.Santa Cruz Retreats from Homeless Sweep as Protesters Push Back

The Santa Cruz Police Department has been clearing out an unsanctioned encampment at San Lorenzo Park as part of an organized homeless sweep. But officers pumped the brakes on the second phase of the sweep Monday—after meeting resistance. 

Santa Cruz City Manager Martín Bernal issued an executive order Dec. 17 explaining that the city would clear out the camp by Jan. 6.

Activist Brent Adams says Bernal’s order troubled him, given the lack of available shelter beds and the Covid-19 pandemic, which is surging in California.

“We were blindsided as a community that the city would want to remove that encampment,” says Adams, who runs the Warming Center Program and the Footbridge Services Center.

Santa Cruz city spokesperson Elizabeth Smith says the first phase of evictions began Dec. 21, with sweeps in the southern end of San Lorenzo Park and the adjacent Benchlands. The initial evacuation area stretched from Branciforte Creek to the path that connects the Chinatown Bridge over the San Lorenzo River to Dakota Avenue. 

Monday marked the start of the second phase, when officers were set to start clearing out the area around the park’s duck pond. But protesters showed up with signs bearing written messages like “Stop the Sweep,” as they argued with officers. 

Smith says via email that police chose to postpone the second phase of the park sweeps, “given the number of protesters who were there this morning and the aggressive nature of their conflict with staff.”

Adams, who was at the park this morning, says he saw protesters surround officers from both sides and pin them near the park stage. He credits Santa Cruz Police for not taking out their batons and starting a fight. Instead, they walked to the street and left. He expects them to come back in larger numbers next time.

Adams says he understands that San Lorenzo Park is not in an ideal location for a camp, given its proximity to Hotel Paradox, downtown shops, retirement communities and a playground. Adams has been helping campers relocate to a Harvey West area he calls an “agreement camp,” as it isn’t near any homes, retail or playgrounds. He also hopes that—if the city does not like the blighted look of an unmanaged encampment—that it will support the creation of more managed transitional encampments run by nonprofits.

According to the city of Santa Cruz’s website, phase three of the evictions is scheduled to begin around the lawn bowling green on Jan. 4, and the closure period will end on Jan. 31, unless extended. 

Bernal’s executive order cited fire and public safety reasons for clearing out the San Lorenzo Park camp. It also added that residents of the camp hadn’t been following social distancing rules in accordance with best practices meant to curb the Covid-19 pandemic. But ever since the state and county health leaders laid out shelter-in-place orders in March, officials made clear that the regulations did not apply to the homeless population.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) went so far over the summer as to advise against breaking up encampments.

“Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers,” the CDC’s website states. “This increases the potential for infectious disease spread.”

Additional reporting by Mat Weir.


  1. “The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”

    –Hubert Humphrey, Nov. 1, 1977

    The governments of the United States of America have utterly failed this moral test throughout the country’s history. It’s neither unfair nor inaccurate to say we are an immoral nation and largely an immoral people, and always have been.

    We should, and can, do better — much, much better.

  2. Back the clean sweep
    This is not a pretty sight to see junkies looking for more drugs and dump on our town making it look like a dump stand up law abiding citizens clean up this beautiful town Santa Cruz
    And give it back to the people not the junkies
    Thank you Santa Cruz PD

  3. The parks are meant to be a shared community resource paid by the tax payers who live in Santa Cruz. Everyone is entitled to use this shared resource., but not on a 24/7 basis. Now this shared resource is being used for private use and the resource can no longer be used by the community who paid for it. Our parks should not be stolen for private use and thereby restricting the use of the park by the community. Doesn’t the community offer enough for the unhoused? How many unhoused from outside our community can Santa Cruz afford to take care of? When will Santa Cruz say enough is enough?

  4. My bigger far is now there are 10 to 12 camp sites up in the trees at the very back of Harvey West Park…
    Nights are cold…eventually fires will be started to stay warm…a disaster will happen if something not done soon at this site

    No easy solutions…..but this campsite must be closed….period

  5. Bla Bla Bla.. complain, complain, then you go back into your warm house and flip on HBO. Turn up temp. its a little cold this time of the year.

    There are less fortunate people, have compassion.

  6. This senseless pushback is infuriating!
    Close this dangerous crime magnet NOW!
    The Dakota ave neighborhood community has been negatively affected and at the mercy of camp transients for a year! We were FINALLY about to receive help from the city, when this small group of self righteous “protesters” decide to berate police with an opinion that is NOT shared by the neighborhood it directly affects!
    This encampment is NOT simply people down on their luck living in tents.
    Our community knows from first hand experience that every single reason for the park closure due to health and safety concerns is 100% factual. Anyone who claims otherwise does not live here and has no right to speak for those of us that do.

    Specific Health & Safety Concerns leading to park closure:


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