.City Closes Depot Park Encampment, People Return to Benchlands

The City of Santa Cruz closed a temporary homeless encampment at Depot Park Tuesday, and some 50 people who were living there returned to the Benchlands encampment.

The Depot Park encampment was set up after the San Lorenzo River flooded the lower Benchlands during a storm on Dec. 14. 

Some 200 unhoused people called the Benchlands home, and when the river rose from the influx of rain during the storm, many of the tents hugging the river’s banks were flooded and people’s belongings were washed down the waterway. At first, the City offered the River Street Garage as a temporary evacuation site for people living in the flooded zones but later moved people to Depot Park.

Now, the City is helping those same people return to the Benchlands. The lower parts of the Benchlands are closed, which are, according to City spokesperson Elizabeth Smith, the areas that are most at risk of flooding. The City has also established an emergency response plan for when future storms hit, which includes the fire department monitoring weather conditions, Smith said.

“This encampment was always going to close in mid-January,” Smith said. “And we feel pretty confident in the safety of folks, should any inclement weather or any storms come again.”

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Ultimately, the City is planning on shutting down the Benchlands encampment as well, as it opens new shelters. The largest new encampment that the City is in the midst of getting up and running is a 75-person tent encampment outside the National Guard Armory. That camp will be run by the Salvation Army. The City plans to open that camp in mid-February.

Currently, some 100 people live in the Armory via a County-run program. For a few months, they will live alongside the 75-person encampment run by the City. But come July 1, the county program will close, leaving the living arrangements for some 100 people uncertain.

City Homelessness Response Manager Larry Imwalle told the Santa Cruz City Council that’s a problem for later.

“The status of the county programs does raise that bigger issue, or more long-term issue,” Imwalle said during the Jan. 11 City Council meeting. “Which is, what is the overall shelter capacity within the city?”

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