Grover Beach clears out second homeless encampment

An unidentified man cleans up around his living area at a Grover Beach homeless camp that is being cleared out along North Fourth Street.
An unidentified man cleans up around his living area at a Grover Beach homeless camp that is being cleared out along North Fourth Street. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Police and state authorities are working to clear out another Grover Beach homeless encampment this week, marking the second similar forced exodus so far this year.

Chief John Peters said the Police Department is working with California State Parks to clear out an encampment, between Grover Beach and Pismo Beach at North Fourth Street behind Motel 6, because it is located on an environmentally sensitive estuary and because the camp presents a health hazard.

“There are a lot of hazardous situations down there: From feces and open toilets, fires — our firefighters have been called out there multiple times for reports of fires — and some criminal activity, we’ve been down to take reports, plus trash and debris,” he said.

This comes exactly three months after the city evicted residents of another well-established homeless encampment to make way for a $2 million train station expansion.

Peters noted that the North Fourth Street encampment is slightly larger than the train station encampment and that there seems to be more trash and debris at this site than at the other one.

The camp is home to at least 20 individuals, though it’s difficult to determine the exact number of people living there, he said.

We are very appreciative that they’ve been understanding in this situation.

John Peters, Grover Beach police chief

Peters said the department, as well as several social services groups such as the 5 Cities Homeless Coalition and Transitions-Mental Health Association, have been working with camp residents since January to offer relocation and rehabilitation services to the people staying in the camps.

“I know one of our officers managed to help a guy — a veteran — to get relocated to SLO and start getting some of the services and benefits he’s eligible for,” Peters said.

Peters noted that though some of the camp’s residents have received assistance, the majority declined to accept services. He said he did not know where the camp residents who denied services would go, but he expected they would likely relocate to other known encampments in the area.

Janna Nichols, 5 Cities Homeless Coalition executive director, said her group has been working to offer a variety of services to the homeless campers in the past months, from helping them into housing, shelters or detox services, to helping them get cash aid or food stamps.

“It’s all about addressing what individual challenges they face to becoming housed,” she said.

Nichols noted that some of the residents may have declined services this time because they have accepted them in the past, but “for whatever reason, they may not have worked out.”

She said it’s also important to note that, in her experience, when a homeless person declines services, it doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t want to be helped.

“Sometimes, it is just a matter of them being ready to accept the services that are being offered,” she said. “The services they want may not actually meet their needs.”

Charles Hubert talks about his future Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016, now that the homeless encampment where he's been living along Highway 1 in Grover Beach has been cleared out.

On Monday, police were working with some of the camp residents to separate personal property from trash at the site, and to once again warn the people living in the camp that they could be issued citations if found in the area Tuesday. Workers are expected to conduct trash cleanup at the site Tuesday and Wednesday.

So far, Peters said, the operation has been going very smoothly from the police standpoint, with little to no pushback from the camp’s residents. No arrests or citations were made Monday, and Peters said he didn’t expect the department would make any on Tuesday either.

“They’ve been very cooperative and cordial,” he said of the camp residents. “They’ve been helping by bagging up trash and marking it and helping our officers identify property. We are very appreciative that they’ve been understanding in this situation.”

The city, which has long struggled with how best to address its highly visible homeless population, has also scheduled a special meeting Tuesday night to discuss the tense relationship between its business owners and homeless residents.

If you go

The city of Grover Beach is holding a special meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to find solutions for the tense relationship between the city’s business owners and its homeless residents. The open meeting will take place at the Ramona Garden Park Center on North 10th Street.