Move-out day arrived Monday for residents of the Santa Ynez Riverbed in Lompoc, with mixed opinions on the process that included opening a triage center to help those in need get access to assorted services.
By Monday evening, 21 people had checked into the triage center at Lompoc’s River Park, as police officers issued final eviction notices to residents in their elaborate encampments.
“We’re very surprised. We didn’t know what to expect,” Chief Pat Walsh said mid-day Monday as the number hit eight. “I thought four or five people maybe, but obviously more people are coming. That’s good because everybody’s there ready to help them.”
While social service representatives and others were at the triage center, the focus Monday involved getting residents relocated and settled. The city has issued eviction notices for the past 30 days.
One 6-year riverbed resident, Jim Baumann, showed up at the triage center in advance of his friends’ arrival to create an area so they could stay together, and was en route back to help his friends relocate to the park.
But another evictee, Mark Bryant, who grew up in Goleta and moved to Lompoc before divorce caused him to lose his business and house, said residents thought they would have Monday to move out and believed police had lied to them.
“A lot of people have known each other for years. We’re family down there. We take care of each other,” he said. “It’s really sad what they did.
“I don’t like the way it was handled.”
Led by city of Lompoc officials, the effort involves multiple agencies and organizations, including Home for Good, Lompoc Valley Medical Center, Santa Barbara County Social Services, Public Health, Behavioral Wellness, Public Defender, Animal Services departments, Coast Valley Substance Abuse Treatment Center, Family Service Agency, Planting a Seed and Good Samaritan Shelter.
“I do have to say it’s pretty cool that the public defender is here on the ground with her staff outreaching. They bring a completely different tenor to the discussion as opposed to us in uniform,” Walsh said.
Since evictions started across town, Santa Barbara County Public Defender Tracy Macuga used her truck to transport at least one woman and her belongings to the triage center.
“This is a human tragedy that’s unfolding before our eyes with folks who really need services,” she said. “We’re trying to reach out as much as we can to bridge those services and to help folks that need assistance here.”
Monday, they handed out water and protein bars along with ointments and creams due to poison oak in the riverbed with the goal of connecting with individuals.
“Unfortunately, as good-natured as the community is as a whole, there’s just not enough services out there, and that’s the real tragedy,” she said.
Following evictions, the police chief said officers plan to conduct patrols to ensure residents don’t return to the riverbed.
After Monday, those caught living in the riverbed face arrest for trespassing.
“But we don’t want to do that. We haven’t made any arrests today and we would really like it to be that way today and actually going forward,” Walsh said, adding that the ultimate goal involved getting people back on their feet.
The triage center will be open through Oct. 9, but that plan will be reassessed, Walsh said.
While other cities have faced legal repercussions for actions against homeless encampments, Lompoc has developed a multiphase plan that calls for cleaning up debris as a next step.
Santa Barbara County and the city of Lompoc were working together to hash out how that will happen.
“It’s a big undertaking actually,” Walsh said.
City Manager Jim Throop hopes to attract more partners, including flood control and water regulatory agencies, when it comes to cleaning up the riverbed.
The city still seeks donations to help pay travel for at least one resident reuniting with family members out of state and other expenses.
Monetary donations may be made at micahmission.com, at Chase Bank via account number 310597858, or by mail to: Micah Mission P.O. Box 1115 Lompoc, CA 93438. Any checks should be made out to “Micah Mission” and indicate that they are for “Hope for the Homeless”.
Organizers say they still need tents, sleeping bags, pillows and blankets, which can be dropped off at the Bridge House Emergency Shelter, 2025 Sweeney Road, in Lompoc.
“I’m just real proud of Lompoc,” Walsh said. “I think we’re doing it the right way. We’ve really thought about this. It’s not something we’ve hastily put together.”