Santa Cruz’s phased sweep of Pogonip homeless encampment to begin next week

The City of Santa Cruz began clearing the Sycamore Grove encampment on May 9.
The City of Santa Cruz began clearing the Sycamore Grove encampment on May 9.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Last fall, after the City of Santa Cruz finished clearing the Benchlands homeless encampment, many people began relocating to the Highway 9-adjacent city park known as Pogonip. Next week, the city will begin evicting people from Pogonip.

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Since the City of Santa Cruz cleared the encampment in the San Lorenzo River Benchlands last fall, many houseless residents still living outside have moved to the steep, Highway 9-adjacent hillsides of Pogonip.

However, their time there is now limited as the city has begun alerting residents that the new encampment in the city park will also soon be cleared out.

The first notices went out on Monday as the city was finishing up its final phases of shutting down the nearby Sycamore Grove encampment. Larry Imwalle, Santa Cruz’s homelessness response manager, says the first phase of Pogonip’s sweep is scheduled to begin next Monday, May 22, and he estimates it will affect “less than 10 people.”

The city says its motivation for the sweep is fire risk in the heavily wooded area, especially as dry, hot summer weather approaches. The city plans to complete a new phase of the sweep each subsequent week until the area is clear.

Pogonip’s estimated population per city officials and service providers has ranged from 75 to 150 people, but no firm census has been taken of the transient population. In order to legally compel people to relocate, the city will need to ensure adequate shelter space exists at, primarily, the Salvation Army-run Armory, the adjacent City Overlook campground, the sanctioned encampment at 1220 River St., or the Coral Street campus of nonprofit Housing Matters.

“The pace of all of this is to be determined; there’s going to be flexibility based off of what we find as we go through each zone,” Imwalle said. “But the general plan is going to be like Benchlands — we’re going to work toward closing one zone per week, and closing one zone while noticing the next zone on the same day and then sequentially begin to move through that process.”

The phased closure of the Benchlands coincided with an expansion of available shelter space as the city took over operation of the Armory shelter. Even then, just over 30% of the people evicted from the Benchlands opted for available shelter. Imwalle says the sequence of the Pogonip clearout will differ because most shelter space is occupied.

During the May 9 Santa Cruz City Council meeting, city staff said the steep terrain of Pogonip would also create a challenge and likely lead each phase to be smaller in scale than with the Benchlands clearing. Imwalle says he expects the process to roll out at least through June.


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