SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KION)
The City of Santa Cruz is using an Emergency Executive Order to shut down San Lorenzo Park and the Benchlands due to "unmanaged" homeless encampments.
In the order, the city describes unmanaged encampments that remained in the area after they relocated their "managed" camp program to The Armory in November. The city says conditions then deteriorated at the location, posed a fire threat, became a COVID-19 hotspot and danger to city staff and the public.
The closure is going to be done in phases, starting with a notice 8 a.m. Friday morning. They expect to start clearing the first areas by Monday, December 21, and have the entire park closed by January 6. The closure would end on January 31, unless it is extended.
People impacted by the closure are going to be referred to the County's homeless services programs.
The City says they intent to keep the lawn bowling green, playground and Riverwalk Path open.
In a statement provided to KION, Director of Planning and Community Development Lee Butler said:
“In all our efforts with this population of residents, we are working to balance compassion and care for the health and well-being of individuals experiencing homelessness with our responsibility to steward public resources and ensure the safety of all residents. Additionally, in a time of budget cuts and furloughs, significant City resources are being used to manage the voluminous trash, human waste and needles that are created by occupants of the unmanaged encampments. City staff no longer feel safe in the area and must operate in pairs. As park conditions continue to deteriorate during encampment occupancy, costs for restoration of the park grow. Our conclusion is that the only way to accomplish this balance is through a temporary park closure.”
City of Santa Cruz Communications Manager Elizabeth Smith tells KION they haven't done an exact count, but they estimate 150 people were living in the San Lorenzo Park area.
The most recent count of the County's homeless population was the 2019 "Point-in-Time" count, which found 2,167 individuals. 78 percent were "unsheltered." This was before the COVID-19 pandemic, which is expected to increase the homeless population.