Editor’s note: This is the first report in a periodic series in The Cambrian about the homeless on the North Coast. Officials and citizens are once again tackling problems related to illegal encampments on the North Coast, especially within Cambria’s heavily forested areas.
Officials and citizens are once again tackling the pervasive and repetitive problems from illegal encampments on the North Coast, especially within Cambria’s heavily forested areas.
Sheriff’s Cmdr. Jim Voge and his deputies have been at the forefront of addressing the issue, highlighting the situation in a PowerPoint presentation, “The Hidden Cambria.”
Illustrating Voge’s slideshow are disturbing photos from two encampments — occupied and supposedly abandoned — among several that are likely hidden away in dense sections of Cambria’s Monterey pine forest.
The sites were dredged in vast, deep piles of debris and trash, including cans, bottles, Styrofoam and food containers, boxes, coolers, old bicycles and parts, logs, clothes, tents, lawn furniture and much more.
Voge described the encampments and showed the presentation at the Oct. 25 meeting of the Cambria FireSafe Focus Group. Senior Deputy Rainer Bodine did the same at the Oct. 26 meeting of the Cambria Community Services District Board of Directors.
The commander also explained the issue at the North Coast Advisory Council’s October meeting.
The occupied sites
Voge said deputies have begun the official eviction process at the occupied site, along Santa Rosa Creek near the Old Cambria Grammar School and pickleball courts.
The sheriff’s officials said one encampment there includes a man-made dam across the creek, which is preventing the normal flow of water and annual migration patterns of steelhead trout.
The site in the dense forest, and another that’s nearby, also include an open fire pit, a butane stove and an occupant who smokes.
“He had been in a camp on the other side of the creek,” Voge said. “When a deputy told him he had to move, he did. Across the creek.”
Other items at the sites even included a Grand Theft Auto video game and a target-practice board pocked with holes. Target shooting isn’t legal in that area, Voge said.
CCSD, which owns the property, has been notified of the need to clean up the mess. Jerry Gruber, district general manager, said he has met with Voge and is “working closely” with the Sheriff’s Office.
One abandoned camp
An unoccupied site is on the west side of Highway 1 on a Caltrans right of way, according to Voge. Photos of that location show similar mounds of trash and discards, including four damaged American flags strewn around on the ground like tarps.
Voge said deputies carefully removed the flags and are making arrangements for proper, dignified disposal of them. He also said that Caltrans has been notified about the need to clean up the camp.
Not a war on the homeless
As the commander said during a mid-October phone interview, “This is not a war on the homeless. It’s a war on the degradation of the environment … against what some people are doing to the environment” in situations that increase fire danger create unsafe conditions for humans and wildlife and could cause serious habitat and other damage during heavy winter storms.
When Voge went on a walkabout hike with his deputies recently and saw the conditions in the camps “and in the environment we protect so much, I was shocked, and I don’t get shocked too easily,” he said.
He acknowledges that his plan “isn’t going to cure homelessness, or house the homeless, or increase affordable housing.”
But, with the combination of “law enforcement’s big stick and a nice smile,” Voge hopes the efforts will start to address “the environmental and fire concerns from the illegal camping.”
He had been in a camp on the other side of the creek,” Voge said. “When a deputy told him he had to move, he did. Across the creek.
Sheriff’s Cmdr. Jim Voge, on the occupant of a camp near Santa Rosa Creek
The “big stick” is eviction notices, citing camp occupants, encouraging property owners to do the cleanup and using code enforcement actions if they don’t.
The “nice smile” in Voge’s plan is from a variety of sources, including law enforcers tasked with the initial notifications and, more specifically, the deputies on the sheriff’s Community Action Team who are assigned to the homeless situation, with an emphasis on connecting the illegal campers with the services they need.
Voge stressed that citizens who find illegal sites should not confront or engage with occupants, but should instead notify authorities and/or property owners.
Gruber also stressed the need for “having a compassionate heart toward the homeless,” including talking with them, learning their names, buying them a meal instead of giving them cash.
CCSD Board President Amanda Rice said the district must balance concern for employees doing the cleanup “with the needs and well-being of the houseless folks whose unpermitted, nontraditional shelters and belongings are being demolished and confiscated.”
One less obvious form of homelessness can happen when a senior citizen becomes unable to live alone or unhappy about doing so.
HomeShareSLO is addressing that situation by working to connect some people who have extra space in their homes and would welcome some company, and others who would like to fill that space and role.
At 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 9, Cambria Connection and the Cambria Community Coalition will cohost a free HomeShare SLO forum at the Veterans Memorial Building, 1000 Main St. CenCal Health and the Cambria Community Services District are sponsoring the event.
Topics will include “Extending elders’ independence” and “why Homeshare?” The latter discussion will be led by Anne Wyatt, HomeShareSLO program coordinator and a former Cambria businesswoman.
For details, call Cambria Connection 805-927-1654 or HomeShareSLO at 805-215-5474.