by Doug Partello
Ventura County has implemented a program to clean out the riverbeds of homeless encampments, beginning with a task force led by the County Executive Office, with support by the Board of Supervisors, Offices of Carmen Ramirez, District 5, Matt Levere, District 3, cities of Oxnard and Ventura, community partner organizations, county departments, Human Services Agency, Health Care Agency, Ventura County Sheriff’s office, Fire Protection District, General Services Agency, and CEO Community Development Team, and Community Liaison, in August, 2021.
The encampments along the river bottoms have been going on for decades. But, it has substantially increased in recent years. There are a number of reasons given, such as; COVID related shortages of temporary shelter, shortage of affordable housing, growing Methamphetamine and other substance abuse issues on the rise, with lack of funding to meet the challenges, and lack of living wage jobs in the area.
The County has begun the removal of encampments from the Santa Clara River bottom area near Ventura Road, and the 101 Freeway this month. Two months ago, the encampment near Olivas Park Road and Harbor Blvd. was cleaned out. The effort stated by Public Works workers on-site should take about two weeks, at this location. The Ventura County Sheriffs have been coming to this encampment since May to inform residents of the encampment of the impending removal, stated by VC Sherriff Officer Schierman. Written notices were given out November 1st. One PW worker stated that in his eighteen years in this department, he has participated in three such efforts there. On site were Public Works Dept. workers, vehicles, and heavy equipment, VC Sherriff, Patriot Environmental Services Company, and VC Fire Dept. Bulldozers were destroying the encampments, and the refuse loaded onto awaiting trucks.
Tim Nelson, who has lived at this encampment for over three years, stated that many left on their own accord, after notice was given. Some received hotel vouchers, while others were told the vouchers were no longer available. He was loading up a U-Haul truck he rented to try and save as much of his possessions as he could. His encampment was rather large, with three canopies, a kitchen, shower, sleeping area, refrigerator, work shop, and running generator. He and his girlfriend, Sarah Klopz, who has been there about two years, made a full Thanksgiving dinner last year. They do not receive any government assistance, but recycle to buy food and gas for the generator. They estimated that about 200 persons were living at this encampment. Their encampment was piled high with their possessions. This is typical of many encampments, where they cling to what they find potentially useful.
Sarah was given the number for Ericka Garcia, Ventura County social worker, who she contacted. She was told forty-six vouchers, for one month at a local hotel. were given out, but none remain. Another homeless person there stated he wished to get a voucher, but was also told they were all gone. Ventura County has not commented on whether vouchers are still available or not. All three stated they have no idea where they will go. Tim said he will figure something out.
The links to the Ventura County Executive Office news releases below: