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Davis, California

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Encampments along F Street canal cleared out because of health risks

Outreach and cleanup efforts help ensure those living in the encampments had relocation options

 

By SHRADDHA JHINGAN — city@theaggie.org

 

The canal near F Street was once the location of encampments for people experiencing homelessness. However, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated health risks, the camps were cleared out by the City of Davis, Cal Northern Railroad and Yolo County.

Deanne Machado, the deputy director of police services, said that the camps have been there for years. However, because the public health risk came too large and the camps grew too large, it was no longer safe to have them.

“During COVID, per the CDC guidance, we were not allowed, if you will, to deal with these camps in any way, so the camps got much, much bigger and far more unsafe,” Machado said. “And so when that guidance was lifted, we were able to start thinking about how we could address them, so that we could keep the folks safe and the city safe and healthy.”

Machado also said that prior to cleaning up the area, outreach efforts were conducted to ensure that everybody had a place to live.

“So we started outreach efforts in that area like weeks in advance of the cleanup,” Machado said. “And we do that for a number of reasons: number one, to increase the likelihood that they’ll be able to find an appropriate place to go, and also because that’s what is dictated by law. I mean, we have to give people notice, right?”

Of those who were living in the encampments along the canal near F Street, some reunited with their families a few weeks before the cleanup, some decided to camp in other locations and some chose to go to a shelter in Woodland that had beds.

However, on the day of the cleanup, there were four people remaining in the area. On the same day, there was also a COVID-19 outbreak in the shelter at Woodland, so it was unavailable for a couple of days. Thus, different housing options had to be located for the four remaining people.

“One of the people, one of the four, we actually ended up putting into a motel for a few days, and put her stuff into storage,” Machado said. “Another one of the four actually had housing. So we asked her to please go back to her housing. She actually had housing up in Woodland but was choosing to camp outdoors, and then one of them actually ended up getting arrested because he was a parolee, and the other did not accept any services.”

Machado said that they cannot “force people to accept any services,” only offer.

“And so as I said, and I want to reemphasize, we were out there for weeks before the cleanup occurred, offering people services, offering them if they needed transportation to reunify with family or to go up to the shelter in Woodland,” Machado said. “So we worked really hard at trying to make sure that these folks could find another safe location because the F Street location was just so unsafe.”

After the outreach efforts were completed, the code enforcement staff ensured the place was safe, Machado said. Michele Hardy, Police Service Specialist Supervisor, who orchestrated the code enforcement piece for the clearing of the camps along the F Street canal, explained the role of her team.

“I wanted to start by saying that with any camp, and definitely including this F Street camp, we go out on a weekly basis to make contact with the people living out there and provide options of if they need some items removed, throw it away for them, and we provide them garbage bags,” Hardy said. “And we do what we can to try to stop any type of trash issues or spoiled food or things like that, to help with the health and safety for them in the encampment.”

Marybeth Shinn from Vanderbilt University and the National Alliance to End Homelessness said in a webinar that the number of unhoused individuals aged 60 and older “has been rising in recent years and will continue to do so.”

In January 2020, there were estimated to be more than 161,000 individuals experiencing homelessness in California, and this number does not include the economic effects of the forthcoming COVID-19 pandemic, according to an article from CalMatters. Josh Barocas, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Colorado, also found in a study, though not peer reviewed, “disbanding a homeless camp was more likely to drive up overdoses, hospitalizations and mortality,” according to the article. Barocas said the effect clearing camps has, and noted that it is worth it to conduct “community outreach efforts.”

“It doesn’t actually take into account the long-term health effects of those being displaced and doing the displacement, and their future needs,” Barocas said in the article.

Thus, while providing resources for the unhoused is a current issue in the State of California, it is vital to keep those that are being affected by it at the forefront. Hardy said that though they had been helping people in the encampments in such ways, having the F Street camp in that location was a safety concern because of its nearness to the railroad tracks.

“We also had a very large rat infestation, as well as we found other dead animals in the water channel and such which could carry disease,” Hardy said.

There was also no fresh water, which puts “their health and their safety in peril with not having these items available to them,” Hardy said. Machado added that there were also propane bottles and small fire pits because of the dry trees and bush, which could pose a fire hazard.

Ultimately, the goal of the outreach efforts were to help people by giving them “locations to go to where they’re safe, and they’re able to get cleaned up and get a meal and get everything they need and not be in those conditions,” Hardy said.

 

Students experiencing homelessness may access support services through the Aggie Compass Basic Needs Center, which is located at the East Wing of the Memorial Union and can be reached at 530-752-9254. A list of housing resources available for students can also be found on the Aggie Compass website, located here. For community members, resources to assist with housing insecurity can be found by visiting the 211 Yolo website under the housing section, located here.

 

Written by: Shraddha Jhingan — city@theaggie.org

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