Hundreds at massive, unsanctioned homeless encampment in Santa Cruz evicted

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KGO) -- Dozens of tents remain along Highway 1 and River Street in Santa Cruz. However, as of Friday evening, fire officials estimated most of the people who lived there were gone.

Homeless people spent all of Friday moving belongings from the massive, unsanctioned encampment after a court-ordered eviction.

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The decision went through judicial review through the Superior and Federal Court levels.

ABC7 News spoke with Billy Lowery, one of hundreds who had established a home at the camp. The lot was ruled to be unfit for people to be living in. The eviction process began at 10 a.m. on Friday.

"As you see, it was unhealthy," Lowery said. "Dangerous? I can see that."

Tensions ran even higher when a small explosive device went off inside the camp early Friday. Santa Cruz Police Chief Andrew Mills posted a picture to Twitter with the caption, "I can confirm Santa Cruz Police and Santa Cruz Fire are actively investigating an intentionally set explosion at the Gateway camp. We will prosecute anyone who may have set this device."

On Friday, Fire Chief Jason Hajduk told ABC7 News, "We had an explosion. We're in the process of investigating the type of device, as well as the intent and the people associated with it."

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Advocating for those now back on city streets was Santa Cruz Councilman Drew Glover.

"I was having a conversation with them and they were asking what's the long-term plan," he told ABC7 News. "That's a great question for Santa Cruz in general, when it comes to the issue of homelessness, housing, equity, wealth distribution, what is the long-term plan?"

Short-term, more than 60 spots have been made available at a camp at 1220 River Street. Area shelters are also assisting anyone interested. However, there has been some push back.

Many homeless say they don't want restrictions on how they should live. So, the big question is "where?"

"If the site had been structured in a way that was in line with fire codes from the beginning, then we can see this being a thriving and positive space," Glover said.

He continued, "This level of poverty exists in Santa Cruz every day. The only reason why this has become such a focal issue is because we can see it, we can hear it, we can feel the poverty by looking at this tent city."

Santa Cruz County has long-struggled to find housing for its homeless population, now estimated at 2,200 people. Numbers make it one of the highest in the country.

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Chief Hajduk said once everyone is completely cleared from the lot, heavy equipment will be brought in to help clean.

Before that can happen, the remaining belongings will be collected and stored for up to 90 days.

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