Officials and crews from several agencies are working together to deal with homeless encampments and illegal dumping on the North Coast. The issues are frequent topics at various governmental and other meetings.
Cambria Community Services District staffers have found and dealt with some sites on their own recently, and have been notified by members of the public about other locations, according to a July 13 email sent by Carlos Mendoza, the district’s resource-facilities supervisor, to his boss Jerry Gruber, district general manager.
One location was “a homeless camp … about 150 feet from our yard,” Mendoza wrote of his department’s offices on Rodeo Grounds Road. “That just shows you that they could be right in front of you and you wouldn’t even know it. We cleaned up the campsite and limbed up/chipped the lower branches to expose the underside of the willow.”
The district notifies the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office of the locations, as do firefighters who come upon evidence of illegal campsites, according to fire Chief William Hollingsworth.
Firefighters don’t have the authority to evict the campers, he said, but they do enforce local ordinances that ban open fires.
Meanwhile, as sheriff’s office Cmdr. Jim Taylor told members of the North Coast Advisory Council on July 20, “Foot patrols have been down on the creeks,” following up on tips from the services district and firefighters.
Taylor said solving the problems of the homeless is “like trying to nail jelly to the wall, a continuing effort … it’s a pickle.”
As deputies formally evict illegal campers from one location, he explained, the homeless move on down to another, well-concealed spot, often in the forest.
That, of course, increases the risk of fire in a stand of native Monterey pines and other trees beset by beetles, drought and old age.
The commander also mentioned a June 2015 fire near an elaborate, illegally constructed and somewhat bizarre hidden residence adjacent to Fern Canyon, along with other problems related to illegal campsites and the homeless.
He said when deputies asked some middle-aged campers then why they were living on the North Coast, “the common theme in the answers was they feel safe here,” while homeless shelters feel less safe.
Taylor said the recent assignment of two deputies to a task force dedicated to homelessness situations countywide will help.
Most NCAC members appeared to share the dueling concerns faced by area residents: worries for and about the illegal campers and their sites, and fears of fire, crime and other issues.
Council member Cecilia Lomeli said, “We have not dealt with the huge issue of homelessness in San Luis Obispo County, so people will stay here as long as they know they’ll get free money and food … where they’re comfortable and safe.”
Mendoza wrote, “As more and more homeless folks move into town, this problem is going to be bigger and bigger.”
Taylor noted that, in terms of dealing with problems of homelessness and related issues, “We do the best we can with what we have” in terms of personnel, resources and laws about the issues.
“But really,” he added, “who wouldn’t want to live here?”
Kathe Tanner: 805-927-4140