The homeless encampment at San Lorenzo Park as seen in June.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

City won’t immediately clear San Lorenzo Park homeless encampment after judge lifts injunction

“We want to be thoughtful with dispersing,” one Santa Cruz official said after a federal judge cleared the way for the city to take action, citing improved COVID conditions. “We’re going to continue services the way it has been until we have a better place for people to go.”

Though a federal judge has opened the door for the City of Santa Cruz to clear out the homeless encampment at San Lorenzo Park, city officials say they won’t immediately do so.

An order from U.S. District Magistrate Judge Susan van Keulen lifting an injunction against the city took effect after midnight Thursday, but city of Santa Cruz communications manager Elizabeth Smith said services and water will continue to be provided inside the camp as the city tries to find adequate housing options for individuals in need.

“We want to be thoughtful with dispersing,” she said, noting that fire hazards in the camp were a concern that could speed up the process. “We’re going to continue services the way it has been until we have a better place for people to go.”

Van Keulen’s order cited increased vaccine availability and an ebbing of the coronavirus pandemic in her decision.

“With the general receding of the COVID-19 crisis and the availability of COVID-19 vaccines among the homeless population in the Benchlands, the Court finds that there no longer is the state-created danger that the Court previously found arising out of the City’s eviction order during what appeared to be the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic,” court documents read.

“We knew the injunction could not last forever, but we succeeded in stopping the City from destroying the encampment at the height of the pandemic. This is our victory because we know we saved lives,” Homeless Union president Alicia Kuhl said in a statement.

The encampment has been a contentious issue within the community, sparking a standing protest in December after the park was closed down in an effort to clear the homeless population from the public space.

Van Keulen had previously extended the encampment’s shelter-in-place order in January as litigation continued between City Manager Martin Bernal, who filed the initial executive order to clear the camp on Dec. 17, and the Santa Cruz Homeless Union.

This week’s ruling effectively dissolves the preliminary injunction that was filed on Jan. 20, according to court documents.

“The Court finds that the City’s efforts to inform the residents of the availability of the vaccine not only at the site but at other nearby locations in the City, has, along with the broad, general downward trend of COVID-19 among vaccinated populations, significantly ameliorated the state-created danger that is the underpinning of the preliminary injunction,” Van Keulen’s order read.

Read the court filings below: