A temporary site for unhoused residents at Depot Park in Santa Cruz
On Jan. 13, the city told the unhoused residents of the Depot Park that they would have to leave by Jan. 18. City staff was on site Monday and Tuesday to help people move their belongings.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

City closing temporary unhoused site at Depot Park

The What: The city-run encampment at Santa Cruz’s Depot Park was set to close Tuesday, requiring between 30 and 35 unhoused residents to move. The city said it needs the space for increased COVID-19 testing capacity, with a testing venue also operating on the site.

The So What: The encampment was a temporary evacuation site for people dealing with homelessness, and was set up by the city following the Dec. 13 winter storm. The city’s Homelessness Response Team and First Alarm created a set of rules for the site, with campers required to agree to a code of conduct.

That document also stated that the site would likely be in operation for fewer than four months: “The city has no obligation to operate the Camp, and if the City chooses to cease to operate the Camp, then participants [will] no longer be permitted to camp at this location.” City officials gave the notice to move last Thursday, and the people affected were given a choice to return to certain areas of the San Lorenzo River benchlands or a new temporary site on River Street.

Background: On Dec. 16, 17 city staff members worked over the course of 6 1/2 hours to set up and move 40 tents from the temporary evacuation site at the River Street garage to Depot Park parking lot.

The temporary evacuation site at Depot Park
The temporary evacuation site at Depot Park was closed Tuesday as the city and county aimed to increase COVID-19 testing capacity.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Alternative shelter, camping: According to city spokeswoman Elizabeth Smith, Depot Park campers were given the option to return to specific areas of the benchlands or to move to the newly established transitional camp at 1220 River St. City staff was on site both Monday and Tuesday to assist campers with moving their belongings.

Houseless service coordinator Jeremy Leonard said earlier this month that his team was in the process of moving campers from Depot Park to 1220 River St. As of last Wednesday, the site had 25 participants across 18 campsites; the camp is set to run for six months with the potential to extend thereafter.

What’s next: While campers in the benchlands are still dealing with the ramifications of the December rains, the city has moved all campers out of its low-lying parts. As Smith said, city staff is working to follow the city council’s guidance to close the area completely to tents and camping in the near future; staff is continuing to search for more locations for the unhoused.