Robert Bray helped his pal put his soaked things in a basket early Monday morning. The cart crashed into the mud as they drove past abandoned tents and tarps along San Luis Obispo Creek – homes that other people had already left behind.
Word had started to spread: the police were coming to dismantle their camp, and everyone had to leave or risk arrest.
Bray, 43, has been homeless for about five years and said police chase him from his camps about every month and a half.
“It’s like a natural disaster every two months,” Bray said. “Once you have everything you need – your amenities and your camping stoves and stuff like that, they come here and they take it and they throw it away. We have to start over every two months.
On Monday morning, City of San Luis Obispo staff tore down a homeless encampment near the Los Osos Valley Road entrance to the Bob Jones Trail off Highway 101, displacing at least 15 people who lived there.
The city pulled the camp to prepare for a two-week flood prevention project, Kelsey Nocket, SLO City’s homeless response manager, told The Tribune.
The area is prone to flooding and the dense vegetation creates a fire hazard. Paths to the camp are steep in some areas, making it difficult to provide emergency services to people living there, Nocket said.
“It’s not a safe place for people,” Nocket told The Tribune.
People living in the camp violated state laws against squatting, littering and misuse of open spaces, Nocket said.
“Our goal here is not to be punitive to people,” Nocket said. “We provide advance notice for the express purpose of giving people time to clear themselves and avoid a citation.”
The city issued notices about the cleanup on September 1 and sent members of its Community Action Team over the following weeks to connect camp residents to services such as 40 Prado Homeless Shelter, Transitions Mental Health Association and Lumina Alliance.
The team also works to reunite homeless people with their friends and family.
“It has a higher long-term success rate than placing someone in transitional housing,” Nocket said.
A San Luis Obispo police officer and park rangers showed up at the camp around 8:15 a.m. to evacuate the remaining residents.
‘We have nowhere to go’: Homeless population faces uncertain future
Bray saw the notice from the city about the release, so he knew it was coming, but that doesn’t make it any less painful, he said.
“It’s a game of cat and mouse,” Bray said. “They take our livelihood – they take everything. It’s like a rewind button that erased everything you had before.
The city encouraged camp residents to move to the 40 Prado homeless shelter, but Bray said he doesn’t trust the shelter. He had been there once during a flood and didn’t like living near people he didn’t know.
“I really didn’t feel safe hanging out at the Prado,” Bray said. “I don’t know who is there. You don’t know their background. They don’t know my past. It’s a risky situation, I think. It made me uncomfortable.
Bray prefers its riverbed neighbours.
“They are my family,” Bray said. “If we have problems, we come to each other and solve the problem between us. Usually we don’t tie anyone else in there, just us. It’s like a batch of Grateful Dead.
Bray said he and fellow camp resident Wolf Boone met five years ago.
“He’s my family,” Bray said. “You are here in the street. You must have someone. It can be hard to find someone you can trust, to find that one person who is 100 with you all the time.
Boone, 37, said he didn’t know where he would land after being kicked out of camp.
“I don’t want to be here when the police come,” Boone said. “Supposedly, we’re supposed to be arrested when they get here. They’re usually not that badass, but you never know when someone’s having a bad day.
Boone said he had been homeless for three years after serving six years in prison for an illegal dagger or concealed dagger.
Among Boone’s possessions are his shelter, clothing, and several mountain bike frames, which he assembles and sells to earn money while homeless.
“Look at this place. It’s a fucking disaster,” Boone said. “It’s not really fair. We have nowhere to go. »
Homeless residents without a safety net
Debbie Ward, 37, lived across the Bob Jones Trail near Strawberry Fields for about two years. Last week, police dismantled her camp and she moved in with a friend on the Highway 101 side of the Bob Jones Trail, she said.
Her boyfriend of five years returned to their original camp to collect their belongings, so police arrested him and seized their tent, she said. Now his only shelter is a tarp, Ward said.
“It seems like every few months they come and tell us we have to move,” Ward said. “It’s really stressful and I have really bad anxiety.”
Ward, who is traveling with a small pregnant dog named Baba, struggled on the streets.
About four years ago, she had her first daughter, Karma. Three days later, the CPS took her daughter away. Ward last saw Karma about two years ago, and she now lives in Kansas with Ward’s brother.
Ward doesn’t know where she will go next, but she hopes for better treatment from police and city staff, she said.
“The cops just need to back down and let us live our lives,” Ward said. “Go after the real criminals. We’re not criminals because we don’t have a place to live — and that’s how they treat us. As if we were criminals because we had no place to live.
Robert Breeze, 54, also lived in the camp with a dog, a Chihuahua named Little Man.
He said the dog was replacing a pair of dogs he originally owned when he was charged with driving under the influence of marijuana, which he denies doing that day.
When he was arrested, his car and dogs were taken away and never returned, as both dogs were adopted out of the pound where they had been held.
“They have to give my babies back to me,” Breeze said. “It’s been a year now.”
Breeze, who is not from the SLO area, said he had to remain in SLO on the streets during the protracted court deliberations which have lasted four months so far. He struggled to appear in court when he was homeless and without his car or license, and said he hoped to leave town as soon as possible.
Breeze said living on the streets was her only choice because her social security payments weren’t enough to pay for housing in SLO.
“I have to get out of here,” Breeze said. “(The police) aren’t going to leave us here alone, anyway.”
This story was originally published September 19, 2022 4:08 p.m.