This week, in response to an expected surge of COVID-19 cases in the state,Ventura County CEO Mike Powers closed parks, trails, and county beaches to stop crowds from gathering. Silver Strand and Hollywood Beach, located in Ventura’s unincorporated areas are also closed. The cities of Ventura and Port Hueneme followed suit and closed their beaches and piers as well. Yet the city of Oxnard has no plans to close its city beaches, except for on Easter, which is troubling for many Port Hueneme residents who have started noticing a whole slew of new tents popping up on Oxnard’s Ormond Beach shortly after Ventura County Public Health Officer Robert Levin issued the “Stay Well at Home” orders on March 20.
With at least one local homeless individual in the county testing positive for COVID-19, it is understandable that Port Hueneme residents are concerned about an increased risk of community spread. Moreover, given last year’s explosion of tents on Ormond Beach, residents worry that history will repeat itself and that the city of Oxnard will once again fail to act swiftly in this time of pandemic. Several Port Hueneme residents have urged the Oxnard Police Department to coordinate immediately with Ventura County, which has organized a Backpack Medicine Team and secured shelter for vulnerable populations. To date, these new encampments remain.
These tents are concerning because of their proximity to Hueneme Beach and to the pier and sidewalks. While the Hueneme Beach and pier remain closed, residents are still permitted to walk on the sidewalks, which wrap around Lot C, the pier and Surfside Cafe. Hueneme residents have noticed fresh bicycle tracks that go from Hueneme Beach near the new tents on Ormond Beach. Last month, the city of Port Hueneme passed an ordinance that prohibits bicycles on its beaches after the homeless last year were observed transporting their belongings to Ormond Beach by bike and cutting through Lot C to do so. Hueneme residents have also recently witnessed the homeless using the bathrooms and showers at the base of the Hueneme pier. It remains unclear whether the bathrooms and showers at the base of the pier are currently being disinfected properly for COVID-19. While a portable washing station was positioned in Hueneme’s.
In 2016, the Oxnard passed city ordinance 2906, which prohibits camping on the beach, after homeless encampments caused significant damage to the unique habitat of Ormond Beach that supports many protected bird species. While protecting bird species is not the priority now, protecting human lives from exposure to this deadly pandemic virus is. Enforcing ordinance 2906 is even more critical now as Ventura County prepares to flatten the curve and brace for a tough couple of weeks.
To be clear, these new tents are not to be confused with persistent homeless encampment located on the Halaco slag pile featured in a recent article by KEYT reporter Tracy Lehr. The Ventura County Backpack Medical Team visited this homeless encampment earlier but was met with resistance. These new tents are located in the areas that as of February 29, 2020 were free of all encampments and trash after a spate of beach cleanups in January and February. It is unclear when the Backpack Medicine Team will visit this new encampment site.
Ventura County has been taking steps to slow the spread of COVID-19 among vulnerable populations and has secured housing options at local motels in Ventura, Oxnard, and Newbury Park. The public can contact Backpack Medicine at 805-652-6694 and learn about Ventura County’s response to the COVID-19 crisis at VCemergency.com.
Christina Zubko, Ed.D. is a volunteer journalist, environmental activist, and a founder of Friends of Ormond Beach. She can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Friends of Ormond Beach on Facebook and Instagram.