Santa Cruz officials working to clear large homeless camp

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KGO) -- Santa Cruz city representatives and local police went tent-to-tent after the 10 a.m. deadline to evict passed, giving out hotel vouchers for those still left at the Ross homeless camp in Santa Cruz.

The city ordered the entire encampment to be emptied by 10 a.m. on Friday. City officials now say they will come back Friday evening to reassess the situation, although clean-up crews are already on site to begin their work.

One man, who goes by Nathan, has been living at the camp since November, when it first opened up.

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With tears in his eyes, the 49-year-old East Bay native says he lost his job in construction and had no money and was living in his truck. He says he came to Santa Cruz "on hope and a prayer" that he could turn his life around.

A construction job offer fell through, which meant he was stuck at the Ross Camp for much longer than he had initially anticipated.

He says there a few reasons he waited until Friday morning to leave. For one thing, he says moving is hard, especially considering the psychological and emotional issues many are dealing with, in addition to the economic hardships of being homeless.

"No one likes to move. Even if it's from a million dollar home to a million dollar home, it still sucks to have to move," says Nathan.

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He says many are procrastinating because they are in denial or not sure what do or where to go next.

Another reason he waited is because of he wanted a more definitive answer about what exactly the city was planning to do.

"There was a lot of back and forth, you can stay, you can't say. The judge said this, the judge said that. There was a lot of contradiction," says Nathan. "So, I just kind of waited until there was something definitive. The fire chief and the police chief came and made that definitive statement."

Santa Cruz County has been struggling to find housing for its homeless population, which is now estimated at 2,200 people, making it one of the highest in the country.

At one point, there were about 200 people living at the so-called Ross Camp along Highway 1 and River Street in Santa Cruz. It's named after the Ross Dress For Less store nearby.

The city says the homeless encampment reached a crisis level and voted to close it back in February.

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The Ross Camp residents filed a lawsuit against the city in April, alleging a lack of safe alternative housing and inhumane treatment.

In court testimony, the city fire chief is said to have called the Ross Camp, "a recipe for a mass casualty event."

Nearby business have complained of vandalism and garbage. People have reported being attacked.

The city did give out vouchers to move the majority of the people to nearby shelters. They city is also reopening the River Street Camp, which will be run by the Salvation Army.

Some of the people who are leaving the Ross Camp say they can't stay at the new camp because there are too many rules and regulations, such as now pets and a limit on the number of people per tent.

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