, these long-term residents were told to leave by police, and any personal effects they had to leave behind were thrown away. “It’s so unreasonable,” Tyler J, a local living near the intersection said, “I can only take what I can carry on my back, and I have a broken back! I can’t afford a car or a bike, but even if I could I can’t afford a house to store it at. In three days all I can do is grab a blanket, a few important keepsakes, and move on to nowhere. Who can find a place to live in three days? I sure can’t.”

The city cleared the intersection to begin construction on an expansion of the highway. The funding was secured via a city council vote months ago, but the window to begin the project before funding expires is closing. CalTrans, SCPD, and CHP arrived together at this site for the first time in this project’s history for the clearing of the intersection, during which a bystander gave their thoughts. “I’m so glad you guys are doing this. I have to drive by this mess every day and it’s not a pretty sight. If these people are going to live in these ugly tents, they should go somewhere else where I don’t have to see them and they’re not getting in the way of projects like this [highway expansion].” These repeated evictions and severe lack of informational outreach on the part of the city have caused hundreds of people to move into the Pogonip forest from Highway 1 & 9, the sanctioned benchlands camp, and elsewhere since they have been kicked out of virtually everywhere else in the city. This has caused much concern amongst members and allies of the houseless community since a number of community members and beloved community leaders have died in recent years due to storms in the Pogonip after moving there. Unhoused people and allies are attempting to brainstorm where people can move to. Proponents of the new sanctioned camp argue that it allowed about 100 people to have a semi-stable place to live, but critics of the camp say that the city made people’s shelter unstable by kicking them out into the camp.

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